Do Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth? How Reporting to Multiple Managers Affects Worker Performance.



Contemporary organizations frequently adopt fluid structures in which workers report to multiple managers simultaneously. While these fluid organizational arrangements promise better matching of human capital to organizational needs, they subject workers to increased time pressure due to insufficient coordination among managers during task assignment and supervision. Drawing from research on time pressure, we argue that the span of reporting (i.e., the number of concurrent managers assigning tasks to a worker) accelerates workers’ pace of work, but only up to a certain point beyond after which it slows workers. We further argue that adverse effects of span of reporting on worker speed can be mitigated if managers are embedded in previous interactions that make it easier to coordinate to protect workers from noxious levels of time pressure. We test our hypotheses using data from 20,112 tasks executed by a software services firm. Results support the posited curvilinear effect, showing a 17% improvement in task execution speed with up to six supervising managers, after which performance begins to decline. Notably, when managers have joint supervision experience above the 67th percentile, the relationship between span of reporting and task execution time becomes monotonically decreasing. Our novel findings highlight a previously un-hypothesized positive effect of authority overlays, but also show that this effect is contingent on factors enabling coordination among managers. By doing so, we contribute to the classic debate on the opposing principles of unity of command and multiple foremanships, and advance knowledge on how formal matrixed organizations can benefit from informal embedded structures.

This is coauthored work with Fabrizio Salvador (IE University) and Athena Tsouderou (University of Miami).