Organizations are flattening and role boundaries are getting blurry. Silos are melting away; overlap in responsibilities is a common phenomenon these days. There are many matrices at play when we think of organization structures. With tools like SMART goals, Project management software and so on, it is very common to see project teams, shared resources and multiple bosses. You may call it a chaos. On the other hand, this kind of organization design focuses on the expertise of its people and achieving the outcomes. In any case, multiple bosses is the reality in many firms and needless to mention, it calls for certain skilful navigation on the part of the employee, the manager and the organization.
Organizations need to be transparent and culturally open in communication!
It is not easy to receive multiple instructions, process them, prioritize and deliver all of them in a way that matches the demands of the bosses. Though we see this trend on the rise, it is fair to say that most people have just one reporting line. Hence, the senior leaders need to recognize the fact that theirs is a unique design and hence, they must take additional care to ensure that their design is sustained and nurtured well.
Across the rank and file in the organization, it must be understood why they one person has to report to multiple managers. Secondly, some of the ground rules are to ensure that the managers need to be openly discussing about their priorities and resolve differences if any. This calls for a high degree of trust, openness and communication amongst peers supervising the same worker. Apart from this cultural aspect, the organization needs to have adequate systems to support such complexities and make lives easy. For example, the system must ensure that the goals for the person are set collaboratively by the managers, reviewed in a time-bound and transparent manner and disagreements or conflicts are surfaced in a safe and confidential manner.
These sound quite common-sensical, yet organizations struggle in execution!
Managers need to be Benign Statesmen!
Most often managers care for their own tasks and to-do lists. They lack the interest to know what their sub-ordinate is dealing with and where she needs help. Hence, they do not care if their peer has assigned tasks of high priority. Worse is the situation in most family-run enterprises where responsibilities and boundaries for the folks from the family are not clearly defined and often the priorities change. Poor executive being hounded by multiple bosses who are in a hurry for everything that they need and do not care what else is on the oven!
Managers need to be considerate that they do not own the resource fully and to get the best out of the person, they need to make things easy for the person. They need to do whatever it takes to reduce conflicts of priorities, deadlines and to make the person feel valued for the contribution made.
Again very common-sensical, but many managers simply do not exhibit these qualities. Hence, the person feels to be doing a job for which nobody cares; naturally, the quality of work drops and engagement with the organization falls.
Employee needs to stretch the limits!
Firstly, the employee needs to understand that the situation of multiple bosses will have a few challenges and she has to overcome them. Proactive communicators are generally preferred at work; they tend to influence the thinking of the others. In most situations, communicating proactively about the tasks at hand, suggesting alternate methods to go about them, seeking suggestions and aligning with the most influential manager works well.
Secondly, it is very very rare to excel in working with multiple stakeholders without working hard and stretching one’s limits. It is natural that priorities will clash and at times, they will change. It is not pragmatic always that one can postpone some tasks because of some other changes. Though one can negotiate timelines or look for roping in another colleague or outsource some work to a third-party, it is not practical always other than being flexible about the work hours and the efforts required to shine consistently.
Last but not the least, every organization is political; and dynamic. An employee having multiple managers has the opportunity to learn about two senior people, view the organization from two lenses up close and access the professional circles of two people. It’s a great opportunity to grow!
A tall order, but interesting if one navigates through the twisted roads well!