Managing Dotted Line Relationships

Managing Dotted Line Relationships

Often companies are traditionally structured into functional silos (i.e, manufacturing, finance, sales, etc.) and the hierarchy is well-defined. Each silo manages its own area of responsibility and work is passed in a linear fashion from one silo to another, much like an auto assembly line or waterfall development process. This approach has been common since the industrial revolution and has both its pluses and minuses.

Today there are significant trends toward the use of temporary, cross-functional project teams. There are various reasons for this. The traditional silo operations are not geared for sharing joint responsibilities across an organisation’s functional silos. OrgChart helps in managing dotted line relationships within your organisation.

Matrixed, Cross-functional Organisation

Matrixed, cross-functional organisation

Project-oriented work, multiple geographies, increased product complexity and systems interdependencies all drive the necessity of cross-functional matrix teams. But matrixed relationships can become complicated. An individual may be loaned temporarily to a project and are then responsible to two managers. The formal manager usually has a greater pull on the person’s dedication since pay, rewards and future promotions all come from that manager. The project manager may contribute feedback on the employee, but both the employee and the formal manager know where the real power lies.

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Managing Dotted Line Relationships

OrgChart Now chart showing an employee with a formal manager and a dotted line manager

The formal manager has control while the project or dotted-line manager has some degree of influence, but not likely any serious control.

When describing these situations on an organisation chart a dotted line is used. The employee has a solid line to their formal manager and a dotted line to the auxiliary or project manager.

First, it is essential to document these multiple reporting relationships in the organisation and to be able to share that information with management. It needs to be recognised where opportunities for divided loyalties lie so they can be managed appropriately.

Second, where the dotted line relationship exists there needs to be clarity on expectations with the employee and the managers involved. A project manager building a team might not be able to get the needed time from a temporary team member. That needs to be discussed with the formal manager.

Third, motivating one or more dotted line reports will require an understanding of what is important to them in terms of rewards. Project managers might not have much reward power or authority and will need to understand what is important to the team member by interviewing them and finding out. While rewarding them financially might not be an option, the opportunity to acquire new skills, or have a leadership role that helps actualise their career development goals may be of benefit.

Tools to make these dotted-line relationships clear to everyone are needed when managing people in a fast-paced, matrix-team project organisation. One cannot manage what one cannot see. The OrgChart workforce planning and cloud org chart solution positions managers for success by allowing a clear visualisation of a company’s structure and the relationships within it.

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