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Our team has traditionally been very small and close-knit, but as our workload has expanded, we've split the team across two projects, with most people working 100% on one or the other. There are two senior engineers on our team, one of which is the team lead and the other of which is used to calling the shots and making technical decisions as the lead's right-hand woman.

Due to the project split, however, she no longer works with the project I'm on very closely... but she still expects to make decisions in isolation without consulting the junior team members who are doing the actual work or the tech lead for this project (since she has seniority over him as well).

This is particularly difficult because the "we" in this instance are a contractor, an intern, and a developer for whom this job is his first leadership position. A few times, the first we've heard of a problem is when she's come over to explain how we're going to fix it, which she has decided either on her own or with other uninformed team members.

How can we politely ask her to step back and let our tech lead make project-specific decisions?

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And I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling coworkers. –  Rarity Jun 14 '12 at 16:52
    
Ask your lead for confirmation for anything she says. Do not do anything without that. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Sep 18 '13 at 17:05

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

First, the tech lead has to have the gumption to stand up to her. She is not in his chain of command and she is NOT senior to him as a result. He should thank her politely and ignore her suggestions when they don't have merit. He shouldn't worry about the team dynamic, it will improve the team dynamic if he stands up to someone who is a bully.

If she tries to force the issue, he should have the person who is the boss of both people resolve it. If they do not resolve it in favor of the tech lead, he is not really the tech lead and should either move on or relenquish the extra headaches of being tech lead and move back to being developer and let her be tech lead. There is no way to win if the boss of this lady doesn't tell her to back off because it is not her project.

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It is possible the situation is exactly as you perceive it and this is just the case of a coworker overstepping her bounds. However I would like you to consider if there is a reason she is involved.

Many times a senior or lead engineer will be called in to fix/enhance/support a project once the original engineers have moved on (to other projects or jobs). She may be keeping her hands in the cookie jar because even though she is currently on this other project she either knows or anticipates she will eventually be put in a position where she is the one supporting the product. She may also have an understanding of the ultimate goal for that system that has not been shared with the team(not that I agree with that policy but it happens far to often in my experience).

How you should handle it depends on your role in the team.

Team Lead

Have a conversation with the other senior and try to understand her concerns. Ask her to make sure she is including you in any discussions about the project. There is a chance she is really just trying to help and does not realize she is creating problems. Give her the benefit of the doubt. She obviously cares about the project your are working on so where possible use her as a resource so that she does not feel cut out of the team or the end product completely.

Contractor

This is a difficult situation. Some companies prefer their contractors just do the work they are hired for and some companies want your input. I generally find I have the most success staying out of the fight. Even if you report directly to your team lead your lead has a manager and unless you know who has the backing of management getting involved in the internal politics is generally a loser. You should do the tasks assigned to you, listen and be an ear for your lead if desired but do not take direct action.

Intern

Stay out of the office politics as an intern as much as you can. Keep your head down and do what you are told. Do not try and rock the boat. Remember that after you leave there are real people that will have to deal with the consequences of any action you take to change the dynamics. While it may seem dysfunctional to you, you are there to learn. Stand back and watch how other people handle it and try to figure out why(with out directly asking questions). Should you be retained after your internship and choose to get involved in the politics that is your decision but while on your internship remember you are there to learn.

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Either this person has taken it upon herself to over-see both projects or she has been told to do so by someone higher-up.

The lead can ask her not to give advice or at least let her know you will consider her suggestions but will not implement them if he thinks she is missing important details about the project.

You can encourage your leader to take a stand to her and/or a higher-up or you'll just have to live with it.

I do think it is important to let your leader know where the innacuracies are. This is your job. You just don't have the power to make decisions only suggestions.

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The issue is that we're not even sure what the tech lead can say or do without causing a major rift in the team dynamic. How can he approach that conversation? –  Yamikuronue Jun 14 '12 at 16:09
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@Yamikuronue - It doesn't have to start out with getting everyone's boss in the room and making it into a huge thing. The team lead can just say something like "Thanks for bringing that to our attention. We will have a meeting about it later today and we'll certainly look at your proposed solution." (And, by the way, you probably should look seriously at her proposed solutions, and not ignore them just to assert your independence). –  psr Jun 14 '12 at 20:13

Best choice is to have your tech lead give her an assignment. He's the lead on this project, therefore anyone on the project team is under his command. If this lady wants to be involved, she'll do what he assigns her. When (not if) she raises a fuss, the lead just has to look her dead in the eye and tell her that he thought she had been assigned to be a member of his team. When she denies such an occurrence is the point where the lead asks "Then why are you trying to be?"

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That would be epic to see but doubtful to happen XD –  Yamikuronue Jun 14 '12 at 19:30
    
the most important thing is to not TELL someone to get lost. they need to realize that's the correct course of action themselves. reality checks like the one i outlined are by far some of the most effective (and entertaining) ways. edit: it shouldn't be too much to ask her to work on something explicitly, however. –  acolyte Jun 14 '12 at 19:33
    
-1 Playing 'clever' sarcastic word games and trying to catch people out by 'making them' think and see the error of their ways with analogies is not the kinda workplace I enjoy. –  Michael Durrant Jun 15 '12 at 12:56
    
Why not just "Hey y, I'm concerned about our working relationship for project z and who's responsible for what, etc." In other words have a meeting and actually talk about the issue head-on in a friendly way, agreeing what the common goals are. –  Michael Durrant Jun 15 '12 at 12:58
    
co-workers that force me to play word-games don't make for the kinda workplace i enjoy. –  acolyte Jun 15 '12 at 12:59

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