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In our group, there are two teams. While the group leader is the common official manager, each of our teams has a team lead, dealing with the daily managing of tasks. The teams have a very different way of working and planning due to history and non-overlapping tasks.

Both teams are seriously understaffed for quite some time now. The members of the other team complain about this a lot and I believe those complaints are reasonable, since they plan their tasks individually and thus are drawn into never-ending discussions and face serious problems once somebody gets sick etc. For us, on the other hand, it is almost never affecting our daily work, since we believe only a small portion of the tasks can only be done by an expert and our team lead thus discusses priorities and realistic delivery dates centrally for the whole team and handles all the escalations to higher management due to mismatch between capacity and requested delivery dates.

Reacting to those complaints with anything else other than compassion has led to attacks on our way of working in the past, e.g. "your way of working causes bugs", which are mostly groundless (bugs, e.g. are closely monitored in our organisation) or subjective. Some members of the other team seem to have very strong emotions on this topic and seem to fear we want to impose our working style on them. I have thus decided to not react at all when these complaints are made in private conversation.

We do have common feedback rounds with our shared manager however, where I feel it is important to point out that while being understaffed for us as well is a problem, we, as developers, do not face the same problems in our daily work. We are often even explicitly asked by our manager to comment on the complaints. I have tried responding in the most tactful way possible, but even the slightest sign of criticism (e.g. " we do not face this problem because of different working style ") leads to long explanations about how their approach is superior to ours.

I am tired of this and it begins to sour the relationship between the teams. At the same time, I feel it is important to communicate the facts to our manager.

Is their any way to do this without triggering an emotional response from the other team?

(Asking for separate feedback rounds is probably not an option, since our manager's stated intention is to make us feel like a group instead of two independent teams.)

  • If your overall manager wishes the team to be unified, how would s/he feel about 'cross-pollinating' members of those teams (e.g. labs.spotify.com/2014/03/27/spotify-engineering-culture-part-1 ) ? For example, every couple of months, ask a member of each team to swap to the other team for a few months to spread ideas and expertise, but also to encourage each team to learn more about the challenges, pressures, working practices and priorities/goals of the other team, while also creating more human interaction between members of those teams to improve the relations and atmosphere. – Ben Cottrell Oct 21 '17 at 20:02
  • @Joe Strazzere: sorry for the delayed response. This is important as otherwise he will try to fix something that is not broken. – Johanna Oct 24 '17 at 16:39
  • @Joe Strazzere: that is true, I did not look at it from that angle, as my intention certainly was not to throw anyone under the bus. But thinking about it, that might be very well the impression at the other team, explaining their strong reactions. Thanks for your insight. – Johanna Oct 26 '17 at 15:50
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I'm not condoning what the other team are doing and how they are behaving towards you but it's worth bearing in mind that they are probably feeling very stressed and pressured and that can sometimes make people a little touchy and grumpy. So this is probably where you went "wrong":

Reacting to those complaints with anything else other than compassion has led to attacks on our way of working in the past

I'm sure your intent in any comments about your team's different working practices making you more resilient to things like sickness were well intentioned, and it can be very frustrating when you can see a way for someone to help themselves out of a problem situation but instead of doing so they complain continually about it to you instead and if it has been going on for some time I can see why your patience would wear a little thin!

See how it must have come across to them though - there they are struggling with a stressful situation and their colleagues are are seemingly taking the opportunity to criticise them and basically tell them that the problems are all of their own making. Regardless of how right you may be it's not going to go down well.

Feel free to criticize them for being foolish all you like in private but to their faces summoning a bit of tactful sympathy would probably have helped relations enormously. Suggestions for changes to mitigate the risk are best saved for when the immediate crisis has passed and your colleagues are more likely to be relaxed and receptive to it.

Since you don't have a time machine however you can't go back and change what happened in the past so you need to find a way to smooth things over going forward.

I feel it is important to communicate the facts to our manager.

I'm not 100% clear on exactly which facts you feel your manager needs to know. If it's regarding the fact that you believe the other team's problems are down to the different working practices then I would hope your manager knows by now that you feel that way. If they haven't for whatever reason then I think you need to have that conversation with them in private. I understand that separate feedback rounds aren't an option but I'd expect you can request a 1-1 meeting with your manager outside of those feedback meetings surely?

Assuming you can then approach it with them from the perspective of sorting out and repairing the working relationship with the other team, as that really is one of the things your manager is there for and it sounds like that would be high on your manager's wish list anyway so I think they will be receptive. And say something like this:

Hi [Manager], as you've probably noticed things are a little strained between the two teams - I think it's because when I've commented that certain problems don't affect us quite as badly because we work in a different way they have have taken that as criticism and that wasn't my intent. I know they are in a tough spot and are all working hard. When you ask me about these things in our joint feedback sessions it's difficult as [Other team] can get quite defensive about it. I don't want to offend anyone but I'm just trying to be honest about what I think. Is there a better way you think we could handle this subject in the future?

Hopefully this will make your manager see that the previous pattern wasn't helpful and was actively damaging team morale and inter-team cooperation and they'll be able to work with you to repair that. That's the manager's job. If you don't get anywhere I think you just have to do what you can to avoid saying anything that the other team will take as a criticism in the feedback sessions, if need be just give a vague answer about how you aren't too sure about the problems they are facing as your own team has it's hands full staying on top of things, it's not great but it might be the best you can do if your manager won't manage.

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