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I work in a small team where our lead likes one person more than others.

Here are some examples which made me conclude this -

  1. Whatever code others write is always looked upon with suspicion. They have to explain many things before it is finally accepted. When he writes a code, it's quickly accepted without many questions as if there is the feeling that he must have done the right thing and there is no doubt about that. While the others face lack of trust in them.

  2. Whenever others try to explain something to the lead, they mostly find it difficult to do. But I have seen that the favorite guy is able to easily explain things to the lead. And there is no question of communication skills or oratory skills here. It's more like - he easily understands whatever the favorite guy says, but he finds it difficult to understand what others say. It seems as if he is not listening to them properly. Lack of trust, I would say.

  3. When something new has to be discussed, a common scenario is that the lead will walk up to the favorite guy's seat and others are called there. There the discussion takes place.

  4. Whatever he does big or small it is elaborated and told to all team members. When others do something it is considered less significant.

  5. If the favorite guy leaves early, the interpretation is - He finished his job quickly and hence left. When others leave early, the interpretation is - They don't want to work.

  6. His mistakes are ignored and he is never questioned.

How can I deal with this situation?

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This is one of the reasons the "if I go into software or engineering I'll never have to deal with people!" idea is completely wrong.... Interpersonal skills have a huge effect on your perceived value. – enderland Feb 6 '13 at 13:56
"How do I deal with this situation?" Doesn't that depend on what you would like to have happening. – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 3 '13 at 7:38
up vote 58 down vote accepted

You aren't going to want to hear this but a lot of this is your own fault. You have not been playing the office politics game, so you can't complain because you lost it.

Your real problem isn't favored guy unless he has some personal connection to the boss (Family member, old college buddy, coworker from a previous job) which your comment seems to say is not true. He doesn't sound like the backbiting, credit-stealing type of favored guy either.

What you need to do is learn to become favored guy yourself.

Step 1, look for differences in how he interacts with the boss. Then model your behavior on his as his is clearly effective. You are a developer and thus you should be fairly analytical, use those analytical skills to analyze how his interactions are different than yours. For instance, when he is explaining things to the boss, how technical does he get compared to how technical the rest of you get?

At work I am one of the favored guys (well gals as the favored ones on my team are all women). Here is how I got there:

First step is to always keep the boss informed. That means letting him know immediately if things will need to be pushed back, letting him know what is causing problems, letting him know what progress you have made. Among other things, it means letting the boss know when you leave early and why and, most importantly, where the project stands as a result of leaving early.

Follow the organizational norms for behavior. Don't act like a prima donna who deserves special treatment. For instance, if everyone is expected to be there by 9:30, don't stroll in at 11 without letting your boss know why you are going to be later today. Your boss after all may not know you worked until midnight, he does know when you aren't there when he was looking for you.

Bosses live and die by information; they will almost always favor the people who they don't have to pull information out of. Know your own boss though, some don't like negative information (this one place where observing what favored guy says will help you see what your boss likes). You still may need to give him bad news, but be aware of how and when to do so.

Next step is to toot your own horn. Favored guy probably makes sure the boss knows when something is good (or can be interpreted as good). So he tells him about even small accomplishments. Don't expect to get credit for accomplishments if you don't tell the boss when you have accomplished something. Make sure he knows what you had to overcome to get it accomplished too especially when it is something major. Of course it really helps to be good at what you do to have accomplishments to toot your own horn about. Some favored guys (and the ones to be very wary of) toot their own horn about the accomplishments of others (i.e. they steal your credit), but by keeping the boss informed all long, it is harder for them to steal your credit.

Make sure your boss is aware of how other people view you (assuming their view is positive of course). I work directly with clients and get a lot of written positive feedback from them in emails, I always forward these to my boss. When someone tells me that what I did was good, I ask them to tell my boss. If your users are available to you, get them to tell him how much they liked the feature you just pushed to prod. The more sources a boss hears from that tell him that you are wonderful, the better he will think of you. Keep notes on such things for your performance review (mentioning the 15 client appreciation notes you got last year is quite effective!).

Start giving people public credit for their ideas and support them in technical discussions. This will make you look good as well as encourage them to give you credit for your good ideas or help you sell your idea. So when you have team discussions, make sure to say good things (actual good things not made up ones) about your colleagues' ideas including favored guy. When people explain things and the boss doesn't seem convinced, sometimes having others also agree that this is the best way to go will help. You have to give help to others to get help in return. This is a critical job skill.

You don't want to give the impression that you are jealous of or dislike favored guy. That will give the boss a negative impression of you since he already likes favored guy. If favored guy is a good guy, ask him to help you out a bit when you present something. By getting favored guy on board before the meeting, your ideas have a better chance of being listened too until you become a favored guy yourself. Favored guy can be a real asset in getting notice; use that asset.

Talk to the boss in business terms. Point out how your enhancement will improve profits or make users or clients happier or whatever. Bosses don't care about technology as much as they care about the needs of the business. If you present your ideas in terms of cost-benefit to the business, your ideas will be much more likely to be accepted and implemented. Further when you have ideas, make them easy for the boss to implement them by doing all the work to get the proposal ready to implement. So don't just say we should do thus and so, show why you should and set things up to make it easy to implement. Having good ideas for improvement and successfully selling them to management will also help you become a favored guy.

Finally, never let your boss get blind-sided by bad information from above. Even if he doesn't like bad news, if you know something is likely to be escalated (which can happen even when you are not at fault, so pay attention), he had better hear it from you first. Bosses are really annoyed when they hear bad news from their boss before they hear it from you. This is part of the whole "keep them informed" thing, but it is important enough to bring out as a separate point. This also means you have to pay attention outside your own little world to know when people are getting upset because the feature doesn't work the way they wanted it to or because the deadline is being missed etc. These things may seem minor to you, but they are major to your boss when his boss finishes dressing him down about it. If he knows the real story including the steps you took to keep people informed along the way before his boss calls him in, then he can defend his team more effectively and he looks better to his own boss for being informed.

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Cynical, but very true. If more than two people are involved, there's always going to be politics. Part of being successful is to accept the reality and play by the rules. – l46kok Feb 7 '13 at 5:07
@l46kok I am not sure that this answer is cynical. It just shows that at every level, it is important to market the work done to the outside world. If some compagny were to create a great piece of software but failed to sell it, no one would really complain them. It is exactly the same problem for basically every one on earth (except hermits). You can call it politics if you don't like that. I prefer to call it communication 101. – Simon Feb 7 '13 at 9:06
see, this lengthy list of things that make a compliant and trouble-free employee is exactly why i prefer being a (preferably short-gig) consultant, despite the inconvenience of having to market yourself more often (which is not such a bad thing once you get in the momentum because it drives you to keep your edge sharp). essentially, you are brought in to get a job done and your scope of expectations is narrower and more focused on your area of expertise. no B.S. self-assessments, no corporate politics, life is overall much simpler. i prefer existing in a simple environment and less drama. – amphibient Feb 7 '13 at 18:20
Man, everybody who works in any office should have to read this. Great answer. – bharal Jun 4 '13 at 15:06

Honestly - talk to your boss. Everything you say is coming from your observation of your boss's and the favorite guy's communication. You don't know what happens when they talk one on one and you don't know why the boss acts the way he does. This stuff isn't necessarily something that can be easy to tell.

Ask - don't tell or complain. It's totally fair to say "hey, I see you get along well with X and I'd like to do as well in working for you - what can I do to improve communication between us?" If you haven't asked, you won't know. But until you know or hear a totally unreasonable response to this question, you can't really blame the problem on the boss or the other guy.

Communication is a tricky thing. It could be there's something you're doing (or not doing) in how you communicate that you could fix. It could be something as dumb as the boss is going hard of hearing and doesn't realize that the guy's voice is in the correct pitch for him to understand what the guy is saying while he struggles with the rest of you. It could be even more annoying - like a very subtle diversity problem. There's a lot of sociological cases out there for "like attacts like" and in very subtle ways a closeness can develop between two "similar" people (boss and favorite guy) that impedes the success of others. There's a lot of cases where "similar" does not mean "same in protected characteristics like race, gender, religion, etc" - but having some compatibility. "Early risers" or "people who like chocolate" can be as much a point of compatible similarity as the characteristics that we all think of when we hear "diversity problem".

Asking your boss creates two benefits:

  • He might tell you an answer, and you can change the dynamic with an easy fix

  • He is forced to ask himself the same question. If he can't explain the answer in a way you understand, he might just go off and ask himself why and how he can get the rest of the team to be as good as the favorite guy. If he's honest with himself, he may find, over time, that favorite guy isn't so awesome, and he could be more accomodating of differences within the team.

Either way - you just might win.

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What you see as favouritism sounds more like an "Expert power base" at play.

Everyone in the organisational structure has a power base. From what you described the person in question is Expert based. This means that they are treated as a superior due to the technical knowledge on the subject matter. He clearly has displayed this to your boss which is why the boss is accepting of the answers.

Expert power bases have two main weaknesses (that I recall).

The first is that any mistakes made in relation to the technical knowledge undermines the power base. So if he messes up it would lower the power relationship between him and his boss.

The second is the closer the peers are to the same knowledge the lower the power (and respect).

It sounds like this is the case with your peers, but not with your manager. So you can dilute this power base by having him share his knowledge to an extent that it becomes commonplace between the peers.

This can be for example an internal wiki where you all share your knowledge to help everyone. Having your peers commend certain pages will reinforce the value of the expert content. If the lead disagrees, make sure that they offer detailed suggestions to improve and not just undermine the value of the content.

Another option is mentoring with your lead or your manager.

The point is not to undermine him, but to grow your power base in relation to your manager.

Recommended reading is "Understanding Organisations" by Charles Handy. You have to buy the book, so I had a look for something which describes it (all be it brief).

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I would say that in addition to Simon's Answer, this also seems to be a scenario in which the value of developing your soft skills may be as important than hard / technical ones. If

the favorite guy is able to easily explain things to the lead - he easily understands whatever the favorite guy says, but he finds it difficult to understand what others say.

this will naturally have the effect of diminishing the appearance of your work's value. Communicating the value of one's work is almost as important a skill as actually producing the value in the first place. It seems that your 'expert' has developed a better way of self-marketing (particularly if they are only a superstar in the presence of the team lead).

Conveying expertise to your lead will be more than simply my ‘code refactors quicker’ or ‘I’m using this brand new XXX which is clearly the best!’ – you need to show that the outputs of your work relate to the lead at their level – if they are interested in cost savings, show that your work does this especially well – if they want operational efficiency give them what they need to know. The fact that the lead does not implicitly trust your code does not necessarily equate to them questioning your effectiveness, but could be a symptom of the fact that they don’t know how to convey your output further up the organisational chain: so wherever possible think what your lead / manager needs to know to impress their boss, and give them that information as succinctly as possible.

It is always much easier to start off conveying your work too simply and build in more detail than it is to immediately go to the very bottom level of detail (at which point they could lose interest), and by considering what your lead needs to do their work you should be able to paint your work in the best possible light (which is almost as important as actually doing the work itself!)

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Without going too much into detail, as others have pointed out good ones already.

However, allow me to state the obvious. Get something done that is of your own doing. Show your boss that you too are a capable, responsible, trust worthy member of the company. Failing that, show him that you too are equal if not better than his favourite. With positive results, whatever it may be. In time, and with compounded positive results from you and the rest of the team. The office may breathe a sigh of relief that it's a teams work, not the team captains alone.

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First of all, you have to expect some of this in every workgroup. Favoritism is an innate human phenomenon to the extent that we can't help but like and trust some people more than others; the reasons for which can be fair or unfair.

Having said that, consider that:

  1. Your shelf life in a given workgroup and in a given company (especially in the computer industry) is limited. Odds are that economic, business, and/or personal factors will motivate either you or the company to make a change. And even when that doesn't happen, it's likely that other people in the workgroup will come and go and the interpersonal dynamics will change.
  2. So with that in mind, simply work hard for as long you choose to remain with this workgroup. Even in spite of difficult working conditions, it's important to keep your reputation intact. Odds are that you will work with at least some of these people again. So it's important for them to know that even in spite of those difficult working conditions, you gave your best effort.
  3. And who knows! If you work hard, your boss might notice, and you might become the new favorite!!!
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