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I am a relatively new manager in a highly matrix'd organization (multiple managers/accountabilities per person) and over the past six months my own functional team has been chronically suffering from over capacity work, out of hours nearly every day and all the related consequences.

My functional (direct) boss asked me to be more strict at prioritizing conflicting requests from other managers, but this would not help achieve the overall business objectives on time. We were clearly lacking resources.

That's when I identified people from other teams (including direct reports of my matrix bosses) who clearly had much more free time and were also quite interested in the tasks we didn't have enough resources for - and those are tasks that require very little training (just manpower)! I briefly spoke to the matrix bosses who agreed to get them working on it - also seeing an opportunity for them to have better control over their own requests.

My direct boss was quite happy about this and over time my team was able to focus on more important things (though we still sometimes work out of hours), while at the same time new talent was able to do focus on the other tasks without rushing as we did in the past.

For some reason, a few of the matrix managers recently started making remarkes such as:"Hey man, are you offloading this project to us, too? Can't you guys do it yourselves?"

I think this is a bit political, i.e. they are not conscious (or don't want to be conscious) of how much my team is overworked and instead only pointing out that we keep "offloading" our tasks to other people.

Another behavior I noticed is that some of these managers stare at us while we are having our lunch break in the canteen. I cannot make a perfect assumption, but what I can guess is that they think:"These guys say they are over capacity but take the lunch break allowance".

There is no rule anywhere saying that if we are over capacity we have to sacrifice our lunch break (cultural context: united kingdom).

How can I make it more clear to people outside my team that my team is genuinely busy, working hardest and - despite us getting smart and delegating stuff - we are doing it so that it can get done as best as possible?

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    Hi SleepingUgliness and welcome to The Workplace! This is a great, well written question and I'm looking forward to seeing the answers. I hope to see you around! :D – Matt Giltaji Dec 18 '14 at 1:18
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    The busier you are the more important it is to take breaks. Breaks are what keep you from making mistakes from exhaustion. – HLGEM Dec 18 '14 at 16:45
  • The other managers are afraid it will look like their teams aren't busy and they'll pay the consequences for that. – Raystafarian Dec 19 '14 at 17:21
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You have a perception problem. The only way to fix it is with communication.

You have a "Matrix management" system (ugh!), but your "dotted-line bosses" don't appear to know your team's load.

You need to fix that. You need to start producing project estimates, committed man-hour reports, maps (Gantt charts?) of who's committed to what projects, and what their overall commitment is.

You need to update (not deluge) them with this data, probably weekly, at first, so that there is no plausible "I didn't know" from your dotted-line bosses and colleagues as to what your team's workload is.

This is going to take some serious effort on your part to set up, but once you do, maintaining it should be something that you can spend 20 minutes or so a day on. You probably are tracking this, already (at least I hope you are), so you just need to make it visible.

As for them staring at you in the canteen, you can cure that one fairly simply: Bring an extra sandwich or two, and when you see them staring, get up, walk over, and say, "Gee, Bob, I had no idea you were so hungry. Here you go." (ala Les Misérables).

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    If someone says, "Can't you do it yourselves?" I would respond that "Yes we could but we could not get to it until ..." and then tell them the date when you would be able to start after your current higher priorities are done. Then if they ask more questions, detail all the projects that are higher priority ahead of them. – HLGEM Dec 18 '14 at 16:43
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    +1 for indundating them with information. It's really true that some in the office will assume you're not working if they don't have the evidence of it shoved under their noses, not just once but repeatedly. Keep justifying the delegation, with evidence of its efficacy, in writing. – Scraping Infinity Dec 10 '15 at 22:41
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I'm going to buck the trend here a bit and say you should forget about this perceived problem, if at all possible:

The people you are concerned about have no direct power over you (as far as I can tell from what you've related) and are clearly playing political and mind games with you. Maybe they don't like that you're looking good because you've managed to pull yourself out from under an over-burdensome workload and you're "a new kid on the block". Unfortunately, these things happen all the time in such workplaces.

Your direct boss is happy with what you're doing, and you have gone through the proper channels to get authorization for what you're doing. What more do you need to be concerned about right now? Are you concerned that they will make things difficult in the work itself and refuse to let people on their teams work with you? If upper management is pleased with what you're doing, then those others are going to have a problem, not you.

Just because some of those others choose to be childish doesn't mean you need to let it get to you. Very often in such situations, those others may be waiting for you to react and then they will play with your head some more and make real problems for you.

"Keep a stiff upper lip", as you Brits like to say - ignore those others if possible, and go about your business. If it's not possible to ignore them without coming off as arrogant, etc, then do as @WesleyLong has suggested: Give it back to them in very light handed, good natured way. Whatever, don't escalate it and "don't make a big deal over it" - that may be exactly what they're hoping you'll do and will only exacerbate the situation: You'll become a bigger target because you're showing yourself to be thin skinned or a "tattle tale" or a "brown-noser" or whatever.

  • Please explain down-vote. Anonymous down-voting is not constructive. – Vector Dec 18 '14 at 20:20
  • Not my downvote, but: Reading the question I get the impression that OP only meets his goals by offloading work to other teams. If these teams were to withhold that support, OP would not achieve his goals, and his boss probably would not like that. That is, I fail to see how you get the impression these people have no power over OP, and can and should be ignored. – meriton Dec 31 '14 at 1:02
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    @meriton - tnx. I did address that point: "If upper management is pleased with what you're doing, then those others are going to have a problem, not you" – Vector Dec 31 '14 at 1:23
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As Wesley Long says, communicate. The managers are clearly sending a wrong message. It's up to you to send back a right message.

Tell them that your team is working at capacity, and if they let your team do all the work, your team's productivity will suffer and this will in turn impact their team's ability to meet its own milestones. Everyone benefits when your team gets to focus on what it is best at instead of your team trying to do every single thing.

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