Multiple Managers: Productive or Bureaucratic?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "High Output Management" by Andrew S. Grove. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the purpose of reporting to multiple managers? Why is this a helpful management structure?

When someone reports to multiple managers, this has the benefit of increasing output since it can allow one person to focus on the technical aspects of the job, and another to focus on the general aspects.

Read more about what it means to have one person report to multiple managers.

Reporting to Multiple Managers

Another way to ensure the smooth running of large organizations is to have people report to multiple managers, or for people to be part of more than one organizational chart. We’ll look at both cases below:

Case #1: Dual Reporting

Dual reporting is when someone reports to multiple managers, who can be an individual or a group. Typically, one of the managers supervises the technical aspects of the job (for example, how to manufacture a computer) and the other supervises the general aspects (for example, showing up on time).

  • (Shortform example: A publicist who excels at her job is promoted to marketing manager. In this role, she supervises other publicists. As she gets promoted again and again, she acquires subordinates who aren’t publicists, and they likely know more about their jobs than she does. Therefore, she can’t help with the technical side of things so these subordinates need someone else to turn to.)

Dual reporting is advantageous because:

  • It allows for the hybrid structure. If all supervisors had to have technical knowledge in the same field as their subordinates, there would be no way to have general managers of departments. 
  • The technical supervisor can be a peer group rather than a single person. (For example, a group of engineers who are all supervised by a general manager might get together to help each other with the particular challenges of engineering work.) There are two criteria for peer group supervision:
    • People in peer groups must let the group make decisions they’d normally make individually.
    • The organization needs a robust culture so everyone is on the same page about how things are done.

The disadvantage of dual reporting is that organizational charts become more ambiguous, and most people don’t like ambiguity. However, it’s a necessary evil. When an organization gets big and complicated enough, dual reporting is the only way for an organization to function effectively.

Dual reporting shouldn’t create bureaucracy or busywork (work that takes up time but doesn’t produce anything of much value). Keep applying the factory principles: work simplification and regular evaluations of processes to make sure they make common sense.

Case #2: Multi-Plane

In a multi-plane organization, a given employee is part of multiple unrelated organizational charts. People don’t have to keep the same role in all planes—they can be a supervisor in one plane and a subordinate in the other. There’s no confusion between roles and they don’t conflict with each other. This is one way to have multiple managers.

This is advantageous because:

1. People can join transitory teams to quickly solve problems.

2. People can participate in more planes. 

  • For example, on one plane, Grove is at the top of the chart as the president of Intel. On another chart, he reports to the chairman of a strategic planning group as a member. This allows him, as a leader, to have time to participate in things without having to be in charge of them (being in charge is a huge time commitment).

Often, many of the planar structures are transitory teams—task forces or informal groups that only exist for as long as the problem they’re created to solve. This is one way to use the multiple managers system.

Multiple Managers: Productive or Bureaucratic?

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Here's what you'll find in our full High Output Management summary:

  • How to increase your managerial output and productivity
  • The 11 activities that offer a higher impact on output
  • How meetings can be used as a time management tool

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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