Matrix Management

Leading a matrix ecosystem

Collaboration is increasingly extending beyond the barriers of the traditional organization. This is already changing how we operate and lead people.

Online platforms enable a host of suppliers (from Amazon to App stores) to access partners and customers globally with low transaction costs. Complex projects and products require a complex ecosystem of highly integrated global suppliers to deliver (think cars or mobile phones). Alliances shape the industry in areas including air travel and telecoms.

At the same time as many organizations still struggle to overcome their internal silos, they are increasingly needing to work across organizational boundaries that make the “edges” of the organisation more porous and more important in creating value.

The surprising thing is that these external cooperations are often easier to manage than overcoming internal barriers to collaboration. True there are additional factors such as different corporate cultures and commercial considerations but these are often outweighed by a compelling shared commercial goal. Ask your own colleagues if it is easier to get things done with external suppliers or internal functions?

A diverse and connected ecosystem of partners, suppliers and customers helps us accelerate learning and access a wider range of perspectives and expertise – if we let it. In order to enable this effect many organizations need to be much more open to sharing information and innovations more willing to share the value.

To organizations historically fixated on controlling intellectual property this can be a challenge. I am regularly asked to sign very restrictive IP agreements as a conference speaker or trainer. The standard contract usually kindly allows me to keep the existing existing intellectual property I spent the last 30 years developing – providing I give an unrestricted global license to use, sub-license, assign or modify my IP for all time, but anything new I say on the day would be their property. If this sounds extreme, check your own standard contracts as this is the norm.

When we go back to renegotiate something more reasonable companies are often surprised “everyone else signs it” – I can only assume nobody reads their contracts.

Why would a truly innovative organization agree that, once you have worked with them for one day, you own the rights to their IP for no extra charge and can freely give it to anyone else they choose.

It’s a small example but an illustration of an attitude to owning ideas that becomes unrealistic in an accelerated learning ecosystem. Of course we want participants to use the tools and techniques we train them in, that is the whole point. But that does not mean they need to own the ideas.

In more complex collaboration we will need different value sharing models to keep all parties feeling the relationships are mutual. Open innovation is becoming the norm in high technology organizations, particularly those with strong links to the academic world where the best people want to publish, not hoard, ideas.

This will also have major implications for leadership. Ecosystem leaders need to exercise influence without authority and be accountable for results where they do not control the resources. They need to create collaboration across cultural and commercial boundaries and engage teams of people they do not control or own. This is already becoming common in matrix management but will increasingly extend beyond the traditional boundaries of the organization.

My belief and experience is that an inability to rely on hierarchy and control makes you a much better leader. Time to update your skills to thrive and survive in this environment.

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