Overcoming the Matrix [environment]

How do you maintain effective communication within a project team that does not sit together? How about between that team and its external stakeholders? Bonus points for solutions that are possible with government IT, such as smoke signals and carrier pigeons. (We do have document collaboration and video conferencing.)

Hi all! Thanks for your feedback. This team works in a matrixed environment and are all assigned to multiple projects. While they are all located in the DC area they all sit in different buildings and do not have work laptops. Their biggest challenge is maintaining a common understanding of decisions that have been made, open questions and tangible goals. They’ve tried Trello but for various (legitimate) reasons nobody checks it often enough for it to keep the team on track. Higher priority projects often prevent various permutations of team members from making standing meetings, and videoconferencing isn’t available for anyone who is working off-site. So I’m thinking that some thoughtful and intentional adjustments to both in-person meeting protocol and digital knowledge management are what’s called for.

Do you regularly convene the team live (even if only by phone)?

Prioritize a bit of informal humane time as part of it (what Jim addresses), but also a time to reinforce central messaging.

Use Trello/whatever accountability & PM systems you have to support any tangible outcomes or needed actions.

Also, try to get them to rotate agenda ownership (or even hosting the meetings/conference[s]).

Once you have a standard operational tempo for check-ins, people will know there’s a way to get on common ground & clarify what shared purpose, roles, & rationales exist.

It might be a messy process but even generals (Stanley McChrystal notes in Team of Teams) do something similar to ensure emergent insight surfaces once everyone has common understanding.

Make sure collective decisions & actions are created & assigned during the group meetings. If people are only using it to report updates, it’s a trap & waste of everyone’s time–plus, they could be doing that electronically or through some other passive medium for info transfer.

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