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I am a Software Development Manager. In our organization chart, I directly report to a Senior Director ("Manager A"). A couple of months ago (early December), Manager A has asked me to start working closely with "Manager B" on a couple of projects.

After a couple of weeks, Manager B asks me to schedule a regular 1-on-1 call with him. This immediately set off some red flags for me because a 1-on-1 usually meant that I somewhat report to that person. I asked Manager A if this is necessary, to which she replied that I can just provide updates on current progress and other usual things.

So, I obliged, I set up a weekly call with Manager B. Oftentimes, Manager B either doesn't attend or moves the schedule due to conflicts. If ever Manager B does attend, it's fairly quick and just wants a rundown on what's happening. If he doesn't attend, I usually ping him over Slack reminding him of the call, but he doesn't respond. Not really an issue for me, I just go ahead and drop off after 10 minutes.

Fast forward to February, Manager B messages me:

Manager B: "do you need another slot for 1-to-1"
Me (confused): "Hi, do we have a scheduled call today?"
Manager B: "why you do not attend the 1-to-1"
Me (still confused): "we don't have a scheduled 1-to-1 today. did you send an updated schedule?"
Manager B: "Can you schedule as per convenience, I cannot follow always on it"
Me: "can you clarify? are you saying i'm not attending the 1-to-1? or are you asking me to schedule it in behalf of you?"
Manager B: "Please schedule it as per your convenient schedule, once in 2 weeks."
Me: "Ok noted"

So this was the first issue. From my perspective, he's basically saying that I don't attend the calls, which is really untrue. Our conversation continues:

Manager B: "What's the update on Project X?"
Me: "Project X was not planned for this release, i'll have to discuss this with Manager A as we don't have bandwidth."
Manager B: "please discuss with me for any bandwidth issues, you need to work closely with me for all work related stuff."
Me (surprised): "Sorry, i want to clarify. I'm still directly reporting to Manager A right? I should involve her in these discussions."
Manager B: "not really, she is your HR manager. but, work perspective , I need to manage your team work."
Me: "I don't think that's been communicated to me. I just had a 1 on 1 with her earlier today"
Manager B: "I am not sure why the case is.Let me tell Manager A. This is the model. Manager A should only control for HR part."

I immediately contact Manager A for a Zoom call for some clarification. This is how our discussion went:

  1. Manager A confirms that I will also report to Manager B for certain tasks, while I report to her for certain tasks.
  2. I said that this was not the discussion we had back in December. I stressed that "working closely with Manager B" is different from me "reporting to Manager B".
  3. Manager A apologizes for the confusion but tells me this will be the case. She just didn't input it in the system.
  4. Manager A "reassures" me that there will be division on the tasks, but I responded that this is rarely followed, especially if there's a difference in prioritization, approach, etc.

Based on my experience, I do not like this working model. It creates a lot of confusion and conflict. See my older posts that about me having more than one manager:

  1. Former Manager still giving me tasks
  2. My former Manager Isn't giving an Endorsement to my new Manager

How can I effectively communicate that I do not like this working model because of the possible complication it may bring?

Notes:

  1. Manager A and Manager B have been in the organization longer than I have (15+ years?).
  2. I prefer to report directly to Manager A because she's been my manager for longer and I honestly don't like Manager B that much.
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  • @JoeStrazzere I did tell Manager A during our conversation above. I told her that based on my past experience it has not always worked out. But i wanted to formalize it via an email or something.
    – user62478
    Feb 10 at 7:45
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    There is a lot of text here (enough that I'd recommend editing this to summarise some of these details), but I'm missing some key facts. Specifically: how long have you been with this organisation? And how strongly do you "prefer" to work only with A? Meaning how much do you want to push this? Would you consider leaving over it? And is the issue mainly/only because of how you've had issues with "multiple bosses" in the past? (Issues that might never come up here.)
    – Lilienthal
    Feb 10 at 17:42
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    It's a long shot, but it sounds to me that the main issue is that you simply dislike manager B and/or working with him - and especially being silently pushed to report to him.
    – Frax
    Feb 11 at 11:35
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    Is the organisation formally a matrix organisation or not? Can you add something about it to your question? Feb 11 at 12:14
  • It sounds like you're describing "matrix management" which is common and normal. Your organisation isn't going to get rid of this. I think your problem is more that you have personal issues with manager B, than that matrix management is a bad idea. Feb 12 at 7:15

13 Answers 13

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How can I effectively communicate that I do not like this working model because of the possible complication it may bring?

Honestly, you don't - at least until it causes demonstrable problems. Manager A has made it pretty clear to you this is the way the world is now, even if that wasn't clearly communicated to you originally. As I've said many time, you're not at work do to do things you like.

Make sure you keep a documented log of any specific problems that the dual-reporting structure actually causes you. Then in a few months you can have a discussion and show how it's causing problems, rather than it being based on hypotheticals and your personal dislike for Manager B.

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    "demonstrable problems" That's exactly what the question shows, that having these 2 managers are causing problems. There are meeting scheduling problems, work scheduling issues, point of contact/chain of command problems, the added stress that goes with all of that, and likely more the OP isn't explaining. Ignoring this situation until it blows up in everyone's face is the reason this type of environment exists: because no one wants to dare "rocking the boat" and draw attention to the problem, which will likely cause them more problems than the people creating the problems. Feb 11 at 16:06
  • "Make sure you keep a documented log of any specific problems that the dual-reporting structure actually causes you." I've been in that situation and it's not always straight-forward. Do you have a preferred approach that helps with this?
    – Mast
    Feb 12 at 22:35
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Dual reporting structures are pretty common in my experience, and are not always a problem - if they're handled appropriately.

The way Manager B described things is how it is at my organization. You have a "project manager" and a "mentor", but it works out to a person who tells you what to do on a daily basis, and a person who does your review, goes to bat for you in raise/promotion discussions, handles any issues that come up that aren't project related, that sort of thing.

When it works well, this can be beneficial, because you for all practical reasons have two people who can support your growth - and if a project is not going well, you still have someone who's supporting you and can protect you from issues on the project.

What's important though is that you have a clear definition of duties. If both managers are giving you tasks, that can be problematic - but it should not be your problem. That's for the two of them to work out. Just make sure you're giving them both the appropriate feedback.

For me, my "mentor" did not assign me any tasks while I was assigned to the project, and all 40 hours were at the behest of the project manager. But, once the project no longer needed someone of my seniority, my hours reverted to my mentor, and he scheduled them from that point on. While assigned to the project, I was occasionally asked by my mentor to do small tasks, and when that would happen I would let my project manager know a few hours were needed - if it caused an issue then the two of them could talk, but they had offices nearly next to each other so it worked out fine for the most part (as they could just talk it out).

In this case, it looks like you need to get an in writing rule for how to split your time. Is it 20 hours on each manager's tasks? Is one manager priority and the other cannot take your time if the first wants all forty hours? Get it in writing (or email) and then follow that. If Manager A gets to decide how many hours you assign to each project, listen to her; if manager B gets to decide, listen to him, and if both have an equal share, just make sure, each week, you have an idea of how many hours are assigned to each manager's tasks.

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In your first conversation with them, Manager B is asking you to change the regular time of your 1-on-1's because they frequently have conflicts with the current time slot. They're not accusing you of skipping one. I think there's a language barrier between you and Manager B that is creating misunderstandings between the two of you. (or rather a dialect barrier if Manager B is Indian and you are not, as the phrasing you both use suggests)

It's possible this barrier also exists between Managers A and B, or whoever was tasked with explaining the situation.

I suspect Manager B thinks everyone has the same understanding of the reporting structure. The difference between "AWOra will be reporting to you for all of their work on Project X" and "AWOra will be reporting to you for all of their work, notably Project X" is a subtlety that is easily lost. I would assume that they honestly believe Manager A is only your "HR manager," which might be something more common in different work cultures.

I think the first priority should be to truly get everyone on the same page regarding the current reporting structure. Given results so far, I think you need to involve someone from one of your teams who is more fluent in the dialects of all parties. This can be done tactfully, but frankly I am not the right person to know how to pull that off.

Once everyone understands the current situation, then you can address how to make the situation tolerable.

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  • "They're not accusing you of skipping one." -- Could you then explain what does "why you do not attend the 1-to-1" mean? Feb 13 at 12:11
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I don't think you will be able to change this without switching jobs or threatening to - it's unfortunately a losing situation. For whatever reason the organization has decided to do this.

You can bring up the challenges this brings with the two managers coordinating your schedule, and maybe press that they need better communication and planning between them, or you will continually be disappointing at least one of them, or both.

I would recommend, as long as this silly structure continues, send periodic emails to the two of them with what you have planned for both, so they have an idea of what you are working on and your capacity.

Lastly... Don't be passive aggressive or petty on the issue now that it's been shot down... a lot of people may feel inclined to harp on an issue relentlessly, but it won't change what's going on and may subconsciously train them to ignore you / set them against you.

The best thing you can do, if you're interested in remaining under these (likely unchanging) circumstances, is work on what you can do or get them to do to clear up the challenges it's causing and focus on those directly. It may be annoying to have 2 managers... but working towards a way to make it more successful will make you look infinitely better than challenging it when it likely won't be changed.

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  • I don't really like bringing leaving this organization on the table. OP's situation is somewhat normal and definitely not a reason to consider leaving. Feb 11 at 9:35
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    @PierreArlaud i agree it's not a reasonable solution to the problem, I'm mentioning it to illustrate the difficulty of what he is asking for.
    – schizoid04
    Feb 11 at 13:46
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I would suggest a 30-minute meeting weekly with both managers present, for purpose of everyone in the room coming to agreement on what your task allocations are going to be. This will put them on the spot to be more organized, and put the onus and friction on them and not you. It make take a few passes before they find a rhythm. You might be able to sit quietly in such meetings and let them hash things out, offering only input on task estimations. After each meeting, you can provide them both a written memorandum of what they agreed on.

A few days before your first meeting, send an email to both of them as to how this is going to be beneficial to you and the organization. Don't bury this in the meeting invitation because they're less likely to read it.

If after some period of time it becomes apparent that they're not looking to help you, you'll have a paper trail for HR, or you'll know it's time to bail.

I think this will be the most you can do proactively to get back toward some sense of balance.

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How can I effectively communicate that I do not like this working model because of the possible complication it may bring?

You shouldn't. While "serving multiple masters" does indeed introduce potential issues with regards to planning and prioritising your work, it's a very common model. Complaining about the model itself wouldn't look great, even if it's because of poor experiences in the past. If you do end up running into issues over this, only then should you discuss those in more detail and with more urgency with A.

That being said, that doesn't mean you can't address the other elements in play here. It's important that Manager A and B are on the same page about how your time is spent, specifically the fact that you still (mainly) report to A and not B. Or at least that you'll do work for both. B seems clear that he's got a different take here and that's a problem for A to solve. That's not something you can do, you can only flag it for them to handle. That's also how you should approach any potential conflict down the line by the way. If B complains because you didn't prioritise his work because you were busy for A, send him to A to talk it out.

More generally, I would suggest having another call with A to mention how you're not a fan of this arrangement, that you and B don't seem to mesh that well, and that you strongly prefer to work only for A. You should also ask how long this arrangement would last. You definitely also want to be clear on who is now in charge of your performance reviews and so on.

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    Your answer seems contradictory. In the first paragraph, you suggest that OP should not try to explain that they don't like the arrangement, but in the last paragraph you say that they should mention to Manager A that they don't like the arrangement.
    – Andrew Ray
    Feb 10 at 20:50
  • @AndrewRay Not exactly. I'm saying they shouldn't complain about the concept of working for two managers. That's common and the complain isn't actionable. So OP shouldn't make this about disliking working for two people in general, but about disliking working for manager B in particular. OP already mentioned before how they're not a fan of this model and manager A wasn't receptive. Continuing to push it would come across strangely and the best outcome would be that they'd get another explanation on how it's common and they can address issues as they occur.
    – Lilienthal
    Feb 12 at 14:31
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You seem to be in a matrix organization. That approach can work pretty well if there are clear separations of concern.

There are three constraints that need to be established for it to work well:

  • For everything you do, it must be totally clear whether it's in the turf of your "upstream" manager A or B. It must, directly or indirectly, be either A or B, not both, and not neither.
  • The total sum of your time spent working for the company must stay within the bounds set up by your work contract. Ideally, there is a bilateral understanding between A and B about how much of your time is reserved for either of them.
  • There must be some way to arbitrate conflicts of interest (including your own). Assuming your company has a single CEO, then if you travel the hierarchy upwards from A or B to the CEO, then at some point you must arrive at a single person, who has the authority to resolve problems originating from conflicting requirements posted by A and B.

Now, in practice, it is pretty standard that people have one disciplinary manager who does the "HR stuff". This is usually the person you'll stick with long-term and who accompanies you in your career in the company. They will (or should) know you best, and it should be clear that your well-being is in their best interest. That person is probably themselves evaluated on their rate of attrition - if they lose employees it reflects badly unless they can show that they were on the top of their job and tried to make everything work for you. Their main interest is (or should be) that you are happy and staying. Sometimes they have almost no tasks for you except to remind you of some periodic book-keeping (like booking your hours, taking your vacations correctly, and so on). Ideally they take care about your training, and so on, so you don't stagnate.

The other manager(s) are more like project leads. Their main focus is not your well-being, but the success of their projects (you can substitute other things for "project", but whatever it is, it's not you that's in the focus). This is fine and works as intended - a project does need someone fighting for it.

Eventually, depending on what kind of company you're in, you may even end up with working for multiple project leads at the same time, though there is a natural end to how much you can usefully scale to. For some people, that's a single project, some thrive with working for two in parallel, and after that it usually becomes sketchy. This can work just fine if the processes surrounding all of that are up to it.

As you found out, communication is key here. Some "B" type managers are very light on clear communication; they formulate things they want from you very friendly and often more like it could be a favour you'd do them if you have some spare time ... then you prioritize it lowly, and eventually they hit you with a big "why didn't you do this by yesterday as we agreed?!". It's your job to clarify these things, as you are the first to suffer. One technique that works well is to simply follow up any meeting with a mail of your own to put down your understanding in clear terms - if you can, include the date at which you will deliver, and the content in as much detail as makes sense to really avoid misunderstandings.

Good luck with your issues, hope you clear them up!

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  • My reading is that Manager B thinks the organisation structure is a matrix, and they have full access to @AWOra's time, while Manager A thinks that they are both managing AWOra with respect to their own tasks and that AWOra is a shared resource. This mismatch appears to be the root of the problem, and will either need to be sorted out between the three of them, or by their common manager above them.
    – Mark Booth
    Feb 11 at 15:43
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Your situation sounds like a special case of Matrix Management. Matrix management can be good, it can be bad, there is plenty of literature on it. In essence, you have one line manager and several project managers. The role of the line manager is to look after HR issues, cross-cutting concerns, and to schedule your working time between the different project managers.

The key question to ask of your line manager is "which part of the working time goes to which project manager?" This can be given in percentages, in specific days, etc. It is your professional obligation to ask that clearly, and her obligation to answer -- when push comes to shove, without weasel words like "schedule yourself how to meet all deadlines." ("Schedule yourself" is a very good answer when people and deadlines are reasonable, of course.)

The key question to your project manager is "I can work for you X hours per week, how should I use that time?" If the project manager believes that 1-on-1 are efficient use of the time, by all means go to the 1-on-1.

It seems that your line manager is also one of your project managers. Not textbook matrix management, but it happens often. In communications with your line manager, keep clear in your and her mind that she wears two hats, as a line and project manager. As a line manager, she allocates a percentage of your working time to herself, which then gets used as a project manager. This can be awkward, but it is really a thing between the two managers.

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I am not sure whether your problem is the dual reporting structure or that you don't want to work for B because you feel not be treated fair by him.

Ask yourself, would you mind moving completely from A's team to B's one? Would it be fine for you reporting just to B? If yes, eventually, you can ask A to become formally part of B's team. If no, ask A to reassign duties in A's team to give you tasks that are related to A's direct responsibility.

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  • +1 I'm not sure if transferring to B's team is a realistic option, but I do think this is a good way for the OP to work out if they dislike having two managers or just dislike working for manager B Feb 11 at 8:51
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How can I effectively communicate that I do not like this working model because of the possible complication it may bring?

By working out what specifically you don't like, which parts of that are legitimate concerns and proposing mitigating actions to the managers.

I agree with Lilienthal and Philip that there's no mileage in complaining about the fact of this management structure - the organisation has decided to do this, both bosses are in agreement and so you've got to make the best of it.

Liking one manager more than another isn't something you can raise, and experiences with previous managers' communication failings rightly make you wary of similar situations in future but aren't something to complain about now.

On the other hand, part of your job in any professional role is to forsee issues and plan to avoid or mitigate them. Concerns over potential prioritisation clashes fall into this category. Open communication here is key.

As a Software Development Manager I am assuming you have a team of people reporting to you and have a system in place to manage multiple tasks and priorities that you and they are working on. Perhaps this is all in your head, or a scrap of paper on your desk. Perhaps it's a bunch of sticky notes on a team whiteboard or a fully prioritised backlog in Jira. Whatever it is, get it into a format that you can share with both managers, ideally at a 3-way meeting along the lines that Xavier suggests. As new work comes in, you should be able to make an initial assessment of the priority and who in your team it gets assigned to, and put it in the appropriate place in your queue. Review the queue with both managers and give them the opportunity to agree your prioritisation or jointly direct you to a different order. If you don't understand the strategic goals of your company well enough to make that initial prioritisation (is the fancy new product that might bring new customers more or less important than supporting the one with a million global users with bugfixes?), going through this process a few times will help you get a better idea and improve initial binning in future. Eventually you should be able to predict well enough how the 2 managers will respond that you can have everything sorted properly before you see them and it's a case of them both agreeing with how well you're managing the team. Have the meeting regularly enough that the vast majority of new work can be dealt with this way - only if something truly exceptional comes in would you then need to react before the next meeting, in which case a quick email along the lines of

'Dear A, B has asked me to drop everything to deal with <a dumpster fire>. on <Project Y>. I've asked <Bob> and <Alice> to pause work on <bugfix Z> to take a look. Unfortunately that now won't be ready to release next week. Please shout up if you disagree and we can have a call with B to re-prioritise'

should cover it.

If there are other issues you forsee now, think up a plan to mitigate them, and propose it to A & B and get them to agree it, or agree a different solution (e.g. "I'm assuming A will write my performance review with input from B. Is that correct?" if that's important to you). And if issues arise in future, do the same. Start with the assumption that A & B are competent and conscientious professionals and that open communication between the three of you is the way to the best available solution for your company.

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My take is there are 2 sides of the coin here:

  • on the one side your situation sucks and it especially sucks there was a change in how you are "managed" and this was not communicated to you properly (and still isn't)
  • the other question is how you deal with it. Do you call them out on this? It probably won't help and will only cause problems.

So try to clarifiy who you report to, what is expected from you etc., but do this in a very cordial and relaxed way. (there is always time for more clarity and escalating things as next step).

For me, this entire situation raises a red flag, but try to be patient and give them time to sort it out.

If you have a good business-relationship with manager A - try to talk with her directly and voice your concerns. Make sure the conversation stays confidential. Only be open if you can trust whoever you are dealing with.

Voicing concerns over having 2 managers is - IMHO - the second step. If the current situation cannot be sorted out and clarified.


p.s. Also make sure manager B really has the authority to manage you and is not just rustling his feathers. If he is not officially your manager, he is not your manager.

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    With regards to your last paragraph, you don't seem to have read the question closely: "Manager A confirms that I will also report to Manager B for certain tasks" Feb 10 at 20:47
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Back to the title of your post, you say you want to communicate that you don't like 2 managers, you can send an email that you simply don't like having 2 managers, but I don't think that's what you are wanting, you want to find a more enjoyable way of working with this situation you find yourself in, you probably can't change it in the medium term.

I get where you are coming from that you could be working in context A and then manager B needs to ask you something than then you need to switch context, or all these other issues which could happen, keeping them both happy etc.

I'd say the burden is on you to figure and get a tenable solution. You could split your time in that you work 1 week for 1, and 1 for the other. This would be the most clean if the projects allow it. Or 3 days, 2 days etc but I wouldn't like that personally myself and rather split by week. But essentially you will need to agree on some sort of resourcing like this because both managers would want their task above the other in priority which will forever cause conflicts. With this model if one manager wants some of your time in the other manager's week they would need to sort this out. Also it will be clear that your 2-weekly catchups will occur in what week, and communication out of their associated week should be kept to a minimum, (or you can simply not respond till their week pops up).

Most importantly then set a deadline for this arrangement to end, and how you can help that happen (i.e. training new hire for the project you don't like). I'd also figure out how you got in this situation as well, (did somebody quit, was nobody else available with your skill set etc.) So that you can better avoid this happening to you in the future.

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Another angle here, apart from "who is your boss".

Seems to me that your workplace is unstructured with respect to what gets done, what gets resources and priority, with project management. Seems to me that they expect you to do project management on project X, aleritng that "we do not have the time to get feature Y ready in time" is project management.

You need clear boundaries on who needs to be updated on what, and which projects you are responsible to manage. Your personal output on that project is then one piece of the puzzle.

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