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I work as a developer in the web/mobile department of a big org. We have developers divided in teams, we have team leads, and we have project leaders. There’s a “new” project leader who is having trouble with how our team works and “clashes” now with our team leads and a few of our developers. From what I see, it stems from misunderstandings (followed by some unfortunate incidents from the team leads) and maybe incompetence on her part (this is the first time she has such a role).

I didn’t work with her the first four months she started here, just heard a bit from people at the end, some of them not wanting to work with her anymore. I started to work with her a couple of months ago.

Here are the things I’m seeing from her :

  • She takes things very personally : she’s working on a project which has been abandoned for a while (not many people who worked on it are still there) and the analysis isn’t good. So when we develop a feature and we discover there’s more than meets the eye and things will take more time than expected, we tell her. From the way she reacts, it’s as if we told her “You missed this, you screwed up !” where it’s more of a “This was missing, we have to investigate this further to make sure we’re not missing anything else to make sure everything works still as expected”.
  • This ties with the second issue : she must place blame. And since it’s not her fault, it must be ours. That’s not how we work : if something goes wrong, our first priority is to fix it. Then, depending on the severity or if there’s a pattern, we try to fix this too (be it a personal failing or an issue in the way we work). But you rarely hear here “That’s your fault, I’m not dealing with this”. So when we raise an issue, since she thinks we blame her, she quickly becomes very defensive and blames us for things which are not our responsibility. She says stuff like “You missed it”, “You hid this”,… very confrontational and not constructive.
  • Which brings me to the incompetent part : I don’t think she realises that some stuff is her responsibility (or that we as dev just don’t have the knowledge to foresee some issues that she should as project leader).

To be fair, she has some reasons to be (now) uncomfortable in the team (which would make her more defensive, although from what I heard she was like that in the beginning too) :

  • I know of an incident where team lead A send an e-mail to her by mistake, where he complains about her about her not respecting once again a protocol put in place (no calling names or insults).
  • During meetings, team lead B has been losing patience bit by bit (as have some developers), namely because of the stuff described above (she gets defensive, there’s non-constructive blaming and time is wasted instead of solving the actual issue). This has all cumulated in today’s meeting, where again we made her aware a certain feature wasn’t done (which should have been) because it was missing from the scope. When she started again saying “Why did you miss it, why didn’t you tell me it was missing and waited until now ?” (we just discovered today this had to be done, that’s why), team lead B kinda lost it. They went back and forth, with B telling her at different points to leave the room, that the whole team was complaining about her and that he hopes she’s not a product leader for this feature anymore.

So she has her shortcomings, but things haven't been handled on our side that well either.

The thing is… I feel for her.

  • She’s a woman in IT (I am too) which is not easy. I know I’ve been fortunate in the places I’ve worked, but I know other women who have experienced the “boy’s club” that the IT world can be. The people who have the most problems with her also seem to be strong-minded men.
  • She might come from a culture where I know they are quite cut throat (the “blame game” can come from there : colleagues aren’t your friends, they throw you under the bus and step on you to go a bit higher). I’m not 100% sure since I didn’t ask her, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
  • English isn’t her first language and she seems to have difficulties at times to find the right words, so I think there’s also something lost in translation (and again, that same culture I was talking before, are known to be bad at English)
  • It might be a hell from her own making, but some members of the team are now actively against her (for example not wanting to be in a meeting with her without her manager or someone senior present)

I’d like to offer her to go to lunch sometime, but don’t know if it’s a good idea. We’ve had a cordial relationship until now, when we’ve talked one on one before and it went well. I wouldn’t bring all this up, but I think it would be good to get to know her, and her to know someone from our team. We’re going to continue to work together the next few months, and I’d like for us to work as a team and be productive, and I wonder if lending an ear and getting to know each other might help. Right now, since things aren’t so well, we only see her rarely in critical meetings where emotions run high (on both sides).

Do you guys think it’s a good idea ?

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    Strong minded men tend to have low tolerance for BS. Were they always critical of her or did it escalate from some point onwards? Not saying they're saints or there isn't a boys club, but it's important to be clear about what's going on – rath Sep 20 '18 at 12:46
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    Too small for an answer: Going for lunch is risky, but a good idea. I would focus on listening and understanding why she has the reactions she does. She's obviously insecure; could be the boy's club or her culture or whatever, but without understanding why she blows up you can't do much about it. – rath Sep 20 '18 at 12:51
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    @rath: Like I said, I didn't hear much about her the first months she worked here, and I'm not close to the devs who have a problem with her. I joined the project later on, when one comment from one side or another would make things tense. Since I don't know her, and I haven't worked much with the others, I'm not sure how things started. – MlleMei Sep 20 '18 at 12:58
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    @rath: That's why I thought of lunch. I don't know enough (her or the whole situation), and I'm not her manager. But I still have to work with her in the foreseeable future and although we never clashed, there's tension when she has to meet one of the devs or the team leads, which I'd like to ease. I thought lending an ear or be a friendly face might help. Or not. – MlleMei Sep 20 '18 at 13:02
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I’d like to offer her to go to lunch sometime, but don’t know if it’s a good idea. We’ve had a cordial relationship until now, when we’ve talked one on one before and it went well. I wouldn’t bring all this up, but I think it would be good to get to know her, and her to know someone from our team. We’re going to continue to work together the next few months, and I’d like for us to work as a team and be productive, and I wonder if lending an ear and getting to know each other might help. Right now, since things aren’t so well, we only see her rarely in critical meetings where emotions run high (on both sides).

Do you guys think it’s a good idea ?

I think your motives are commendable, but I think you need to tread carefully.

Getting to know your project leader better is a good idea. Going to lunch is a good idea.

But bringing any of this up is a bad idea. You are not her supervisor. You are not her mentor. Doing anything that sounds like those would likely not go over well.

Go to lunch. Talk. Connect as you would with any other project leader.

But don't try to be the one to "fix" her.

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Birds of a feather flock together

For your own career, I would suggest no. Be professional, be courteous, make your case when in front of others of her point of view.

However, from your description, she is now marked, and the last thing you want is to be associated with someone with a mark on their back. Hopefully, she is looking for another position.

Also note, your perception, your truth, of the matter is only yours. i.e. You do not know what occurred in every meeting she had, or the content of every email that she sent.

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