What are you accountable for? And what kind of authority do you have to properly acquit that accountability? Whom do you report to? How do you get inducted into the role? Who decides which tasks are to be done, of what type and by when?
Everyone craves clarity in their role. We want to know who makes decisions about hiring and firing from the team and who will do the appraisals. Who has the authority to negotiate pay, whether up or down? The classic job description often covers many aspects of your role. But what happens when you get assigned to a project outside of your functional home?
[Listen to audio version, read by David Hodes]
What is the relationship between you and a person in a horizontal business function who has a different boss to you? Who has authority when you need to get a task done for which you are held accountable, but for which you don’t have direct authority over the person you need to do the work? Job descriptions get hazy when it comes to the nature of the horizontal relationships between the silos. A prerequisite of effective collaboration is having a consistent means by which work is assigned from one part of the management accountability hierarchy to another without having to go to that place in the hierarchy to seek permission from the manager who spans both silos.
Elliott Jaques, a pioneer in organisational design, came up with the idea of TARRs and TIRRs, which stand for Task Assigning Role Relationships and Task Initiating Role Relationships. Whilst the concepts are rock solid, we’ve found the descriptions and their abbreviations a little ambiguous in practice. Instead, we refer to them more simply as vertical and horizontal relationships.
Let’s say Alice is Bob’s boss. Not only is she authorised to get Bob to do something but is also held accountable by her own manager for Bob’s output (and its quantity, quality and delivery time, within resources and procedures). These are the classic vertical relationships defined by the org chart.
Now imagine Alice is not Bob’s boss, but wants to initiate a task for which Bob is qualified. Usually it is Bob’s manager (not Alice) who is held accountable for whether or not Bob does the task, and is further held accountable for Bob’s output. HTRs define who can ask what of whom when it’s outside of the vertical silo.
In this article, I’ll focus on the different types of horizontal relationships and how they contribute to running the business more effectively.
We’ve all come across ‘dotted line’ relationships where someone informally reports to a manager from another silo. But while Alice may be Bob’s senior (say she is a manager and Bob is a superintendent), in horizontal relationships she is often his peer and sometimes even his junior. By way of example, it’s clear that a military policeman of lowly rank can prevent a General from gaining access to a part of a military base, or a safety officer can instruct the CEO to don her personal protective equipment before entering a site. In most organisations, though, roles and responsibilities can quickly get tangled.
Fortunately, Jaques came up with seven different types of relationship that bring clarity: Advisory, Auditing, Collateral, Coordinative, Monitoring, Prescribing, and Service.
Let’s say Alice belongs to the Engineering function and is running a large project to implement a new asset management system. As such, she’ll need access to people from Production, Maintenance, Finance, IT, HR and the like. Alice’s position description contains nothing about her authority over the many people with whom she has to interact. The project affects the whole business and has been identified by the executive as critical to its future success.
“What happens when you get assigned to
a project outside of your functional home?”
As you read through these horizontal role relationships bear in mind that, once set in place, you no longer need to seek permission for every interaction you have from the manager of the person you wish to interact with. Moreover, that manager’s subordinate is obliged to cooperate to the extent required by the type of role relationship put in place. This can have a positive impact on productivity, as work can flow according to the structure and procedures made explicit by the role relationships. There is no need to wait and stop and start your task whilst waiting for permission to keep your work flowing.
Advisory: Alice is accountable for deciding on opportunities to help Bob by advising him and trying to persuade him to take that advice. Bob is accountable for deciding whether or not to take the advice. If he decides not to, then Alice is not authorised to go further. Bob has production targets to reach and has his own plan of how to go about reaching those targets in a safe, reliable and cost-effective way. He cannot merely dismiss the advice offered by Alice but is free to reject it once it has been properly considered.
Auditing: Alice is accountable for inspecting Bob’s work and deciding whether it is satisfactorily within limits. If Alice decides it isn’t, she has the authority to instruct Bob to stop that particular activity, and Bob must do so. For example, the new asset management system has improved standards for safety and the way maintenance engineers go about their tasks. If Bob has failed to take these new standards into account, Alice instructs him to stop until the new standards can be incorporated into his work.
Collateral: Alice and Bob are accountable for making mutual adjustments in their work in line with their manager’s context so that the best overall outcome for the business is achieved. The managers for Engineering and Maintenance have agreed on the asset management plans and have asked Alice and Bob to work out the ideal asset strategies to ensure they achieve the desired outcome contained in the plan. Alice might privilege reliability over cost whereas Bob might have a tight budget to work to, which doesn’t allow for all of what Alice would like to incorporate. The two of them work out a solution within the context set by their respective managers.
Coordinative: Alice not only has monitoring authority with respect to Bob and Bob’s peers, but also has the authority to bring them all together and try to persuade them to take a common course of action. Alice knows that to get the best bang for buck with the new asset management system she will have to get input from maintenance, operations, HR and IT. She decides that the best way to do this is to hold a series of workshops at which Bob and his peers will have to be present. She coordinates the meetings without further reference to Bob’s manager and all must do everything reasonable and possible to attend and contribute.
Monitoring: Alice is accountable for keeping abreast of what Bob is doing and for taking opportunities to persuade Bob to take alternative courses of action which Alice thinks are more in line with policy. If Bob does not accept Alice’s persuasion and she considers the matter to be serious, she must report to a higher authority. Alice has a schedule to complete the first phase of the project and is being held to account for its delivery. Failure to meet the schedule milestones would have serious implications for other aspects of the integration of her project with other projects currently running in the business. Bob feels under the pump with work assigned to him by his boss and has a natural tendency to do what he thinks will please his boss rather than what Alice is recommending. If Alice and Bob cannot agree, Alice is obliged to escalate, without any fear that she is dobbing in Bob.
Prescribing: If Alice judges that Bob is doing something that may have seriously destructive consequences, Alice has the authority to instruct Bob to carry out corrective activities, and he is accountable for doing so at the time prescribed. Alice does not have managerial accountability or authority with respect to Bob. She determines that Bob’s attitude to her project is having serious consequence across the whole of Bob’s function. He doesn’t like the asset management project, feeling that it’s interfering in his obligation to keep the plant running. He has told anyone who cares to listen that he will only do what Alice is calling for when it suits him.
Both the engineering and maintenance managers are resolute in their desire to get the new asset management system in place as soon as possible, knowing that the VP Operations, their mutual boss, has made clear it is a critical means for delivering his mandate of safety, volume and cost. To move matters along, Alice is equipped with a prescribing role relationship with respect to Bob who is then compelled to do what Alice calls for. Although Alice now has project authority over Bob, she does not have managerial authority or accountability—that role resides with the maintenance manager.
Service (getting and giving): The service-getter, Alice, has the authority to go to the service-giver, Bob, and to instruct him to provide an authorised service. Bob is accountable for providing the service unless he lacks the resources to do so, in which case he must indicate to Alice whether and when it will be possible to provide the authorised service. Alice goes to IT and asks them to stand up the new asset management software application and configure it in a way that is fit for purpose for the project’s User Acceptance Testing phase. There is a service-level agreement between Engineering and IT, which allows for the required service to be accomplished within seven days of an authorised request. IT receives the authorised request and apologises to Alice that due to an extraordinary workload and the absence of some critical staff members, they’ll only be able to stand up the application in three weeks.
Alice goes ballistic, releasing a tirade of unmentionable invective, and fires the IT manager on the spot. Fortunately for the IT manager, Alice is not his boss, and he has years of experience in dealing with colleagues who can’t believe it takes IT a week merely to turn on the switch of a new machine. ‘Just kidding,’ he replies when Alice finally calms down, ‘I can get it done in a day. We just implemented the TOC-based Dev Ops, and the difference it has made is awesome.’
The different types of horizontal relationships are summarised in the table below:
It may sound like a lot of bother to define these horizontal relationships, but it’s worth investing the time in advance. The clarity you gain not only minimises headaches from personality clashes and unvoiced assumptions but prevents buck-passing and arse-covering. Do it for one key project, learn some lessons and adapt it to create the future standard. Best of all, removing the frustration and procrastination of the old ways of doing things leads to huge increases in engagement and productivity.
There’s more about managing accountability in my book, More Than Just Work, which distils my thinking about three decades of managing work. It’s edited and proofed—and looks gorgeous—but my editor and I are calling it the ‘advanced reader’s copy’. Soon, I’ll incorporate a few suggestions from some early trusted readers and make some changes based on new ideas I’m discovering.
[Background photo by Alain Pham on Unsplash]
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