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I manage two internal teams (direct reports) and external contractors (matrix reports) in a relatively flat organization structure and casual workplace culture. It is common for employees to help teams outside their own as long as deadlines and priorities are coordinated properly.

My team already has a lot of work to do, but I have a fellow manager of an unrelated team who sometimes agrees on new tasks/projects and deadlines with my reports without ever consulting with me first. Often he gives them very interesting projects that my reports are enthusiastic about and start doing, but thereby feel less motivated to perform on their main processes. When I remind them of their priorities they get very defensive.

I think this fellow manager has a few great ideas, and he casually gets the green light by our common boss, but the way he tries to implement them interferes a lot with our existing workloads and it would be better for my team and morale if he spoke to me first so we can coordinate schedules and timeframes rather than him going directly to my reports.

I once told him very casually "Hey, man, could you CC me in those e-mails about the Project Y you were talking about?" He said "Oh yes, sure! I'll send you an invitation to our next meeting..." but never got back.

I don't want to assume anything negative, but one of the things that should be clear to the fellow manager is that the team is supposed to do nothing unless it comes through me for planning. How can I communicate and enforce this without giving the impression that I am trying to stifle teamwork or the company's flat and informal culture of matrix cooperative work?

  • "who sometimes agrees on new tasks/projects and deadlines with my reports" Can you edit this, it's unclear to me what you mean. – Jan Doggen Jul 30 '14 at 7:36
  • When I remind them of their priorities they get very defensive. In what way did you remind them/communicate your concerns to your team? – Brandin Jul 30 '14 at 9:43
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    It does not sound like your organization is very flat, or very casual at all. – Bmo Jul 30 '14 at 10:19
  • @JanDoggen Read "reports" as "the persons reporting to me", not as the time sheets or whatever ;) I had the same problem when I first read that line... – Astrotrain Jul 30 '14 at 18:28
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Communicate to to your manager that you want this individual to cooperate and coordinate with you any "borrowing" of your staff.

Remind the manager that the team has its own tasks ro complete and deadlines to meet and that until further notice, it is your responsibility as their manager to see to it that these tasks are completed and these deadlines met. And if he wants to use your resources, he has to operate within the context of your needs and priorities.

And tell the manager that you are escalating to him because he keeps operating under the premise that cooperation with you is optional. It's not.

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For the direct reports:

Deny your fellow manager unrestricted access to your resources. Remind your employees that you are there to control their activity.

Remind your employees that helping the other team is fine, but that their core tasks (and the ones that will count towards evaluation) are those that naturally fail into the scope of your project(*), or those that you assign them. If the other team needs help, their manager may talk to you and then you will be the one assigning tasks. If your employees accept on their own tasks that are not theirs, you will not acknowledge that as part of their workload (and of course, as you stated, they will not be a valid excuse for missing deadlines).

After that, get a review of the status of those tasks to give the team a feeling of how delayed their project is. Maybe for a short time, stablish some periodical meetings to monitor project progress so you can check that people does not get distracted, and to show your employees that you consider that the team has not been working as it should.

Apart from that, and only as a courtesy, briefly before the changes tell the other manager about the incoming changes. Do not "negotiate" with him, just tell him (better yet, just write a short e-mail).

The only actions with upper management would be communicating the issue and the steps you are going to take to solve it, so in case the other manager complains to them, management knows why are you being "unhelpful". Spin it as an issue within your team, and not with the other manager.

For the matrix reports:

Part of what is said about direct reports does not apply. Still, the strategy is more or less the same: if they have agreed to a deadline, they have to stand by it. If the other manager's adds more tasks to them, they may change the deadlines of the other manager's other tasks. The deadline for your tasks may be changed if and only if you (or your boss) agree with the changes.

Be careful because with matrix employees there is more risk that your colleague just resorts to sending them lots of tasks so, when you need to use them they are already with no time slots to service you. In that case, first you ask the other manager to delay some of the tasks to free time for yours, in case he is not willing (or the issue gets repeated often), then escalate the issue to your boss and ask for a more sensible policy.

(*) V.g., it may be that you want bug reports about your project to be automatically assigned to your people without you having to personally assigning them.

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    -1 for suggesting that you tell your subordinates "you are there to control them" – Code Whisperer Jul 30 '14 at 15:37
  • @itcouldevenbeaboat his subordinates are plainly refusing to perform the tasks that he assigns them. That is not the fault of the other manager, it is a failure of his relationship with his subordinates. When this point is reached, it is time to remind the employees which are their duties. After this point has been made clear and there are no more problems due to it, he may try to loose his grip and begin building a more collaborative work model. – SJuan76 Jul 30 '14 at 17:19
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    @itcouldevenbeaboat I disagree, at this point his reports seem confused about from whom to accept orders, and they think they're free to cherry pick the orders they like best. The reports should be made to understand that this authority is in fact not distributed evenly, but that they report to the OP first and foremost, and should only help out the other managers if the OP agrees to this. – Astrotrain Jul 30 '14 at 18:25

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