by Amina Knowlan | November 2006
"Imagine a movement that has no center, no codified beliefs, and no
patriarch or charismatic leader... Rather than control, it seeks
connection. . .Its power rests in its potential, not in overt force. The
potential are the links and relationships that are ever present, and ever
— Paul Hawken
From his forthcoming 'Blessed Unrest' (Spring 2007, Viking/Penguin)
In a Matrix group, as members begin to interact verbally, they are invited to speak person-to-person. Rather than speak to the group as a whole, individuals speak to a particular person, in the open, within the eyes and ears of the group.
In practice: this could take the form of asking a particular woman to share something about herself. Or you might ask a man from your neighborhood to describe something that he enjoys about the community. It is an opportunity to follow your genuine curiosity and interest in other people. When you find yourself wanting to share something with "the group" whether it is an opinion or a similarity you share with another member you still speak to a particular person. In a new group, the choice of who to speak to may be guided by interacting with those you don't yet know. In an existing group, you might talk first with a person that you know less well. If two people who are interacting are thought of as a pair, the matrix gets filled in pair by pair. It is literally opening the channels of communication and conduits of connection between each pair of people in the group.
If I am going into an existing group, such as a corporate management team or a city government group, it is the first concept that I teach and ask a group to practice. It is the fundamental building block involved in shifting from a primarily hierarchical model of communicating, to a responsive, interactive matrix model. Even with forms of group communication that are more circular in their interaction patterns such as council this person-to-person structure adds the capacity to respond to each other while in the presence of the other members.
In a business context where members are fractured or polarized, introducing the practice of speaking person-to-person might be for the purpose of getting to know each other as ordinary human beings who have lives outside of the company. For a newly formed team, it is an opportunity to build a relational foundation that will optimize the creativity and sustainability of the team's work together. It is invaluable as a format for sharing initial ideas or responses to a proposal. It generates engagement and commitment when a leader is trying to get "buy-in" or accountability.
This seemingly simple practice is the foundation of forming the matrix. It is the basis of forming a group in which everyone feels valued and included. It is the cornerstone of Matrix leadership. It is the groundwork for everything that follows. It is like constructing or making visible and consciously functional the interconnected web of communication that is necessary for creating a truly open and sustainable system. It's akin to developing the nervous system and the circulatory system. It is the process that opens the channels of communication between the parts in this case, the individuals. It is the practice that builds the capacity for shared leadership. It is the principle that creates the possibility of bridging diverse cultures and utilizing differences as resources. It is fundamental to realizing interconnectedness.
Knowlan, Amina, Matrix Leadership: The Art and Science of Creating Sustainable Communities and Organizations, 2006. All rights reserved.
What we really trained in was a language of connection (verbal and nonverbal) so that where we were once limited, we are now expansive, where we were once stuck we are now spacious, where we were once paralyzed by fear, we are now ready to lean into discomfort.
— A. Lessing
High School English Teacher