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Started working in a large, well-respected organisation four months ago. It's not been working out, reasons include:

  • The work / project is boring and uninspiring and seems to re-invent a lot of wheels for political reasons.

  • The team uses "hybrid agile" - a scrum team of 15 use Kanban (without WIP limits) on an MVP scheduled to take a year; about six months in, project scope hasn't been agreed yet and things are already going badly.

  • Managers are hair-trigger stressed over what seem to be arbitrary deadlines and executive meddling. You can taste the cortisol in the air. Even after several management status reports I have little real visibility into the project I'm on.

Could go on about these massive red flags but you get the picture. In 20 years of my IT career, thought this only existed in satire like Dilbert; I was wrong.

But - I'm asking about my line manager, who is also the project's lead.

This seems the textbook case of a highly technically capable developer promoted into a leadership position, so now bottlenecks everything (what's in his head is the source of truth and everything needs his input and approval) across multiple projects and falls into micromanagement.

(I personally think he needs to work on delegation and interpersonal skills - as have been in a similar position myself - but am trying hard to not let my own frustration with the job affect my judgement.)

On top of that, he is very temperamental and shows signs of immaturity and anger issues. Sometimes he is approachable and we have calm, adult conversations. But more often, he gets very angry at people asking for help / guidance, yet also if they try to use their own initiative.

He will often contradict himself (you should have come to me with this... why are you asking me, go figure it out on your own... leave the code alone, don't touch it... you should have done this yourself, don't wait for my approval... this ticket makes no sense, you should have used your common sense for the requirements... don't go guessing, do exactly what it says in the JIRA ticket...)

His main management technique seems to be to scold people; I often feel "told off" and infantilized. Have noticed I have become scared to update JIRA, touch code, or question orders, even if they are vague and confusing. Find myself tongue-tied and stumbling over my words and never know quite what I've said, even when I've just said it.

This is not just me - to a junior developer with about a year's experience: "you've done this all wrong... delete your branch, leave the code alone and I'll do it myself", he huffed and sighed and tutted in earshot of everyone.

There are often arguments where you can hear his voice across the large open plan office about 300 people work in.

I have informally raised this with his peers - they ranged from "he is very very stressed" to "everyone is eavesdropping on this project, be nice to him" to "he is very honest, you have to respect that" to "in a meeting the other day he got so angry he couldn't even speak". Some did this spontaneously, as if they are prepping me for further known problems.

What's triggered this post:

  • In a prep meeting with six people, he interrupted us in an irritiated and aggressive manner, that we had all misunderstood the issue and no work was needed. I'm pretty sure this is the same thing he had a "team discussion" to us about it blocking a lot of work, but what do I know.

  • Afterwards, he took me aside and started grilling me about method names and what they did in a codebase I worked on - replied something like "I don't want to go by my fallible human memory, what does the code say" - he looked about to launch like a firework and found myself cowering.

  • This lead into a two hour session going over the code (which he had already signed off on and merged, as he does all pull requests) as he described what he had expected to see. It also turned out I had made a mistake in part of the code. I apologised and offered to fix my mistakes, but he seemed to want something more - for me to grovel? Not sure. I realised I was being apologetic and staring at my feet and just agreeing with everything he said - even if I didn't understand it - just to avoid him blowing up at me.

  • After the day's work, realised I am 6'2", 16 stone, and physically scared of him. And realised I was using the same conflict avoidance / appeasement techniques described to me by friends who've been in abusive relationships - including thinking "I made a mistake, but maybe I've been treating him badly, maybe I should be nicer to him", etc. You can imagine my reaction to this.

Due to staff turnover, he doesn't seem to have a line manager. Most people on this project are less than a year in. I've never met anyone from senior management despite the size of the company.

The company has a bullying / harassment procedure, but a) it's described as bureaucratic and ineffective and b) I don't want a bad reputation if I try to transfer.

My specific question: I'd to transfer within this well-respected organisation rather than quit. So, how do I handle my line manager in the interim? Or, given he'd likely have power over any transfer, and I'm unhappy with how the job is going, and don't want some critical event to occur, do I give up on this potential, and leave with some self-respect?

UPDATE: see my own answer -https://workplace.stackexchange.com/a/104011/79481

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    To say the truth, although the case has some elements of bullying, my general gut feeling from the story as you tell it is that your manager is extraordinarily stressed and does not know how to get out of the hole in which he has dug himself (micromanagement etc.) It's a tough one. If you can find a handle how to "manage your manager" and help him reduce his stress by asking leading questions, this may lead to an amelioration of the situation, but it is not clear whether you actually will be able to. You may also try to get your instructions by email, so you have something to refer to later. – Captain Emacs Nov 13 '17 at 9:27
  • @berry120 Yes, of course it's not an excuse, and certainly I didn't imply that. However, if it is the case that the manager is stressed rather than intentionally evil, there may be ways out of the situation which are different from the ones to be employed with an antagonistic manager. This is why this distinction is important. – Captain Emacs Nov 13 '17 at 15:14
  • I don't think he's intentionally evil or antagonistic - yet I agree being stressed is no excuse. If he is VERY stressed (and there could well be more going on than I know about) he needs an intervention from his peers / line manager - not one of his new reports. I'll reply to the "manage up" idea in its own answer - thanks. – biraclonok Nov 13 '17 at 21:16
  • Getting mad at people asking for help - of course he's going to get more emotional about that if he's stressed at the chaos you described in the company, the fact that this project, as you described, seems destined to fail spectacularly, and he's the person in charge of the crap-show. Your boss is coming apart at the seams because, management shortcomings aside, this sounds like a situation that can not be fixed, which means he's going to take the fall for it. No excusing it, but I'm not sure how much grace and class one can muster in that situation. – PoloHoleSet Nov 13 '17 at 22:04
  • I'd help the junior developer commenting on his JIRA: "On order of line manager, I deleted the branch, and assigned the JIRA to line manager who told me that he would do the job himself", then assign the JIRA to the line manager. – gnasher729 Apr 13 at 12:08
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Let me suggest you do something a little outside the box. Instead of choosing between:

  • say sorry, bend your head, grovel, don't upset him, keep trying harder to please him
  • stand up to him, tell him to stop being inconsistent, demand respect, you won't be bullied

Why not go sideways?

The next time he does something that feels disconnected from reality, like demanding people stop discussing something because it's not an issue, don't get caught up in whether or not that is an issue. Instead say something like

Wow, this seems to be really upsetting for you. Is there something I can do to help with that?

You will probably get an angry belittling answer like "yes, try reading the ticket once in a while!" or "you could try writing the code right the first time" but just hang in there with it. What you're trying to get to is "how can we help all of this feel less out of control for you?" So that includes getting trust among the team, and good communication and visibility among the team. So you hang in there and say things like

Would you say we have an overall issue that [our tests are incomplete, our tickets don't always get across what really needs to be done, people aren't sure when they need approval and when they don't] and as a result, things are kind of chaotic?

or

Would you say that the team as a whole has trouble realizing which situations are [A] and which are [opposite of A]?

or

Is the way we're working making your job harder than it should be?

[Note these sentences are rich in passive tense or vague subjects. "we" is nice and vague if you have no choice but to include a subject. This isn't about what you personally are doing nor what this manager, or some other specific team member is doing. Or how QA suck or the users suck or the sys admins suck or whatever. Focus on process not people at this point.]

Clearly this manager needs help. In some companies there would be a higher-up to give that help, or HR, but since people are saying platitudes there isn't anyone you can go to. Perhaps the manager can think of you as an ally instead of an adversary. Perhaps you can work together to make this better. Perhaps not, but it would be nice to know you tried.

  • Thanks, shall try this too. See comment to other answer: I originally tried this approach (as an experienced hire onto a new, growing team on a clearly dysfunctional project) but perhaps he has interpreted this as a challenge to his authority. I've also noticed he doesn't really seem to "get" metaphors or conceptual thinking, which wouldn't have helped my original attempts. So, I'll keep my head down for a few days, see if he acts differently, then try as you suggest - perhaps with some literal/ direct questions on how I can help, – biraclonok Nov 13 '17 at 21:38
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So, how do I handle my line manager in the interim?

At this point IMHO you have nothing to lose. I would start by standing up to your line manager and stop accepting rude behavior. The next time your line manager is rude say something like "Hey, I know your stressed but that was really rude. I am here to help you, what can I do to make the situation better?" Be nice, but stop accepting rude behavior from this person.

The other thing to do, in a one on one informal setting is ask them if there is something you have done that may have caused offense? Maybe there is some underlying issue you could address?

Or, given he'd likely have power over any transfer, and I'm unhappy with how the job is going, and don't want some critical event to occur, do I give up on this potential, and leave with some self-respect?

If taking the steps above doesn't help, your best bet may be to bite your tongue until your able to find another job. If this person has control or input regarding your ability to transfer, they may be more difficult to work with after they discover you are attempting to leave.

4

The first thing to note: He sounds like an HR issue waiting to happen. His behavior is not acceptable in any workplace. What should be happening is that he should be being disciplined or removed.

The second thing: This company looks like it has a toxic environment, that spreads beyond your team, a transfer may not help much.

Having said that you are right that moving too often may be seen as a bad thing when looking for a job, especially coupled with the advice to not badmouth a previous employer.

So what can you do. While you are in the role?

Manage up. Manage your boss.

  • If he insists on PRing every change find some time for him to do that.
  • Make sure he takes lunch breaks to decompress and gets home on time.
  • Get HR in to support him, even if a grievance is not going to help you, they need to know he is dangerously stressed.
  • Talk to the project managers to agree on some deadlines or anything so that there is more structure.

It sounds like you are in a horrible situation, and you should never have to do such things. You sound like you are quite deliberately non-managerial. if you don't have a chance to move this may make it a bit easier for you.

It is also worth you trying to find someone higher up the chain to talk to, even if you have never seen them in person. Your manager's behavior is not just hurting you and the team you are in but the company itself. If products don't get shipped profits drop and shareholders get unhappy. Thinking about it in a general rather than a personal nature may help you to make the step, you are not just helping yourself but the whole company.

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    Thanks, I shall try this. In the post I mentioned me having experience of a similar situation, and used to be managerial - perhaps this, combined with me making suggestions on improving the mess of this project , has made him think I'm gunning for his position. I'm not - this project / company is clearly not worth the pain. However, I'm used to working in a more collaborative environment - this is much more rote and prescriptive. He may interpret my "managing up" as interference / subordination, so for the time being I'll keep my head down and not answer back... – biraclonok Nov 13 '17 at 21:27
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Didn't really get to put Kate's or Jeremy's answers into practice- as the "critical event" I was concerned about happened - it wasn't me, though.

The project manager held a tearful crisis meeting - things were in even worse shape than I thought, apparently the entire department faced termination. I'm not sure how accurate this is , as the PM then disappeared - after a few days we worked out some senior manager had put him on medical leave (stress breakdown?), which our line manager / project lead had failed to communicate to us. The PM returned after a couple of weeks, again as if nothing had happened.

Things now seem to be calmer. Our line manager has taken a more hands off approach. He's still standing on the hosepipe of work definition / signoff, but flow has improved and think he's only shouted once or twice. Perhaps he's realised how counter-productive his behaviour is - or, there's been an another senior intervention.

For my part, I have realised my suggestions was seen as "backtalk", so have stopped - it's his project, he likes command and control, so am more "speak when I'm spoken to". (Yes, this is a shame given my competencies and the needs of the department, but think that bridge has been burned.) Maybe after a while, I'll re-try the suggestions if things are still favourable.

So, things have gone from "quit on the spot the next time I get shouted at" to "tolerable, for now at least" - though I still don't know if the project has gone bad, or is some projection of insecurities. And, whenever I mention where I work to people, I get e.g. "that is wonderful, I know people who've spent years trying to get in there". When I say the work is boring and unpleasant and may leave, they look like I'm crazy. On those grounds alone, just staying put and improving my resume seems the best option - especially a reshuffle / layoff if the department is indeed terminated.

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    things have gone from "quit on the spot the next time I get shouted at" to "tolerable, for now at least" <- Is tolerable good enough for you? Think about it long and hard. You spend most of the day at work, which means most of your life. I would aim for a life that is more than just "tolerable". – Radu Murzea Dec 14 '17 at 8:50
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I know you say you don't want to go down the HR route, and you want to transfer to somewhere else in this company, but this sure sounds like bullying to me. Yelling, interrupting aggressively, grilling someone publicly when they're cowering and staring at their feet - heck, that's not normal behaviour, it's not something you should have to put up with, and I certainly wouldn't avoid going to HR because the procedure for reporting bullies is "described as bureaucratic." Whatever your manager's situation, and however stressed he is, taking it out like this on subordinates is not on.

There's so many red flags here, not just in your manager's issues, but the fact he has no manager, the fact there's high staff turnover ("Most people on this project are less than a year in"), and the fact people are advising you to not go to HR because the procedure for reporting bullies is "ineffective" (which strongly implies it's been tried at least once in the recent past.)

tl;dr: You shouldn't put up with this guy just because you're hoping for a transfer later down the line. You're only 4 months in - get out easily while you can.

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