Dotted Lines Create Confusion

Dotted lines create confusion, not only in the mind of the team member or manager playing a role, but in the minds of all the collateral players. The dotted line is simply short-hand for confusion. It creates ambiguity and kills accountability.

And yet, in the real world, we have cross-functional accountability. Rather than use a dotted line, use a real line and define the accountability. You see, in the real world, we report to people all over the organization, but depending on the cross-functional role, the defined expectations are different.

Elliott Jaques specifically defined seven cross-functional roles and further defined the accountabilities in each. Over the next few days, we will take these roles one-by-one.


“Thanks for coming to the meeting today on the ABC project. Paul, Robert, both of you will be working on this project. Paul, you are the Project Leader. The outcome of this project will clearly be your accountability, you, as the manager are accountable for the direct output of your team. This means, all problems that need to be solved, decisions to be made will be on your shoulders.

“Robert, you will be on this team in the role of an advisor. You will bring your technical expertise to the project. You will have access to Paul to explain the technical mechanics of what is happening inside the project.

“Paul, if Robert calls a meeting with you, you can be assured it will contain important data you will need to make some of your decisions.

“Robert, understand, that your role will only be that of an Advisor. All decisions, priorities and the accountability for the project will be on Paul.”

Having an Advisor on a project can be extremely valuable. The role of the Advisor is very clear, as is the role for the Project Leader. No dotted lines, not two people in charge of the same project, but clear accountability.

Tomorrow, we will explore another cross functional relationship from the list.

  • Advisor
  • Audit
  • Coordinative
  • Monitoring
  • Prescribe
  • Service Getting
  • Collateral

Our next online program – Hiring Talent is scheduled to kick off August 1, 2011. If you would like to find out more about the program or pre-register, follow this link.

One thought on “Dotted Lines Create Confusion

  1. michael cardus

    I had a similar conversation yesterday.
    Working with a manager to clearly define what her subordinates accountability and roles are in a TARR relationship.
    Once these lines are illustrated people are open to do great work becuase the ambiguity is removed.


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