How do you deal with multiple managers?

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 9 years, 1 month ago.

  • Author
  • #169182

    Hannah Ornell

    One of the Public Administration scholars I studied in graduate school, Frederick Taylor, advocated for organizations to have multiple “functional managers.” Instead of reporting to one manager, he thought an employee should report daily to up to 8 managers, each with a different area of specialization. While 8 bosses is a little overwhelming in practice, I bet it’s safe to assume that the majority of us have been in a position that required us to report to several managers.

    Is it helpful to have multiple managers, one for a different aspect of your work? Or does that send mixed messages about what’s expected of you?

    How do you manage having multiple managers?

  • #169198

    Mark Hammer

    “You gotta serve somebody” – Dylan

    A critical element missing from what you’ve listed here is the extent to which those multiple managers communicate with each other, or care about what the other managers want. I don’t think it is intrinsically problematic to be doing multiple things for multiple people, but those folks better damn well have realistic expectations, based on an appreciation of what others are asking for.

    A second aspect is what social psychologists like to call “diffusion of responsibility”. Ultimately, you’re largely responsible for your own career development and progress. But you should have a supporting partner in your manager. And my sense is that when managers are new, or get too plentiful, it’s nobody’s “job” to see to it that you’re being developed. That can certainly be overcome if one person is formally or informally designated as your development partner/mentor, but in the absence of any such designation it is too easy for everybody to think/assume someone else is taking care of it, and the employee falls through the cracks.

  • #169196

    Jerry Fernandez

    I was recently assigned another manager to work on a project. Initially, though, the managers would speak with each other, then they’d speak with me individually, and two different messages came out of those meetings. My solution was to call a meeting between all three of us, at the same time, in the same room, so that we could discuss the project specs and agree on outcomes so that my workload(s) were balanced.

  • #169194

    David Dejewski

    Hannah – It depends. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it is problematic.

    Clear and proactive communication is important.

  • #169192

    Jo Youngblood

    I think the downside to having multiple functional managers is not one of them feels solely responsible for empowering you to go get your job done. The upshot to having multiple managers is the variety of skills and experiences that you learn in a very short period of time.

  • #169190

    Monica A. Galvan

    I learned that keeping all management informed of my progress or ideas is key, since “one hand may not be talking to the other.” Also, they may not have the same frame of thinking, so I take equal doses into consideration of their ideas or advice.

  • #169188

    Sandra Lopez

    David D. your input is spot on! I currently work for two managers as does the rest of my office; it has been this way for 4+ years. Speaking from experience; I can tell you it requires OPEN COMMUNICATION at all times. There is no such thing as “over communicating”. I must also add, this situation can become dicey if the two managers have oposing opinions or strategies, in this case, it is always best to circle round and make sure you are clear on your given direction.

    The bottom line: Communicate, communicate, communicate and make no assumptions.

  • #169186

    Carol Davison

    I think its like approaching a traffic stop with many different traffic lights. You don’t know whether to go, stop or use caution. Same with the other cars. Will they crash? Not move? What’s the point of having many?

    AND if we have many managers, they have even more subordinates. How ccould they possible control them?

    I think that there a principles of unity of command and span of control for a reason.

    Regardless, I think that we all work for the person who writes our appraisal.

  • #169184

    Josh Nankivel

    I think Taylor was very, very wrong.

    If someone is working multiple projects and there’s a clear time allocation given, then yes they’ll report to the different project managers, and any allocation or priority conflicts need to be worked out by the managers or perhaps a functional manager who really controls where staff is allocated.

    But I don’t care how good the intentions are, any more than 1 manager unless absolutely necessary is a bad idea. Communication becomes conflicting, the tragedy of the commons rears it’s head when no single manager is responsible for the staff member, etc.

    Every time I’ve seen it, it’s been a negative thing that’s had to either change or taken workarounds to manage. Like Jerry’s situation – it’s the best workaround in the circumstance, but better yet would be to avoid multiple managers.

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