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Parents should communicate – so should matrix bosses

One boss, two bosses, three bossesfather mother child

One of the reasons many people struggle in matrix organisations is having multiple supervisors.

“It is difficult,” one senior employee comments. “My local boss sets the priorities, I start working, then at the 10 am morning meeting my regional boss from Germany has an idea and he needs me to come up with a first draft by tomorrow. I can’t clone myself, can I? Everybody seems to assume that I have my full working day to complete the task THEY set.”


The assertive-organised-good networking-quick learning matrix superhero

It is never easy to work in a matrix organisation. An employee needs many skills in place to cope with the demands of a matrix organisation. When I asked HR managers about this, they drew up with a long list of skills they consider when it comes to recruitment or development. Employees in a matrix are expected to be flexible, assertive and well organised. They must have good networking skills; they need to be proactive, but they must also quickly learn to say no… A good matrix worker needs to have many skills to succeed. Sometimes it almost seems that in order to cope with a matrix, one needs to be a superhero. And sure enough, companies invest a lot of their resources to improve their employees’ in those skills needed to cope with multiple supervisors. They send them to superhero training courses, they assign mentors to them until they become fully equipped to handle conflicting instructions well…

But how about looking at the situation from the bosses’ point of view?


Multiple supervisors and parenting

“Go and tidy up your room!” says the father. “Supper is ready, go wash your hands and come to the table,” says the mother. So which instruction will the child follow? Which parent is solid line, and which one is dotted line? Have you ever wondered how the seemingly simple matrix organisation of a family works?

We could expect our children to handle multiple supervisors by being assertive, having excellent time management skills and learn to say no (“Sorry, Dad, but Mum has already set me different priorities, so I can complete the task of the room tidying by 7:30pm only. Or perhaps we could delegate the task to my little brother…”).

Alternatively, parents could – believe it or not – sit down and talk to each other. It does miracles when the two “supervisors” understand and respect each other’s priorities. This could make a child’s life so much easier, not having to juggle with conflicting instructions.

The same rule applies in multinational matrix organisations. If, for example, local and regional managers communicate with each other regularly, it makes an employee’s life so much easier. The burden of handling conflicting priorities won’t disappear altogether, but it will be shared between the employee and the bosses.

So are you a manager working in a matrix organisation? Think about this:

Who are the other “supervisors” of each of your team members? Do you know what other projects your team members are involved in? If you are not sure, ask them. Are you in touch with the other bosses? If not, get in touch. This kind of networking will surely create value to you and your team.