Dealing With Dotted Lines In Your Org Chart

In this article we explore whether you should consider using dotted line relationships in your organizational chart, and if so, how you can make them work for you.

Dealing With Dotted Lines In Your Org Chart

If you’re a manager you've probably experienced the struggle with managing dotted line reporting relationships within your team.

Blurred lines of authority, confusion around responsibilities, miscommunication; dotted line relationships in your org chart can create challenges. But they do have their benefits.

In this article we'll explore whether you should consider using dotted line relationships in your organizational chart, and if so, how you can make them work for you.

Let's dive in.

What is Solid Line Reporting?

In a typical organizational structure, every employee reports to a direct manager (aka their "boss"). This is represented on an organizational chart as a solid line connecting these two people, and it's what we call a solid line reporting structure.

Solid line reporting indicates that there is a direct reporting relationship between two individuals, and it means that one person has authority over another and can give out orders and instructions.

What is Dotted Line Reporting?

A dotted line, on the other hand, is an informal relationship between two people or teams in an organization.

If an employee has a dotted line manager it means that, in addition to reporting to their direct manager, they also report indirectly to a secondary manager or supervisor (who may be in another team).

This which is what we call a dotted line reporting relationship, and the term "dotted line" refers to the lines on an organizational chart diagram.

What Does a Dotted Line Mean on an Org Chart Diagram?

A dotted line on an organizational chart diagram indicates that an indirect or secondary relationship of authority or responsibility exists between the two positions or people that the lines are connected to.

Dotted lines can also be used to indicate relationships that are temporary or subject to change, such as when an employee is filling in for another position.

In general, the more dotted lines there are between two positions, the weaker the relationship is between them.

Why Include Dotted Line Reporting in Your Org Chart?

Dotted line reporting is an important concept because it recognizes special relationships between employees and managers that don’t necessarily fit into the traditional hierarchy of an organization.

Including these relationships in your org chart helps ensure that everyone understands who to go to if they have questions or need assistance at work.

Dotted line relationships also allow you to quickly identify which employees have special skills or roles, making it easier for managers and executives to make decisions on who should be involved in certain projects or initiatives.

The Benefits of Using Dotted Lines in Your Org Chart

Adding dotted lines to your organizational chart is a great way to strengthen relationships between colleagues and to streamline communication within departments.

Where a solid line reporting relationship indicates the "hierarchy of managers" in your company, a dotted line reporting structure helps to further clarify roles and responsibilities, which can lead to increased productivity.

Let's take a look at the benefits of dotted line reporting in more detail.

Streamlines Communication

Multiple reporting relationships increases the number of communication channels with your company. When an employee needs assistance, instead of relying on a single manager to always be available to assist them, they can reach out to their dotted line managers for help.

Clarifies Roles and Responsibilities

Having layers of reporting in your organization (which can be represented with dotted lines on your org chart) can help to clarify roles and responsibilities, since it allows for more granular assignment of responsibilities. Having multiple supervisors gives employees additional guidance on their tasks and projects, thus ensuring that they are completing their work correctly and efficiently.

Improves Cross-Department Collaboration

It often happens that employees are assigned dotted line managers that are in other departments. This encourages collaboration between departments and allows employees to gain insight into different areas of the business, which can help them better understand how the entire organization works together.

The Disadvantages of Using Dotted Lines in Organizational Charts

Many companies use dotted lines in their org charts as a way to indicate certain relationships between departments or employees.

However, while dotted lines can be helpful in some cases, they can also create confusion and lead to misunderstandings if not managed properly.

Let’s consider the reasons dotted line reporting might not be for you.

Can Lead To Miscommunication

The main problem with using dotted lines in organizational charts is that they can be interpreted in different ways by different people.

For example, some individuals may view a dotted line relationship as one where information flows freely and easily between two people (regardless of whether that is in fact the case). Another may view a dotted line relationship as a loose connection with no real authority. And yet others may inadvertently view dotted lines as a formal team or group structure when that may not be the case.

This lack of clarity, which can occur if employees aren't familiar with what dotted lines represent in your org chart, can lead to miscommunication and confusion within your organization.

Blurs the Boundaries of Authority

Another issue with dotted lines is that they often blur the boundaries of authority, making it difficult for employees to understand who their "real" manager is or who has authority over any given task or project. This can lead to confusion over who is responsible for what, which can cause projects or tasks to become stalled or even derailed altogether.

Difficult to Navigate the Org Chart

The more connections and layers of reporting you put in place, the more difficult it can be to manage how they are structured in your org chart. Representing both solid and dotted lines in a single org chart can be overwhelming to manage and can be difficult for people to understand.

How to Make Dotted Line Reporting Work for You

Dotted line reporting is a unique management structure. This type of organizational flow can be confusing at times, but it also offers numerous advantages and can be incredibly beneficial when done correctly.

Let’s explore how you can make dotted line reporting work for you.

Choose Managers Carefully

It's important than when designing your dotted line reporting structure, you choose your managers carefully. As we've seen, it can be easy for the lines of authority to become blurred when adding a dotted line structure on top of your traditional reporting structure. Therefore, dotted line managers need to be aware of their boundaries of authority and control when it comes to managing people who aren't their direct reports.

Setting Expectations

It isn't necessary to send your managers on formal training for this, but it is important they receive guidance on how dotted line reporting works in the context of their team and your organization. It can be easy for dotted line managers to overstep boundaries of authority when they have people reporting to them who are also reporting to other managers, so setting expectations is important.

Communication

It sounds simple but in order for dotted line reporting to be effective in your organization, managers and supervisors need to communicate effectively with each other. This helps to minimize conflicts and miscommunication that may occur within their reporting lines.

Other Ways to use Dotted Line Reporting in Your Org Chart

Since a dotted line indicates that two individuals or departments have a working relationship but do not have a direct reporting relationship, it can be used for more than just indicating supervisory roles.

Here are some ideas:

  • If you're creating an org chart diagram for the purposes of organizational planning, you could use dotted lines on your org chart to point to the open positions.
  • Contractors and temporary roles can be assigned to permanent employees on your org chart using a dotted line.
  • If you're including external consultants in your org chart who are reporting to your permanent employees, you may wish to create a dotted line between them to indicate the temporary nature of the relationship.
  • In a departmental org chart, a dotted line could indicate that one department provides services or resources to another without having any authority over it.
  • On a company org chart, where a solid line might indicate that a company is a subsidiary of another company, a dotted line could be used to indicate a secondary "connected" relationship between companies, such as a service provider or partner company.

As you can see there are many ways different to use dotted lines on an organizational chart. The key is that everyone needs to understand what the dotted lines mean in the context of the org chart they're looking at, and this may require an additional description or a chart legend.

Conclusion

The ins and outs of dotted line reporting can be tricky to navigate, but if done well it can improve communication and collaboration throughout your organization.

By understanding how to "read" the dotted line relationships in your org chart and how to manage the boundaries of authority they can affect, everyone in your organization can benefit from the improved clarity they bring to your organizational structure.