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We have a situation in our IT services company. We have a capable lead Alice and a couple of high performing developers Bob and Chris.

Bob and Chris are with the company for about three years now (joined right after graduation), in these three years they prototyped and delivered some outstanding work, which converted to a lot of revenue for the company. Alice joined the company as a Senior Lead about a year back. She has about 6 years of experience and she is well versed with handling clients. In the past one year she converted a big project, albeit not as much as Bob and Chris.

Whenever a new challenging project comes, the higher ups want all the three to sit together and brainstorm for the project. Alice deals with client interactions and the overall architecture of the project (quite a bit of coding too) where as Bob and Chris take care of the coding majorly. It’s been the case for the last one year.

I (her friend) recently came to know that during the last one year few thing happened

  • She is being constantly undermined by the other two developers
    • this typically involves them simply ignoring her inputs in the projects
    • dismissing her when she suggests something that they don’t approve off
    • being very territorial about their previous work and taking credit for the projects
    • basically treating her to be incompetent
  • She came to know this during an unfortunate goof up by Bob while on a slack call, she happened to look at their chats during screen share, so she definitely is not imagining it
  • She admittedly wasn’t on par with them in the first few months (due to her personal commitments she had to be on a leave for 10-15 days), but this continues till today even after successfully delivering projects
  • She asked the higher ups to move her to a new team, but this will happen only during next company restructuring, which is still very far away.

What can she do in this situation apart from leaving the company ? How can she get them to treat her better ? How can she handle this situation better, given that she was hired into a role that she is in right now.

Edits after comments:

All the 3 report directly to the VP of Engineering (it's not normal for the developer to report to VP, but since Bob and Chris are there for a some time and delivered in the past they have this access).

Location: India

  • 3
    Does Alice has management responsibilities with regard to Bob and Chris? Does she have the authority to discipline? Or is there a manager they all report to? – Cypher Feb 28 at 20:55
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    All the 3 report to the VP of Engineering. Given that Bob and Chris are high performers they have direct access to the VP too. She doesn't have the authority to discipline. – alice_throw_away Feb 28 at 20:57
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    Have Alice ever really shown her competence? Not by experience somewhere else, that's something they simply did not see. Not by "converting a big project", but by "outstanding work, which converted to a lot of revenue for the company"? What she shown, was it comparable to what they shown? Or (as it looks now) she shown far less and just wants respect that usually belongs to ones that shown more? – Mołot Feb 28 at 23:06
  • "What can she do in this situation apart from leaving the company ?" Get clarification from her boss on what her role is. Do that role. Address issues that directly impact her job duties with management as they arise. Stop focusing so much on her coworkers and trying to directly change their behavior. – dwizum Mar 1 at 13:43
  • This setup sounds like a good way to get your superstar developers to quit. The superstar developers tend to want to move at a fast pace and only respect people that can keep up and don't get in their way. Years of experience means very little when it comes to developers, I've seen people achieve more personal growth in 6 months than others have achieved in 6 years. Sounds to me like a shake-up is needed, so everyone gets what they want. – SLC Mar 1 at 14:50
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I'd say there are two things going on here:

  1. Bob and Chris are acting out of turn by openly disrespecting someone who is senior in title to them
  2. Alice has also not commanded respect from her subordinates, which suggests to me that either Bob and Chris should be in a lateral position to her, or there was a bit of mismanagement in making her their lead

As tough as it may be for Alice to swallow, there is no way to dictate respect from people, it needs to be earned. This means that those in vertical positions need to be able to command respect from their subordinates via sheer ability. If that clear divergence in ability isn't there the vertical position can't be justified and either the person in the role has to change, or the role needs to be made into a lateral position.

As for what Alice can do? It's a difficult position to be in because all roads lead to admitting that she's been miscast in this role. But for the sake of her sanity I'd recommend discussing this openly with her own superiors in an open and undramatic way, because that is what a leader would do - make the best decision for the company.

I also like the advice in another answer of de-emphasizing her role as lead, because it would seem like she is not, in practice, the lead.

  • "Alice has also not commanded respect from her subordinates" In what sense do you use the term "subordinates?" I agree that "lead" does suggest Alice is in a leadership role, but the org structure as described puts them as colleagues (reporting to the same manager). – dwizum Mar 1 at 13:42
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So I have to ask: What have Alice's deliverables been? How has she contributed since joining? You say she's delivered some projects. Have they been revenue-generating like the others have been?

From what I can see, two guys busted their butts, made a significant positive impact to the company, and then got someone put in "over them" for their efforts.

Now, there may be a good reason for doing that, but you sure haven't mentioned it, here.

And as to Alice's competence? Has she done as much in her year as the others each (individually) did in their first year? Does she bring some value or talent to the team that the other two lack?

You haven't been able to justify (to me, anyway) why Alice should be the lead. How has the company justified it to the team?

I think she needs to either define her contribution as being significant enough to be the team lead, or she has to admit that the company made a mistake in putting her in that role and not promoting the other two. From what you describe, the company should have hired two more students to be "juniors" to these two, rather than hiring someone to be "senior" to them.

As to their belittling her: That's not something that should be justifiable, but it's certainly understandable from their point-of-view.

[Edit]

After clarification in comments, here is what I would recommend to Alice:

  1. De-emphasize the "Lead" part of her role. Get Bob and Chris involved in architecture. They've already proven their skills at it. Move as much to a collaborative approach rather than an authoritative approach as possible.
  2. Bring all the requirements to them as "customer specs" rather than "my ideas."
  3. Emphasize the "customer management" role as much as possible. This is the equivalent of "vamping," but it's a way to get Chris and Bob to understand her contribution.

Still - She's in a hole, and it's never going to be "good." The best you can hope for is "better."

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Mar 1 at 14:36
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    I would agree with some of this, the original question has been posed in a way that shines a positive light on Alice and a negative light on the two developers. But as a developer myself I could regale people for hours with stories of managers and team leads that slowed down projects, wanted things done differently in less optimal ways etc. and were keen to highlight that they had [experience that trumps yours] which made them right. Definitely not sensing impartiality in the original question and so this reply is very good for picking up on it. – SLC Mar 1 at 14:47
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Change her job title.

It sounds that the Bob and Chris are better developers and but calling Alice a lead developer you have kind of set her up for failure. It might just be a title but by giving it to her you have told Bob and Chris the criteria to judge her by.

By the sounds of things she is good at her job but her job is more than just writing code. While Bob and Chris can focus on that and therefor sharpen those skills specifically Alice has to have a broader toolset.

Basically I think you should change her roll (mainly her title) to reflect her actual duties. Maybe something like project manager, product owner. They may evaluate her based on the new roll; dealing with customers, planning the project, setting out the broad architecture (I think Bob and Chris may be able to do this themselves and sort of resent this being dictated to them, no sure) and they will be less likely to judge her on the narrow metric of her coding abilities, after all why should she be the lead developer if she is not the best developer.

There is a tiny bit of politics here though. If it is really obvious that the title change is just a title change nothing may change. You need to make is seem like a change it role. It might be a good opportunity to evaluate how the team is structured and how the roles are divided and implement a few small changes at the same time.

2

You can't really do anything, except being a friend to her.

If she feels her work is negatively impacted by that, she needs to speak with them or the company.

People generally tend to be territorial about their work and achievements, especially, should they desire to rise in ranks.

So, gender usually doesn't have to play a role but may facilitate this behaviour if in a culture or country where equality is not yet achieved fully.

0

That's a though one. I pretty much know the situation from the other side of the table. I'm pretty much in the same spot as Bob and Chris. I often work with a project lead of ours who also does coding but really is just creating a big mess but we get along quite good.

I guess a big part of it is the communication. Although he does the majority of talking with the client he doesn't really decide things on his own that have a big influence on my technical work. I actually feel like I'm in control of most things and he is just an adapter between the client and me. It is not like I decide alone on everything technical but he doesn't either.

First we talk about the problem in general and then it is more about a brain storming on equal footing, without judging.

If that wasn't the case I guess we had the same problem unless he would be way more dominant. As being dominant is pretty much a character trait that isn't something you can learn fast and especially not change within a group of people who already know you for a longer time there aren't many solutions.

  1. She could get a new job
  2. Management could divide that team even further and split up Chris and Bob, in one being a tech lead in that situation, while Alice is the project lead.
  3. She could try to give Chris and Bob more of a feeling of being in control and deciding on their own, at least on the technical part, like in my example, which is basically the same as 2. but without management and titles/roles.

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