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I lead a team which has been short-staffed for months. I have spoken to my boss and given written reports on numerous occasions detailing why we’re short staffed and requesting that he begin an interviewing process for a new employee.

In the mean time we are sharing an extra job between us, and as a small team this often means that we don’t get as much work done as we’d like.

In particular, I spoke to my boss yesterday to show him that the amount of work I personally have to do does not match the hours I’m given to do the work in. My boss was very understanding, and in that private setting he not only assured me that he will get a new staff member but also arranged time at a future date where I can tackle this growing backlog of tasks I personally have to do.

Then today I was holding a staff meeting and he walked in and (among other things) started asking me why X wasn’t done or Y wasn’t done. I had literally just discussed these things with him yesterday. I tried to give a clear answer but I am concerned that it looked bad in front of the staff.

How can I tackle this with my boss, especially given that we had a very productive and clear discussion on it less than 36 hours ago? Is there a way that I can prevent him interrupting and derailing a meeting (which was on limited time as we have so much work to do!) for a topic that did not need to be covered? I know he’s the boss so I’m in a limited position. Please advise.

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    "I tried to give a clear answer but I am concerned that it looked bad in front of the staff." Can you elaborate on that? what was the answer and why do you think it looked bad – Homerothompson Feb 21 '18 at 15:46
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    I wish I had an answer. This is passive-aggressive, unprofessional, and unproductive. Do you think he did it because in private he felt over powered? – paparazzo Feb 21 '18 at 15:47
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    Perhaps he wanted you to repeat in front of your staff the points that you made during your private meeting. That way you get public credit for identifying the problems and prescribing the solutions. - If so, he should have warned you about what he was going to do. – A. I. Breveleri Feb 21 '18 at 15:50
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    In regards to my response: my boss said ‘why was X not done? I asked for this to be done 6 weeks ago!” (Which looks like I couldn’t be bothered). I then responded “Well you only assigned it to me 2 weeks ago and I’ve done it today” (both true). My concern is that it still looks like I was slow and lazy to my staff. Whereas he and I both know as per our discussion that I was not given time to do this particular task until today. In the last 2 weeks there were higher priority tasks. – user83144 Feb 21 '18 at 15:53
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    @User83144 - The only response required there was i was working on higher priority tasks – IDrinkandIKnowThings Feb 24 '18 at 13:10
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My team is half the size it was a year ago and there have been management changes. I feel your pain.

The first couple times he does this in front of your team, you can say something like the following:

I'm sorry, I thought I'd clarified that when we talked about priorities. Given our reduced capacity, we won't be getting to that before (date), so we can work on (higher-priority tasks). Have priorities changed?

This conveys to your team that you already tried to address the problem and places the ball back in the manager's court. He's the manager, so if he wants to change priorities he can, but it'll be clear to your team that it's his change, not you flaking out.

If he keeps doing this, you might need to get more direct:

Ok, which of A, B, or C should we stop work on so we can do that?

By this point your team knows what's going on, so you don't need to convince them.

Finally, if you're not all somehow tracking your assignments and progress in writing (ticketing system, weekly email with accomplishments, whatever), you might want to start doing that. The benefit is having something to point the manager to, to reduce claimed or actual surprises.

  • This is great answer. Basically, the fact that your team is short-staffed is already established and it is not within your responsibility to change this. You are a team lead, not a product owner or project manager. The productivity of your team is known and now it is up to your boss to prioritize the tasks. You and your team is there to do the job the best you can. Your boss chooses which task goes first. Or you can always go for "You can have it fast, you can have it cheap, you can have it well done. Pick two". – Mike Feb 22 '18 at 21:33
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There are only a couple options here, as you are in a tough spot.

First you ignore it, which is what I would do if it is an uncommon occurrence.

If your manager does this frequently, you can have a private one on one meeting spelling out what happened, how if made you look in front of the team, and asking them to stop. This approach carries obvious risk, but at some point you will lose face with the team if the behavior continues.

If you confront your manager, do it gently. Even then be prepared for the case where they say "Ok, my bad" and still repeat the behavior. At this point your options are:

  • Talk to HR ( not advisable )
  • Talk to your bosses manager ( again risky )
  • Find a better boss

Again, tough spot, hard for us to be of explicit help. Weigh the options carefully.

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In the meeting, if anyone including your boss comes up with things that don’t belong there, you say “can we do this after the meeting? Some people here have very limited time”. If your boss then decides to waste everyone else’s time, that’s his or her problem.

After that, you should consider a private meeting with your boss.

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