Matrix Management

Managing multiple bosses and teams

Most people in large organizations today work in a world of multiples. We may have more than one formal boss with solidarity and dotted reporting lines. A Gartner survey in 2015 found 85% of people worked on multiple teams. We also probably engage with multiple stakeholders who have some input into our activities.

It raises the question “what is a boss” – if I have to take into account the needs of 4 teams that shape my role and define my goals, I may as well have 4 “bosses”, even if the reporting lines don’t appear on the organization chart.

But what are the skills in surviving and thriving in the world of multiple, matrixed relationships.

Probably the most important one is to get aligned with the various parties.

When working with multiple bosses or teams the key challenge is that each one probably doesn’t have a good idea of your total load. You are the only individual who does so you are the only person who can bring clarity and identify priority clashes and conflicts.

When you are kicking off the year or establishing a new reporting relationship it’s a good time to raise and resolve how you will each work together. Ideally you will get the key stakeholders together to agree this but that can be difficult to arrange and you may need to do much of the work on clarifying expectations yourself before you decide whether you need get people together to resolve any intractable issues.

On your kick off agenda should be

  1. Align goals – identify all the goals you receive from different team and reporting lines. Map them together to see if you have enough capacity to deliver them and if any of the goals themselves or the deadlines involved conflict. If there is active conflict or goal overload then you will need to escalate with a proposal on how you will manage these. It is important you make these visible early as, if your goals cannot be delivered, you are setting yourself up to fail.

Competing goals is another matter – unless you have unlimited time and resources then different goals will naturally compete for your time and attention, this is normal and is your job to manage. Discuss with your stakeholders how you will prioritize and manage the inevitable day to day trade offs that this will will require.

Don’t expect everything to be clarified in advance. Life and business do not work that way unless you have a very simple job, but you do need an ongoing process for raising and resolving this.

  1. Clarify expectations. Different managers and colleagues have different expectations based on their style, experiences and preferences. The only way to know what these are is to discuss them. You should discuss expectations on how much time you will spend working on each of their tasks, communication preferences and when they expect you to escalate and involve them. If these expectations are unrealistic then you need to say so and negotiate what will work.
  2. Set up a process for managing conflicts. It’s always easier if you have a process in place before conflicts arise. It’s quite natural to discuss “what should happen if we have a clash of deadlines or priorities” when tempers are cool, much harder in the heat of a disagreement. Don’t expect to escalate everything, this is very disempowering for you and signals passivity to your managers and colleagues. You should expect to try to resolve any conflicts yourself first and, if you do need to escalate, always come with a proposal not just a problem.

If you establish these ground rules in advance you will have a great platform to build on and to manage any challenges in ongoing delivery and prioritisation.

Remember it is your role to proactively keep the whole of your activity visible – otherwise your colleagues will only evaluate you based on the small sliver of your total activity that they personally see. In a world of multiples only you can do this.

Good luck.

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