Our company is a small professional corporation of 15, with two principals, and a nice mix of seasoned pros and young pros in their twenties. Job assignments are fluid, the hierarchy is relatively flat, we all work together in one room. If you will: a project-based matrix organization where small teams work on projects of various sizes with overlapping deadlines lead by one or the other of the principals. Since most of our employees work on more than one project, they report to more than one team leader.

I see the value in a weekly O3 with everyone and am very eager to formalize the process. The trouble is the multiple-leader problem. How have other organizations dealt with this? (Ha! I'm thinking the Manager Tools team might have the same dilemma: two bosses, one or two directs.)

All the possible scenarios seem wrong on some level: obviously we can't have two bosses in a O3. Doesn't seem right to inflict two O3's per week on our directs, one with each principal. Neither does the idea of just one of the principals formalizing O3's but not the other - although I suppose that might be the answer here. My fallback so far has been to make up for the lack of O3 structure though lots of MBWA with those on and off my teams, above and beyond our drumbeat team meetings.

I've searched the forums for insights - and have found some posts about O3's in a matrix environment, but nothing that seems directly applicable to our situation.

Any thoughts?

Klyntx00's picture
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I am happy to see this question posted, as we face the same issue. We have two principals equally involved in the day-to-day operations and production. Although each principal conducting one-on-ones might be a bit inconvenient for the direct on some levels, it seems the benefits would outweigh the direct taking an extra 30 minutes out of their week. How are others handling this situation? I look forward to seeing additional comments posted to this topic. 

mattpalmer's picture

The easy way to resolve this question is to ask: who's the boss?  Who determines whether you're fired, or get a raise?  If someone is late to work every day for a week, who is responsible for talking to that person and correcting the behaviour?  Whoever that person is, they're the person who should be doing one-on-ones.

If your answer is, "both the principals", then you're *probably* wrong.  If the two principals disagreed on a decision, how would that disagreement be resolved?  What would happen if one principal vehemently believed you should get a 5% raise, and the other thought you should get a 10% raise?  Who would be the decider?  If the answer is "nothing would happen until they came to agreement", that's not good.  Organisations that can't make decisions when they need to be made are painful to work for.  If they'd just split the difference, then OK, numeric problems are easy.  How about a harder one...

If you were habitually late to work, who would you expect would come to talk to you about it?  If the answer is "nobody", then again, that's not good.  Organisations that don't set standards and hold people accountable for their actions turn into cesspools of inactivity and sloth.  Maybe the answer is "whichever principal noticed me turning up late" -- but what if you'd cleared your late arrival with the other principal, because you needed to do something first thing in the morning?  Is the communication skills of your principals that good that you would never expect such a piece of information to not be transferred?

I'm fairly confident that either everyone would "attach" to one principal or another (in which case, that's who should be doing one-on-ones), or there's no clear lines of responsibility and that needs to be clarified for a lot of other reasons, at which point who does one-on-ones naturally falls out as a consequence.

STEVENM's picture

"Doesn't seem right to inflict two O3's per week on our directs, one with each principal."

This confuses me... A) Why is it wrong to have multiple One on Ones?  And B) Why do you consider it inflicting a wound?

O3s build relationships.  If multiple people act as boss then multiple people will benefit from having relationships that O3s can help build.  If someone has so many bosses that they'd be spending all their time in O3s (I'd be surprised) maybe there are other problems that need to be addressed first.  It's just not in human nature to multitask that well.  Either they have work from all different directions or they have multiple bosses per piece of work.  Flat doesn't have to mean disarray.  But you said two.  Thats doable.

mattpalmer's picture

At 7.5 hours of face time each, plus the time required to prepare and handle post-meeting cleanup, that's about 20% of each principal's time taken up with O3s.  If I had 15 directs, I would do them and be glad of it, but I would have a hard time making a case to someone else who didn't already see the value of them that taking one whole day out of my working week to talk to their team members was going to be worth it.

STEVENM's picture

So it's not about it being a bad idea (you've said you'd do it happily yourself), nor is it about the time of the general population.  It's about it being a hard sell to the people who would have to do them because of their time.  Seems like we need to be having a totally different conversation if that's the case.  They don't need a different solution, they need a transition plan.  And maybe a sit down to find out how much time they put into managing the team members/relationships as things are.  Might reveal that structure could make it more efficient.

drenn18's picture
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I'm part of a 3 manager team overseeing about 40 directs (restaurant). I've suggested structured O3s to the management team, though I alone am doing all of them. Since it's shift work in my field and I write the weekly schedule, I'm able to schedule one direct per shift,15 minutes early for their shift for an O3. I find this effective and very conducive to sticking to my calendar. 

What I've found is a pro and a con: Pro- All, and I mean every single direct, has reported to my (district) mgr that they like the O3s, in addition to reporting to me that they appreciate my being approachable in general. Con- as they're telling me I'm approachable they explain that other managers aren't. So going alone with O3s will probably cause the directs to see you differently than your peer--though almost certainly in a positive way--AND you'll enjoy the inevitable benefits of simply communicating more.

I'd love to see you and your peer alternate weeks with O3s and let us know how that goes. That way it's one O3 per week and you both will be nurturing your relationship with your team.