Making the Matrix WORK – Cooperation

What is different in a matrix ?

  • Teams operate across barriers of distance and need to find ways of working together through technology
  • The requirement to work across complex organizational structures brings competition for both priorities and time
  • Time zones can introduce delay in decision making and communication
  • National, corporate, and functional cultural differences can introduce misunderstandings in communication styles and language

If we do not learn to overcome these factors, we can experience delays to critical activities and decisions, additional costs, and increased dissatisfaction.

People use the word “team” when what they mean is cooperation. There are much simpler ways to cooperate than by using traditional teams, which are tightly connected and require a great deal of synchronous communication, when everyone is available at the same time, if not the same place.

It’s been found that the existing quality of cooperation in organizations is low – partly because we try to manage all cooperation as if it were teamwork.
In the book, there are described 4 different ways of working – “buckets of cooperation” that make up the majority of cooperation in complex organizations:

  1. A team is a number of people with complementary skills working together closely to achieve a collaborative goal.
  2. A group is a number of individuals with either similar roles or skills, or complementary ones that do not require close collaboration but do need to be coordinated
  3. A community is a group of people that share a sense of identity distinguishing them from the broader organization
  4. A network is a number of people who are connected and related in some way. They are able to exchange information and may interact in order to achieve specific goals
Mode of workingTypical goalsExample
TeamIntensive collaboration to deliver a specific goal that requires multiple inputs; a team goal should be more than the sum of its individual partsMulti-disciplinary problem-solving team
GroupThe coordination of individual efforts, often of individuals with similar skills and roles.
The output of the group is normally the sum of the output of the individuals within it
Coordination of a number of salespeople with similar skills and independent regions or clients
CommunityTo focus on a particular domain or topic.
To create and sustain the identity of the community as a whole.
To develop the capability of its members and share learning and best practice.
To advance their common interests.
A functional community such as the “purchasing community” in a large organization
NetworkTo make it easy to connect with a range of individuals with whom you may want to engage in the future.
To maintain relationships through communication or connection.
To share information that may lead to deeper cooperation
LinkedIn or other social network

People tend to organize themselves in groupings of particular sizes:

  • 3-6 people – the typical number for a nuclear family, close friendship group, or a Special Forces team, and for effective spaghetti team working model
  • 10-15 people – the typical size for an extended friendship group, a squad in the military, sports “teams”, project groups, and a star group model
  • 50 people – the size of a platoon in the military, the typical night camp in nomadic societies, and the size of an effective cloud community model
  • 150 people – the size of a clan, a medieval village, or a company in the military, and an effective size for a purposeful network in our model

Often we see a group of senior executives on the board (3 to 6 people) supported by 10 to 15 direct reports at the next level, heading up the operational regions, business units, and functions. We can then see a group around them of about 50 senior leaders, who take us down to the next level in the organization, and so on.

The 4 ways of working

1. Spaghetti teams – 4-6 people with complementary skills working together closely and interdependently to achieve a collaborative goal.

Purpose: should be intensive collaboration to deliver a specific goal that requires multiple inputs. A team goal should be more than the sum of its individual parts.

Workflow: much of the work in a team is done synchronously – everyone is involved at the same time. True teamwork is characterized by highly participative meetings(face 2 face or through technology), where all people are present and engaged and working collaboratively on the same topic. Individuals contribute different perspectives and capabilities to the team effort.

Disadvantages: because of the close working relationships in teams, individuals need to get to know each other and develop shared ways of working. This means adapting your work style and pace to others in the team. As a result, teams have to dedicate time and resources, particularly at the early stage, into internal dynamics. This is energy and time they are not using to move toward their goal.

2. Star group – 10-15 individuals with either similar roles or skills, or complementary ones that do not require close collaboration but do need to be coordinated.

Purpose: should be the coordination of individual effort. The output of the group is normally the sum of the output of the individuals within it.

Workflow: typical workflow in a group is one to one. Individuals have autonomous jobs and are coordinated by a common leader. Work may be passed on from one group member to another in sequence, but the group members are rarely all working collaboratively at the same time on the same piece of work. Asynchronous working is more common, in general communication will flow through the center or through one-to-one conversations with group members. Leaders of groups often use meetings to make sure that communication is received equally by all members. In theory, information could by provided by email or other asynchronous means. Group meetings should include an element of relationship building and maintenance – particularly if there are new group members.

Disadvantages: groups may suffer from duplication of effort if the person in the center does not identify issues of common interest or spread common learning. A particular problem with group meetings is that the group leader often feels that it should be run as a team. As a result, regular “team meetings” are held. For the individual at the center everything may be relevant, but it is highly likely in a group that discussions will only be relevant to one individual and the manager, so the other members waste a great deal of time listening to irrelevant information sharing – particularly status updates.

3. Cloud community – up to 50 people who share a sense of identity that distinguishes them from the broader organization. Shared culture or interest and identity. Can also be characterized by boundaries, so that is clear who is not a member.

Communities of practice – specific type of community organized around interest and identity. They exist to do a number of things:

  • Focus on a particular area or domain of knowledge or expertise
  • Identify common practices; the best ways to get things done; the shared sets of approaches, issues, tools, and problems that people need to understand or use to be effective
  • Identify expertise and make it visible to the community – who to go to when you have a problem
  • Create a sense of social identity, and shared values and behaviors

Successful communities require a pattern of connection, some kind of rhythm of communication that allows them to interact regularly enough to sustain the community. This might be a pattern of regular events, some face to face, interspersed with local community events, global community events, a technology space, and increasingly a social media presence.

Communities require some form of facilitation: someone to seed ideas, create connections, carry out work between meetings, and make sure that there is a framework sustaining the communication and the community.

There needs to be value in cooperation as seen from the point of view of the community members, otherwise why would they engage ?
Communities are about creating opportunities for connection and dialogue and seeing what emerges. They are not about forcing collaboration.

Expect different levels of participation in communities, particularly if they are online: 90% of people are “lurkers” who just visit and read others’ contributions, 9% sometimes contribute, and 1% account for most contributions in the community.

Also be aware that it is not only the public events that make the community work. Facilitation that enables and encourages to create connections and encourage one-to-one interactions is very important.


  • Focus on a particular domain or topic
  • Create and sustain the identity of the community
  • Develop the capability of its members – share learning and best practice
  • Advance their common interests

Workflow: is focused on maintaining relationships and the shared feeling of common interest in the group. Functional communities within an organization tend to focus on capability building, common practices, shared problems, and professional development, such as making sure that there are sufficient trained accountants for the future needs of the organization.

Be careful of trying to impose communities rather than letting them emerge.

Disadvantages: if not well structured, they can lose relevance and focus. If the membership is too diverse, then they will share too little to enable stimulating conversations and connections.

4. Purposeful networks – up to 150 people who are connected and related in some way. They are able to exchange information and may interact in order to achieve specific goals.


  • Connect and stay connected with a range of people you may want to engage with more deeply in future
  • Maintain these relationships with some form of connection or communication

Each of us has several professional networks – to advance our career, for learning, or to get things done in our current role.

Workflow: an individual reaching out to one or more network members with a request for information or assistance. Response normally come to the individual initiating the request, or may be shared with other network members too.

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