3 Simple Matrices for Powerful Team CommunicationDo you have lots of ideas, facts, suggestions, topics, … strewn around your team’s thoughts?  Looking for ways to prioritize?  Been there.  We’ve found a simple tool to keep complex topics visible, which is a great aid for team learning and decision making.

It’s a familiar situation…gathered round a pile of ideas, facts, suggestions, conversations, or topics someone sighs and says, “Now what?!?!”  Been there?

All those items listed on the chart paper or whiteboard or stickies in a list…sigh.  Seeing all those things, the team stalls in moving from a “list” to a team course of action, or priority, or even clarity.

That’s because life is multi-dimensional, and our whiteboard is not…it’s two dimensional at best.  When we keep our stack of stuff in a stack, we only get one dimension.  The common symptoms of this include focusing on single data points (squeaky wheels) and going with whatever idea is loudest.  This is not the best team thinking.

How do you sort that info into actionable clarity?

Enter the humble matrix, or, table.  It’s an easy way to get all the items visible and looking at two dimensions.  We covered this concept in just one aspect in our blog on a prioritization tool. Here we are going to expand that idea so that you can start helping your teams in a whole range of ways.

Powerful Priorities Matrix

I’d like to start with a simple 2×2 matrix, giving credit to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  (Sometimes called the Covey matrix, the real credit should go to Ike.)  It’s a way to help the team separate the oft confused aspects of what’s important and what’s urgent. Truth be told, too many of us take urgency as meaning important, but that’s not the case.

Urgent Not Urgent
Important “the house is on fire”

“my teen is stuck with a flat tire in a bad area”

Activities that must be done now to directly contribute to achieving our greater goal

“we need to install a smoke alarm”

“we need to teach our teen to change a tire”

Activities that directly contribute to our greater goal that have results in the future.

Not Important “a call from someone selling fire insurance”

“someone whining about changing the music that’s playing”

Most email & Status reports for the boss

Activities that really don’t contribute to the greater goal in a direct way.

Watching TV, with insurance ads every 10 minutes

Social media

Spam email


Activities that usually distract us from spending time, thought or energy on our greater goals.

Where does the prioritization matrix earn it’s keep?

When a group has a list of activities that they want to pursue, prioritize, parse.  Also, I’ve used it in planning meetings where teams need to take a hard look at where they spend time, this little matrix comes in handy.

How to Use It?

We put each activity in its respective quadrant, usually with sticky notes because lots of times, the first placement is not the best placement. There is a temptation to think that we spend our whole day in that top left quadrant…important and urgent. But, we don’t. We probably spend most of it in that lower left quadrant.

So sometimes the most important benefit of this chart is when the team sees that not everything is important and urgent, unlike how it feels in the day to day.  Moving things into other quadrants is very valuable prioritization conversation for the team.

Can you see how this might help the team differentiate a little better than just taking the list and sorting it by what you think is a priority?

Powerful Conversation Matrix

You can use a similar version of the matrix tool when analyzing why a meeting or a discussion is not accomplishing good results.  It’s based on Peter Senge’s Disciplines of a Learning Organization, and frequently referred to as Advocacy and Inquiry.

This is a fun one because all of these types of conversations are necessary, but we find that they each need their place. This matrix then serves as a cool diagnostic for the team to see what they are really saying.

Where does the conversation matrix earn it’s keep?

What I find is that people frequently mistake explaining and interrogating with generating learning, and conversely, thinking that dialogue is necessary when what we really need to do is explain a position.

Powerful Creative Matrix

Another way to get team power out of the simple 2×2 matrix is by using a Creative Matrix. I have found this really bounces our brains around to help it generate more ideas than just a free for all brainstorm.

Take the attributes you are trying to accomplish along one axis. Take a purposely exaggerated list of customers/stakeholders/doers along the other axis. For a fun example I’ll pick on myself brainstorm about the task of blog writing.

I first have the dimension of what I want to accomplish with a blog:

  • Be interesting
  • Provide something useful
  • Relate to the reader
  • Make it worth coming back again

Then, I think of potential readers, and, purposely, I stretch this so that I begin to think a bit more creatively.  My audience could be someone who:

  • knows this already and wants a refresh
  • wants to learn
  • reads the blog to goof off from work
  • depends on getting this today to survive
  • needs a good snippet to tell at their next party

Now, I make a creative matrix:

Refresh Learn Escape Life Saver Party
Be interesting Show a new twist on an old idea Show that there’s a quick way to use it. Clickbait Show that I’ve got the main point ready Tie in some arcane ‘Cliff’ tidbit
Provide something useful Show how to use the tool in a new way Quick way to use it Entice them to read all the other blogs, have lots of links Get the main point up front Make it pertain to lots of audiences
Relate to the reader “I’ve been there with you.” “This may seem overwhelming; I used to struggle with this” [ hmmm…see, it’s ok to have some blanks!!!] “Here’s a template…you’re good to go!!” “this sounds unbelievable, but…”
Make it worth coming back again Help them be more powerful, not just refreshed. Add other references that explain it in other ways.   Show that this isn’t a one trick pony. Follow the rules for making something ‘sticky’.

Where does the creative matrix earn its keep?

Teams that need some new ideas.  Often meetings include everyone sitting around the table waiting for an epiphany.  This matrix helps guide that creative process to search out new ideas by using a structured “what if” format.  It forces the thinking out further than it would normally go.

A Matrix: a humble and powerful team tool

The simple matrix can transform how your team sees priorities, conversations, or ideas.  How will you use it?  Get a free printable of these tools so you can take it and go.

3 Simple Matrices Printable

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