Welcome to the Matrix

14 Sep 2017

Are you sick of ‘politics’ and ‘patch protecting’? Is your calendar filled with frequent and frustrating meetings? Is innovation and collaboration thwarted by squabbles over resources?

Imagine how much time you would save, and how much more engaged your teams would be, if we could fix these issues.

We can fix them. And the answers are hiding in plain sight.

For those of you who may not have seen it, The Matrix is a science fiction film that depicts a dystopian future in which the lead characters become aware that the real world they thought they were living in is actually a simulated reality called ‘the Matrix’. A reality created by sentient machines to control people.

The main character, Neo, has a choice to make – a choice between either taking a red pill (which symbolises knowledge, freedom and what can be the painful truth of reality) and leaving the Matrix for an unknown future, or the blue pill (which represents falsehood, security and the blissful ignorance of illusion) and happily remaining in the ‘Matrix’ maintaining the belief that whatever happens is not his responsibility.


For Neo, his decision is influenced by his underlying feeling that ‘something is not quite right’ with the way things are. He embarks on a personal journey, knowing that once we have seen what was once invisible; once we have uncovered what was previously hiding in plain sight…it’s difficult to go back.

We are the Matrix

Most of us don’t realise that we have already, inadvertently, taken the blue pill.

We are working in organisations where the systems and structures that we accept as ‘usual’ are sometimes anything but. Many have evolved to restrict our organisations and our teams. We have become so familiar with them that not only do we continue to accept the system, we reinforce it – pointless team meetings, hours spent on ‘reporting’, poor communication, a ‘them and us’ culture.

If we do happen to notice ‘the Matrix’, which we often describe as ‘bureaucracy’, ‘politics’ and ‘silos’, we tend to blame these issues on someone else.

Sometimes we get caught up in the behaviours of one particular leader and blame them. We forget that, like us, they too are part of a system that expects certain things and has many, often unspoken, rules.

Is there someone that you are blaming for something that doesn’t work in your organisation?

The ‘system’ is often a leadership legacy – and therein lies the rub. Our ‘system’ has not been designed for us it is designed by us: those leading the organisation and the leaders that came before us. It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? Much easier to just blame a faceless ‘them’, but we are the ones upholding it, going along with it. We may know that parts of it are broken, but we are overwhelmed by trying to find a solution.

If we choose to create a different, better system, one where collaboration and innovation thrive, where time is spent on work that really matters and delivers the organisation’s purpose, we need to take responsibility for fixing it. And that can only begin when we see it clearly.

What do you no longer see?

Part of being human is wanting to belong. As we grow up we adapt to different situations: the first day of school, our first job. We learn to read the unspoken rules, as well as the explicit ones. We search for our tribe, which has it’s own ‘rules’ to define who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

Before we can see what has become hidden, we need to shift ourselves, mentally, out of our current state and understand how we became blind to what once seemed so obvious.

In order to see what’s really happening, we need to step back… to before we adapted, to before the blue pill.

Imagine, for a moment, that it’s your first day in your organisation. Really think about it. What were your impressions as you arrived at work? What did you notice about the building? The people? The recruitment process? Did your expectations meet with reality?

This is not a 30 second exercise. If we really want to see what we have become used to (and blind to) we must commit to working on our own myopia. That’s the first step towards seeing, and being able to work on, the system.

  • Spend some time over the next week noticing what you might have grown used to.

  • What unspoken rules are you adhering to without even realising?

  • What behaviours are you role modeling or reinforcing?

How to remain human in ‘the system’ 

Every workplace is a system and systems are not inherently bad. A system can both help and hinder the productivity and engagement of our teams. It comes down to how we strategically – and collectively – see and manage our system.

Our systems are, after all, filled with people trying to do the right thing. People who come to work to do a good job while they are hamstrung by old beliefs, expectations and ways of working.

As leaders, we can start to consider the balance of energy we put into ‘fixing’ people (and I firmly believe developing individuals and teams is absolutely important) whilst also starting to map out and work on ‘the system’ as a whole.

If we changed something in the system, would some of the issues our people experience improve?

Whether I am working with an individual or a team, I know that the breakthroughs we make in mindset and behaviour are not enough if we are having them in a system that stops us from doing our best work.

What one small change could you make today that could have a huge impact for your team?