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Manage a dotted-line relationship

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Many organizations eschew standard hierarchical reporting relationships for less-defined dotted-line scenarios. In those situations, employees of the same level share job responsibilities and report to one another. The etiquette of dotted-line reporting can be challenging. If you find yourself managing or being managed in a dotted-line relationship, follow these two suggestions:

  1. Be clear about accountability. Lay the groundwork for a good dotted-line relationship by establishing accountability benchmarks and reviewing them often. Example: If a dotted-line supervisor utilizes your product development resources for special projects, be clear about how the accountability for delivery will be handled.
  2. Communicate constantly. If you’re managing someone via dotted-line, be sure to communicate frequently with both that person and that person’s direct supervisor. Be transparent, and avoid handing the supervisor unwanted problems or surprises.

—Adapted from “How to Define Dotted Line Working Relationships,” Tom Foster, Management Skills Blog,
managementblog.org.

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