Matrix Management

How is your stakeholder ecosystem?

was talking to a contact in a global technology company yesterday. His organization has been matrixed for a long time. People are used to operating across the traditional silos of function and geography.

Among the issues we discussed were the challenges in managing what he called a “stakeholder ecosystem”, I thought it was a great phrase that summed up the complexity of operating in this highly interconnected and fluid environment.

An ecosystem is defined as “a system, or a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment”.

It is often used in the context of biology where organisms interact and in the definition given by Wikipedia are “linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows”.

We may be pushing the metaphor a little bit too far now, though there are definite energy flows involved.
One of the challenges we have found in helping participants manage their stakeholder networks is a lack of clarity in what a stakeholder is. Some organizations use tools like RACI to help define the role of stakeholders in a decision or task. In many others it is unclear.

A particularly challenging time for this is when you are new to an organization. If decision rights and involvement roles are not clear then for new people there is a tendency to involve everybody because it’s not clear who they can leave out. This can easily lead to delays in cooperation and decision-making. If you are joining an established, complex matrix organization it can take a long time to learn the rules and who needs to be involved.

This is particularly so if you are entering a corporate culture which is relationship oriented. Often the network of relationships that you use to get things done is completely different to the formal organization structure.

At an external level many groups now consider themselves to be stakeholders in a business. Society, politicians and special-interest groups consider themselves stakeholders as do shareholders, managers and employees. Clearly all of these relationships are quite different and we need a better language to describe the relationship and the role.
In a biological ecology the interrelationships can range from symbiotes to parasites, from predator to prey, the roles and relationships are much more clearly defined.

In order to manage our stakeholders we need a better description of what is the nature of the stake being held or claimed, without being clear about this it’s not clear how we should manage the relationship and how much effort we should put into it.

In the absence of this clarity there is a tendency to consider everyone a stakeholder and this can easily blur into everyone coming to the meeting and everyone being involved in the decision. Just as important as managing your stakeholders is being clear about where the boundary ends and people don’t need to be involved.

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