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I’ve been working for the same company for few years now, recently they hired a new manager and I was assigned to be part of his team, starting a new project. I’m a lead developer in that team and I’m responsible for organization of purely development work, and all that’s technical-related, while his role is the administrative one, and we should work very closely with one another to make sure there’s a balance between business and technology and everything’s aligned and in place. In a very short time my manager has proven to me that he’s completely incompetent to do his job:

  • He’s amazing on paper - I mean he has more years of experience than my current age is and when just talking in general “how things should work”, he’s more than great, but when it comes to applying it in practice, he’s just making huge mess and wastes everyone’s time. So I completely understand why he performed good on an interview, and why upper manager might have missed any indications of the problem.
  • He has major communication issues and can’t communicate effectively
  • He’s the micromanaging type
  • He’s having severe problems using the tools we use in our project - even stuff like email
  • He also never takes any initiative - if something needs to be done that’s his responsibility, somebody should explicitly tell him to do it, otherwise he never will
  • Also, he needs me to sit with him and give him specific instructions down to “Scroll down, on the right you have a button that’s called Submit, press that button”, and eventually I end up volunteering to do his job instead, cause it’s gonna take less time for me to just do it on my own, and proceed with all the other work I have, instead of sitting next to him.
  • He’s also the kind of person to blame everything on the circumstances or other people for him not being able to perform a task. It's never his fault he can't do something, it's either someone's fault, or there's a technical issue with the tools he's using.

After trying talking to him had no success at all, I escalated the situation to his managers, and they told me they’ll need some time to think about the situation, investigate and come up with solution. I described all the problems, giving examples of situations, and potential risks for the project. Meanwhile, I find the situation unbearable every minute of my work day, because things are just getting worse with every day passing and absurd situations happen 2-3 to 5-6 times a day. I have more and more work to do, plus his tasks, it makes it just impossible. I also need to spend additional time writing emails to fix the damages he does, or explain him something.

I don't want to just let him fail (not taking his tasks, not giving him guidelines, etc.), because I don't want to fail team's work and whole project because of him. At the same time, if the job is done, I'm afraid that upper-management won't see the real impact of the issue, just because we have results and there's no business problem.

Obviously, my long-term goal here is for him to be moved out of the project (I don’t really care if they let him go from company, but my personal opinion is that they should). If that’s impossible, I will ask for me to be transferred to another project or department, if possible. If both of those resolutions are not possible, I’ll just have to quit immediately and start looking for another job, but I would prefer not to do that, because I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong here.

Short-term goals: I can’t talk to the rest of the team about the situation while there’s no resolution from upper-management, and I cannot assure them that this won’t be a long-term situation (because I don’t know what the decision would be), and it won’t be ethical for me to even discuss my honest opinion about him with them. I already heard some comments about "how are we going to work that way", or "oh, god, that's gonna be a really tough project", not blaming him directly. They are professionals, I doubt that anybody will just start trashing him, but we've worked together long enough for me to be able to read between the lines what the real issue is. I’m worried that although I’ve been trying to cover up his mistakes and inability to do his job, it’s becoming more and more obvious and people will get demotivated and fresh up their resumes, if they haven't done that already. Once they walk this path, it would be easier to just keep moving on it than staying, even if the decision is taken before they actually quit, and is the best one possible, they’ll eventually quit. What I mean here is that even if my long-term goal is achieved and this person is not working with us anymore, I may end up not having a team to work with, and those guys are really great at their jobs. It's all like the butterfly effect and I can't seem to find a win-win situation out of this problem.

I guess my question is: What can I do to keep team motivated while waiting for a resolution? How to further reduce the impact of my manager’s incompetency on their jobs?

  • Why do you imagine you need his removal to be a long-term goal? Arguably the best thing to do for your team is to fast-track a solution. If they are so impacted that you're worried about morale that's information you management needs. Long-term would be fine if you took the brunt of the problems/work, so why are you thinking it would take so long? – Lilienthal Jul 13 '18 at 8:48
  • @Lilienthal, I have shared those risks, but no one gives me any timeline as of when I should expect any solution, or at least tips how to proceed further. I don't know how long it might take. Even if the solution is for him to be removed, it might take up to few months for a replacement to be hired, and maybe they'll leave him here meanwhile, not to leave the team without a manager at all. Therefore, I call it long-term solution, just because I don't think that's gonna take just a few days or even weeks. – user85437 Jul 13 '18 at 8:57
  • It's probably a separate topic from your question here then, but your main priority should be to push harder for a resolution and clearly explain how badly it's all going wrong. You could even hint at the fact that it's making you contemplate leaving. But I'd suggest looking through some of our questions on making a coworker's failings more visible or ask a new one on how to proceed here. – Lilienthal Jul 13 '18 at 10:12
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I guess my question is: What can I do to keep team motivated while waiting for a resolution?

Without trying to paint a bleak image here, every option is a bad one.

If you let the team rely on the manager, then the manager will cause issues via his incompetence.

If you let the team know not to rely on the manager, then you are effectively telling them to disregard the chain of command. Even if it is objectively better to cut out this particular manager, it's going to foster an anti-manager attitude that will bleed into the team dealing with other managers.

If you divert the critical work to someone who is more competent (away from the public eye), then you're loading the other person with work that is not theirs, and the manager will still get the credit for the work done, at least by those who do not know it's being rerouted to another person.

If you instead openly challenge the manager's competence, that's way too aggressive and likely not your place to do so.


The best approach here seems to:

  • Let the manager do their job unhindered. Document everything they do (good and bad).
    • Get everything in writing. If your manager asks you something unreasonable in person, send them a short recap email, asking for confirmation (or simply sending it FYI). Don't tell your manager you need it in writing, simply put it in writing yourself. He either has to implicitly agree with what you say, or he has to explicitly disagree (at which point he needs to justify his unreasonable claims).
  • Once you have proof, raise the issue to upper managent and add concrete information based on the documentation you created.
  • Wait for upper management to make a decision. Continue documenting the manager.
  • Whenever you see something that can blow back on your and your team, make sure you have the needed documentation to prove that the issue was not caused by you or your team. Don't proactively complain to/about the manager, simply prepare for someone eventually blaming you or your team.
  • If upper management has not responded after a reasonable amount of time, ask for an update on the situation. Add more documentation if relevant.
  • If your patience wears thin, ask upper management to move you to a different team. When they ask why, point at the earlier conversations you had about the manager, and explain the ongoing issues (from the ongoing documentation).
  • Try to avoid mentioning changing team/company in the same conversation where you raise issues about the manager. It can come across as blackmail if you're a critical employee; and such a threat may end up getting you fired if you're not a critical employee.
  • Don't blame upper management for failing to respond. It antagonizes them, and they're the only ones who can help you here. At most, point out the ongoing consequences of the manager's actions.
  • > and such a threat may end up getting you fired if you're not a critical employee. This depends on location though, in many places with halfway decent employee protection the only thing this might cause is awkward questions in a performance review. – Borgh Jul 13 '18 at 8:38
  • @Borgh: I agree with what you say, but even worker protection isn't absolute. They can't outright fire you, but you can be scrutinized more, leading you to want to quit the job, or get caught up on something that is cause for termination. At the absolute minimal, being perceived as using a threat with upper management will lead to the OP's argument (against the manager) to be outright ignored. – Flater Jul 13 '18 at 8:54
  • True, but in that case its not the comment that causes the firing, the management being assholes willing to skirt laws are the cause. – Borgh Jul 13 '18 at 9:01
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I don't want to just let him fail (not taking his tasks, not giving him guidelines, etc.), because I don't want to fail team's work and whole project because of him.

You can't have it both ways. You have already escalated and anything more is overstepping your role. So either maliciously go after him and make sure his incompetence is recognised at every opportunity or don't.

Bear in mind that he is the manager and this could backfire.

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