Working in a matrix organization with multiple bosses can create major challenges:
- Work overload. A common refrain in workplaces around the globe is, “I have too much work to do.” Things can be even worse when you have multiple managers on different projects. Each boss may treat you as if you only work for him or her.
- Competing demands. Having several bosses can mean competing demands on your time. Whose project gets first priority—especially when every boss believes his or her project should be number one?
- Conflicting messages. The more managers you have, the more opportunity there is for conflicting messages. Different bosses have different expectations and methods of communicating, and can unintentionally send conflicting messages.
What can you do to manage these challenges? I suggest these four strategies:
1. Be Clear Who Your “Real” Boss Is
It’s important to know who your real boss is. Which person do you formally report to? Who does your final performance review? Who makes decisions regarding your compensation? Even in a heavily matrixed environment, just one manager is typically responsible for these tasks. Make sure you are having regular one-on-one meetings at least once a month with your real boss. Use this formal leader as a mentor or coach in dealing with your other managers.
2. Be Open About Your Workload
Your bosses don’t know what’s on your plate unless you tell them. Be open about your workload. Share your calendar with all of your managers so they know your schedule. Create a shared document that updates them on each of the projects you’re working on so they see your progress and have a better understanding of your workload. Have quick weekly check-in meetings to stay connected and address any concerns.
3. Set Clear Boundaries on Your Time
Constant interruptions are a major time waster. It’s difficult to focus on your projects if your bosses keep coming by to ask questions or make additional requests. Encourage them to use email or text for questions and requests. Block off specific time on your calendar to work on projects. Let your managers know this is sacred time and you should not be interrupted unless it is an emergency.
4. Set Clear Standards for Communication
Get your bosses together to develop one set of standards for communication. Do you prefer to get requests through email, text, Outlook tasks, face-to-face, or some other way? What is the expectation for timely response to an email or text—for you and for them? How often will you meet one-on-one? How are you going to report project status? If possible, come up with one way that works for all of your managers so you don’t have to deal with different expectations for communication.
Working in a matrix environment can be fun and invigorating. I enjoy working on multiple projects with multiple managers. It gives me a greater sense of autonomy, provides access to a larger network, and allows me to grow and develop in my career.
Having more than one boss can have its advantages—but it needs coordination. By using these four simple strategies, you can minimize the challenges and reap the benefits of working in this stimulating environment.
About the author
John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.