energizing breakthrough performance

Solid Line/Dotted Line: Is that ‘Nuff Said?

Author: ; Published: Apr 26, 2011; Category: Matrix Management; Tags: , , ; No Comments»

Matrix organizations are sometimes described in terms of solid line and dotted line relationships. The solid line/dotted line terminology can be useful shorthand, but only after the more tedious work of clarifying the structure in more precise detail has been done. Glib and lofty descriptions of matrix management as arrangements of “sharing staff” or “dotted-line” relationships are elegant at the intellectual level. Descriptions that are more gritty and granular are needed for folks who work in the matrix structure everyday and use it to get decisions made and work done.

One useful question for clarifying structure is to ask whether an issue to be decided relates to “doing the right thing” or to “doing things right.” Some issues associated with “doing the right thing” relate to defining what is to be done, by when something must be done, and why it must be done, to name a few. Issues associated with “doing things right” include, among others, defining how something is to be done and by whom.

When employees are confused as to whom they should turn about what issue, we have a structure that needs clarification. Failure to clarify these relationships adequately results in frustration and lost productivity—schoolyard-style shoving matches, people making up their own rules, and expanding or contracting their own roles on a freelance basis. Once key issues of doing things right and doing the right things have been explicated fully, we can, if we wish, then attach a shorthand description. Call it solid line or dotted line, call it vertical or horizontal, but make sure that whatever you call it has real clarity of meaning behind it—news that the employees can use.

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