Time To Let Go Matrix Reporting?

Time To Let Go Matrix Reporting?

800 371 Kamal Karanth

How many bosses do you have? If the clear answer is one, then you are a blessed soul! Some of you may think hard and say, “Oh sorry, I have a dotted line to ‘X’ too.”

Dual reporting, matrix reporting or dotted line reporting as some organisations refer to it, have become an accepted form of reporting structures.  Maybe it’s easy to decipher why they have come into play but difficult to live with the perils of multiple reporting. Let’s start with why they came into being so we can relate to the other extreme better. Organisations perhaps felt certain functions will gain if they report to different people as the subject matter expertise would be of value. For example HR reports to the business head and also has a line reporting to HR Head locally, regionally or globally. The idea was that the accountability will be to the business head plus the subject matter expertise will come from the dotted HR line. Sounds very logical.  Just that in the real world it doesn’t work that simple.  My view is that this dotted and thick line actually becomes ‘dotted vs thick line’.  I was of the understanding that the thick line is where the buck stops, but it boils down to the personality that occupies the position of command in the chain of these two lanes. If you have a stronger personality sitting as your matrix boss then the thick and dotted lines of reporting are really blurred.

One of my colleagues came to me once with this strange situation, she had applied for a week-long vacation, her immediate boss responded saying “Enjoy your holiday!.” Whereas, the matrix boss sent an email saying “So much pending stuff, can you postpone your leave?”. The result is that from that day she would take both of them into confidence separately and then email her leave application. So much energy spent on a simple thing called leave. But then leave applications are personal and sensitive in nature and not to be taken lightly!

If we want to view  leave as a simple matter, I can cite more serious issues. We all know that the execution of organisational strategies are carried out through its people.  Robots, AI (artificial Intelligence), or algorithms do not help in building organisations, its culture and progress nor help execution in all departments. If the people involved are running pillar to post (read convincing matrix and line bosses) precious time is lost. Imagine organisation impacting strategies which can be hampered because two bosses have differing views and their reportees are caught in the wired matrix called ‘thin vs thick’.  We know how much time and money is spent on multiple ‘calls’ talking and reporting to matrix or dotted line bosses across the country or the globe; not to forget the multiple CC emails which consume time and energy repeating the issues.  Many organisations boast that their fundamental tenets are built on:

  1. People
  2. Speed
  3. Team work
  4. Accountability
  5. Transparency

I would like to argue that when there are multiple reporting structures it results in violating all of the above principles. Just apply the “matrix vs line” experiences on each of the bullet points above. Stop and think about it.  Makes sense? So much time spent telling the other what one has been told. An exercise in repetition which may sometimes result in Chinese Whispers.

A personal example I relate here is an IT person had a matrix reporting to me and a thick line to the a different person. I saw his, so called, thick line bosses were only interested in his reports and compliance rather than his engagement and growth in the organisation. Maybe it was the individuals or the organisation culture which did not allow them to reward or recognise his achievements.  They only wanted the control and not his responsibility. What’s the point of having thick line in that case? Sometimes when he was disengaged or had to be accountable to me he would use the thick line reporting to his convenience to dodge work.

This one is my favourite.  Once when I had two bosses, I asked to attend a developmental course that I had identified. In about 30 minutes both of their emails crossed in cyberspace contradicting each other. One gave me the go ahead while the other one asked me to defer ? I provided much amusement as they had to now reconcile over a matter that they disagreed in public.

I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t state the benefits I enjoyed from dual reporting. I would have quit couple of my employers ahead of time if not for dual reporting. When I was just about being demotivated by one supervisor the other would come as a saviour and inspire or save me ?

Matrix and multiple reporting lines may make it convenient and sound collaborative in large corporations.  I would like to believe it would take away the responsibility and accountability when you have multiple lines of reporting.

I know I sound ‘confused’ when it comes to matrix reporting, so is the reality of dual reporting!

I tend to dispute ‘line’ calls more, when there are too many referees.

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