“Matt is awesome! He is fun to work with. He has the ability to bring together leaders who have diverse opinions and coalesce around a common goal. It is brilliant.”
Jeff Carney, President and CEO IG Wealth Management & IGM Financial

Collective Next’s CEO Matt Saiia grew up in Delafield, Wisconsin, which at the time, was rural enough that you had to drive a half-hour to get to the closest grocery store. After some challenging early elementary school years, Matt’s parents enrolled him in a small nature-based school, the University Lake School, which he credits with altering the trajectory of his life. It was here that he learned first-hand the profound impact leaders have when they recognize and nurture potential that may not present in conventional ways. The emphasis on self-actualization and open-mindedness that was modeled at this school prompted Matt to attend Grinnell College, a place where students play a central role in governing the campus. These values traveled with Matt and informed his decision, along with his wife Sarah, to found Collective Next 15-years ago.

How did Collective Next come about?

We founded Collective Next on the belief that amazing things happen when you bring great people together in the right way. Sarah and I had been facilitating collaborative work for many years. We had become part of an inspiring community of talented, like-minded facilitators who shared our eagerness for an opportunity to grow their impact and take on new challenges. We wanted to build an organization that would let us continue to explore what was possible together. From day one, we’ve believed in the power of collaboration to create what’s next, whether it be small but important improvements or cathartic transformations.

I remember sitting with Sarah in the living room of our small Beacon Street apartment playing the domain name game, “taken or not taken.” Every “.com” we could think of was taken. Sometime around 2am we landed on “Collective Next.” I asked Sarah, “Are we really going to do this?” Our relationship from the beginning had always felt like an adventure; the idea of starting something together seemed like the next step. What is more, it seemed like the right next step for our community. The notion of realizing untapped potential in our colleagues, our clients, and ourselves has always been so important.

What is your favorite part of the job?

I love teasing out the different dimensions of a problem and then figuring out how best to work with the system to create meaningful change. And I love the people! I have always enjoyed meeting new people and getting to know our clients—who they are and what they value. Playing a role in helping them achieve their goals is very fulfilling. Being a part of, and leading the Collective Next community is inspiring. Each day I feel we are helping one another become better versions of ourselves.

What are a few creative interventions of which you are especially proud?

I immediately think of the unique leadership development program we designed to impact people at an early stage in their careers. Most leadership development programs focus on senior level individuals. This program impacts an associate’s trajectory early on, shifting their focus from the question of “what leadership skills am I expected to have” to “how do I ensure I am continuously growing and improving as a leader.” We emphasize process and ongoing growth rather than destination. Much like a graduate student entering a PhD program, participants are provided with a structure and support system, and then asked to design and deliver on their own self-directed learning. The program culminates with participants synthesizing their new insights and presenting them to senior leadership. Witnessing the passion and growth of these future leaders is fantastic. When you expect more out of someone, give them the freedom to learn on their own, and provide the support needed to codify their learning into a meaningful deliverable…amazing things happen. 

My long-term relationships with clients and members of their leadership teams is also very meaningful. I began working with one senior leader right after CN was founded. Over the years he made several significant career moves, ultimately rising to the position of CEO. One of his first moves was to bring us in to design and facilitate a strategy session with his leadership team. The organization he was now heading had never done an immersive, collaborative session. As their new leader, he was staking his brand on our ability to deliver. Over the course of the multi-day Design Session you could feel everyone in the room begin to wake up to the potential of the organization. It is five years later, he is still CEO and the organization is crushing it in the marketplace with the very strategy that they created in that session. I feel incredibly proud to say we were a part of that.

What do you see as one of your most important responsibilities as CEO of Collective Next?

To create an organization that is continually learning, growing, and reinventing itself. I try to foster this within the Collective Next community, and I try to foster it within myself. I love the unique style and perspective that each individual at Collective Next brings to our work. The goal has always been to help them find their own voice in the world and to show up in a meaningful way for our clients. The way that each of us shows up is going to be different; it is going to involve a process of self-discovery. My role is to keep pushing myself to think, and grow, and evolve—in order to encourage and support others to do the same. We can’t effectively create what’s next for our client if we can’t create what’s next for ourselves

Whenever anyone at Collective Next asks me what their career path is, I respond with the question, “You tell me.” I want our community to be a place of learning and discovery. I am convinced that real leaders are not minted from the outside.  They are individuals who have been given the space to develop on their own, who have been encouraged and mentored to pursue their best self. And so, individualized desire, curiosity, passion, empathy—these things have become part of our cultural DNA. I am not afraid of letting people struggle a bit or to sit with ambiguity; being with the unknown is part of the creative process—an essential part.

Beyond your family, what are some of your non-work passions?

Music. I have always loved going to concerts–a love that was solidified in college. I was taking a set and lighting design course, and one of the instructors asked if I would like to join him as a “roadie” over the summer. Of course, I said yes and the next thing I knew I was in a harness three stories up rigging up lights in major concert arenas. I was exposed to a lot of great music and, even more significantly, to the incredible energy generated by the shared experience of a live event. When an artist connects a group of people it reaffirms the transformative power of sharing your creativity. Some of the most meaningful times of connecting with my friends and family happened at shows. I’m truly grateful those experiences.