Whether you’re a coach who has parents going directly to your administrators or a manager with subordinates who take concerns you don’t know about to your superiors, being the person ‘skipped’ in the chain of command is frustrating. For athletic administrators and executives, you want to be seen as open and you certainly want to know if there are issues in your organization. However, you don’t want every tiny little thing being brought to you; you’ll never get any work done.
So what can you do? For starters, make sure you know what you expect from your chain of command. In your mind, when is it okay for someone to skip a link? Once you have some concrete ideas about what would work for you, talk to the people above and below you on the chain. What are their thoughts on how issues of link jumping should be handled? Getting everyone on the same page will eliminate misunderstandings and feelings of betrayal.
Dotted line reports can be more challenging. Again, setting expectations upfront is going to be key. I had an experience early in my career where the type of work I did was managed by one person but I personally reported to someone else. There were never any conversations about how that actually worked and I found myself having to repeat requests and often not receiving the information I needed. If you can avoid dotted lines in our organizational chart, do so. If you can’t, make it clear how the communication should work.
The parent/coach/athletic director has the added challenge of the athlete involved. Parents want what they believe is best for their child. The coach has to make the team successful and the athletic director (AD) needs everything to work smoothly. One of the best lines an athletic director and his assistant can learn is “have you talked to your coach about that?” Without it the AD’s phone will ring off the hook and a line will form out of the office. Additionally, coaches should make a point to develop open communication with parents. It is amazing what a difference it makes when a parent simply feels like the coach is listening to them.
If you have set expectations and you have someone who is insistent that the chain of command should not apply in their case here are a few things you can try to address the situation:
- Have them put their concern and what a viable solution would be in writing – Having someone write out a problem will help them become really clear on what their issue is. That way if you do have to sit down with them they aren’t going to spend your time just venting
- Have a meeting of all parties. In this case you are likely to have to wear the hat of facilitator. But getting all the information out in the open at one time is a lot better than an ongoing flurry of emails, phone calls and visits.
- If you feel it is appropriate, meet with the person one-on-one. Put a time limit on the length of the meeting and be prepared to let them know at the end what the next steps are. Letting them leave without a clear understanding could lead them going over your head too.
Regardless of which path you take, it is important to always ask the complainant for a solution. It is not your responsibility to have all the answers. Plus, understanding their thought process for a solution will tell you a lot about the nature of the concern.
Chain of command seems like it should be pretty clear. But there is often a feeling that taking things directly to the top gets faster action. Creating transparent expectations for raising concerns and having a planned procedure in place for when those expectations are not met will save you lots of time an aggravation.
Do you have a story about the chain of command being broken? Share it with us!
Catch up on last week’s topic: What is Emotional Bullying
Next week: Does your team speak a common language?