On the 4th Principle: Unity of Command

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Principles of Management - Fayol > Best Practices > On the 4th Principle: Unity of Command

On the 4th Principle: Unity of Command
Carol , Malaysia, Member
According to Fayol's 4th Principle, Unity of Command, I should receive instruction from one boss who is my immediate manager.
However I have been instructed by other managers from other department too. And even by my colleagues. These instructions make my work overloaded. Is this not a violation of this principle by Fayol?

Multiple Instructions of Multiple Instructors
Franciscus Koning, Interim Manager, Netherlands, Member
Maybe Fayol, in his time, would have classified it as the violation of several principles of industrial administration!
It is even more important that the content of the commands given to you is consistent and the direction of actions to be executed is one-dimensional. And the probability that this will be not guaranteed in your workstation is high. The effect is improductivity and waste of capacity and materials (failures).
If the work is overloaded with instructions, the instructed person can avoid overload by following the most productive and effective instructions. Those come from the one who can judge the result of your work, your process, and those before and after your process. Prevoyance, organisation, coordination, control!

Unity of Command is Aimed at Avoiding Confusion
Richard Ngcobo, United Kingdom, Member
The main aim of this principle is to avoid confusion. If an employee receives conflicting instructions from a variety of managers or supervisors or colleagues, that is most likely to cause confusion and undermine the principle of prioritization from the point of view of the immediate supervisor.

More than One Supervisor Chokes the Subordinate
Adeyinka Oluwaseun, Student (University), Nigeria, Member
Henry Fayol was quite on point regarding the principle of unity of command. I observed that if a staff or subordinate is reporting to more than a supervisor at a time, such subordinate will be choked and may seem incompetent. The performance of such subordinate will be less effective.

Managers Must Realize that Employees have an Immediate Manager
Marie Florence Dieudonne, Manager, Haiti, Member
I believe the Unity of Command principle is most significant to make leaders realize that they should not command all people who work for them without considering that this person has an immediate manager as well.

Discuss the Unity of Command Principle with your Immediate Boss
Mukwana Ronald Samuel, Student (University), Uganda, Member
It is indeed a violation of this principle.
It could be the other managers are not aware of the principle, or they are simply not appreciating the principle.
My advise to you is to discuss the instructions you've received from other managers (and colleagues) with your immediate boss; from him/her, you're likely to obtain the best advise on the way forward.

Unity of Command if one has a Line Manager and a Functional Manger
Sachin Narayan Nagle, Manager, India, Member
Hi, this really creates confusion about what should be your priorities and even more difficult who will award your performance at the end of the year (appraisal).
Sometimes your line manager and functional manager are different, and you have to perform work for the functional manager, but your appraisal is done by your line manager.
My advice is bring clarity who is responsible for your work appraisal and flow of info, and whose directions you have yo follow to deliver output.

Confusion, Loss of Focus and Loss of Trust
Suleiman C. Muttani, Consultant, Tanzania, Member
This situation is confusing; it is like in the saying "many whistles can confuse a dog to obey the correct command".
Despite of our capability to handle several tasks as a human being, one may lose focus, creating a loss of trust from the immediate supervisor and this undermines the 4th principle of the unity of command.
Increasingly, it renders not only inefficiency of the immediate supervisor, but also creates an atmosphere of conflicting power among supervisors.

How a Manager and his Manager should Maintain Unity of Command towards the Employee
Thusego Kabo, Botswana, Member
My view is that if some higher supervisor wants a particular employee to perform a task, (s)he should inform the immediate supervisor, and that the immediate supervisor passes the instruction to the concerned employee to avoid confusion and overload.

Don't Worry
dhanaraj, Professor, India, Member
Don't become confused after receiving various instructions given by your boss, and various other people. First of all evaluate all these instructions properly, and implement them as per the requirement of the situation.
Even if there is some violation of Fayol's principle, don't bother about it too much. Observe the situation thoroughly and just implement the proper suggestions.

Unity of Command in Case of an Acting Supervisor
Bernard Ngwenya , Analyst, Zimbabwe, Member
Thanks for bringing out the above. Yes, it can be confusing. I have been experiencing yet another variant of a situation which is also confusing.
I'm a personal assistant to my boss and he has been clear on how he wants things done. But he is often away and he delegates his second in charge to act on his behalf when he is away. There comes the problem! This person has his own way of doing things, and when my boss comes back, he fumes and says I shouldn't have listened to the acting boss :-) How to deal with such a situation?

Unity of Command is Also Aimed at Quick Execution
vivtoriajjemba, Manager, Uganda, Member
@Richard Ngcobo: I agree unity of command is aimed at avoiding consufion, which makes the work very slow. So the principle is also aimed at quick execution.

Play Along
wil son chnyamurindi, Zimbabwe, Member
Unity of command principle would only work in an environment, where everyone including your boss and superiors are on the same page in relation to management principles. You have instances of bosses with an ad hoc management style. Not implementing their instructions may get you in trouble. As long as the instructions are not conflicting and not impacting negatively on your normal work load, play along. A little extra work never killed anyone.

Unity of Command is Just One Principle That is Violated
Jamie Solak
This is a common challenge (especially for highly talented employees of which you are one!) which often requires a little more investigation and understanding of the root causes.
It is highly likely #4 unity of command is not the only principle being violated. I often see challenges with #2 authority, #5 unity of direction, and a lack of clarity on #9 scalar chain and #13 initiative. Leaders strive to balance these without appropriately communicating priorities - which often leaves individual employees frustrated, confused and concerned.
The critical path is to understand more clearly what individual, team, business unit and enterprise-level performance objectives are not being met as a result of the symptoms you are describing, and design and implement solutions to remedy the root causes in the context of performance.
That said, you can also turn this into your advantage if you over-deliver for your organization on each of these dimensions and let your respective leaders and managers know... :-).

Unity of Command Enables Accountability
Kwok, Student (Other), Hong Kong, Member
I agree that if a manager violate this rule, it might cause confusion to employees. It will be easier to carry out the work and finish it on time if the employee receives command from one manager only.
Also, the unity of command relates to the accountability of the manager. The managers themselves should not arbitrarily assign any tasks to employees. They should inform the immediate supervisor beforehand to avoid friction.

Response to the Conflicting Reporting Structures in the Current Envinornment in the Organizations
baseer, CEO, Bahamas, Member
Hi. These kind of situations are the reason I state that these are outdated principles and would really not be effective in the current operating environment.
I agree with your problem, there is always a cross functional orientation in businesses and one will end up reporting to too many bosses. Most of the businesses are now evolving beyond matrix structures. This leads to confusion in the mind of the employee due to conflicting roles and structures.

Unity of Command
David Egbeama, Manager, South Africa, Member
Unity of command does not necessarily mean that instructions or additional tasks may not be passed on by bosses other than the immediate one to a staff member or employee, but it does mean that there must be alignment across the board and all relevant persons must be be informed to know the additional task that has been given.
Effective communication is key here and the overall task must not be beyond the capacity and capability of the recipient worker. The immediate boss must be aware and in agreement with the additional task assigned outside the normal routine job.

Unity of Command Ensures Orderliness
Adeyinka Oluwaseun, Student (University), Nigeria, Member
The Principle of Unity in Demand is to ensure orderliness. Too much commands from different managers will lead to ineffective or no result from the employee.

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