Dotted-line responsibilities in a matrix organization

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Understanding dotted line responsibilities

A defining characteristic of matrix organizations is that employees have two bosses across different areas of the firm. While some firms implement this as two formal bosses – both with shared responsibilities for setting and monitoring the tasks of employees, other firms implement the matrix with a formal ‘solid line’ boss, more typical of a regular reporting relationship, and a ‘dotted line’ boss, who has less direct control over your activities.

The difference between dotted-line responsibilities and direct reporting relationships

While all firms implement dotted-line relationships in slightly different ways, some of the common distinctions between a solid and a dotted-line boss include:

Primary control over what you focus on

Your solid line reporting relationship is typically who has primary control over the areas that you focus on. They may be your boss that can more directly direct your work – indicating where you should work on. 

Final calls on decisions

Your solid-line boss may also be the individual who makes the call if there are any disagreements, for example on how you should be conducting your work. While your solid and dotted-line boss may each have different views on how you should be conducting your work, it is typically the solid-line reporting relationship that has the final call. 

Performance reviews

Another area likely handled by a solid-line boss is performance reviews. A dotted-line boss may give some feedback, but final decisions are more often handled by a solid-line boss. 

Day-to-day administrative support

A final area where you are more likely to go to your solid-line boss is more day-to-day administrative support. Your solid-line boss for example may be your contact for administration such as taking holiday days.

Reasons why firms use dotted line reporting relationships in matrix organizations

Part of the reason that firms implement a distinction between a solid-line boss and a dotted-line boss is that it can help resolve some of the ambiguity associated with having two managers that you report to. With two bosses it can be difficult to know what to do if there is a disagreement between their directions. Dotted-line reporting relationships help resolve some of that ambiguity, by making it clearer as to who you should listen to should there be disagreement.