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Environment:

My boss, John, has three managers (Heather, Rudy and Gary) reporting to him, and each one is in charge of a team. Difficult times within Rudy's team are the reason for that question.

I have been there for 6 months, and report directly to John, but have no managerial duties. All of us are engineers and have held other positions within the company for several years. John took over the division 3 months ago, he is quite shy about bringing any change, leading us to believe that his management style might be wu wei (non-action).

Situation:

I was already aware that Phil and Richie, the two guys in charge of our internal tools and part of Rudy's team, were struggling with his management and wished for more autonomy. One month ago, they introduced a formal, argued request to depend directly from John, instead of being part of Rudy's team. This ended up in a meeting between John, Rudy and myself (but not Phil and Richie). John was not willing to change the organization and finally decided that the only change would be my participating to the weekly meeting Rudy holds with Phil and Richie, to reconcile the parties if needed.

Last week, I walked into an informal meeting featuring most of Rudy's team - but not Rudy himself, as he was the topic of the exchange. All of them, from the newcomers to the old-timers, were complaining about him (lack of help or support, micromanagement of minor tasks, haphazard task assignment, complete ignorance about training, not cascading information, ...). According to them, Rudy is committing teamicide, maybe unknowingly. The are considering their options, and I have a feeling they are really on edge.

The company held an HR-sanctioned event focused on "well-being at work" earlier this year, where we all filled a questionnaire, then each manager was given a synthesis of his or her team's replies, shared it with them and devised an action plan to improve. Unsurprisingly, Rudy's team nailed a "lack of recognition for their achievements", which he dismissed by suggesting that he would be holding group hug therapy session whenever they need.

Question:

The team is close to a meltdown (medical leave, request transfers ...), and this would definitely impact my activities as I work regularly with members of all three teams, and even more often with Phil and Richie.

Is there any way for me to prevent that?

What I have tried so far:

  • bring relevant news directly to Phil and Richie, without waiting for Rudy to cascade them
  • in the meeting with John and Rudy, suggested to contact another division, that has similar needs but a different structure, to learn from them
  • study questions here: in particular this question would be similar if I were John. Unfortunately I cannot act on his behalf.

TL, DR: A manager who is my peer is not realizing his team is about to collapse. How can I bring the news to him?

  • 22
    "he dismissed by suggesting that he would be holding group hug threapy session whenever they need" -> If the problem is that Rudy is a jerk, then maybe the team melting down is what actually needs to happen here? From the team's feedback and Phil & Richie's request, it seems the writing's on the wall. Are you sure Rudy is really unaware that his team is about to melt down and that it's because of himself? "How can I bring the news to him?" -> Is that really the problem to be solved here? – filbranden Jun 10 at 22:38
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    There's already really too much text here, but I'm left wondering what your place is in this dynamic. You don't manage a team but are still part of the upper echelon it seems? Have you managed before? Are you expected to perform this kind of cross-team "reconciliation" role? Did you get the impression John wants you to solve this or was the role he gave you more about avoiding to take real action? I ask mainly because what you're dealing with is management incompetence which requires management authority to correct. From the sound of it you won't have that and the person who does won't care. – Lilienthal Jun 11 at 7:23
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    Did you remember to change the names? I know that they are just first names, but with so many names the whole scenario might be recognizable. – Philipp Jun 11 at 13:17
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    "the only change would be my participating to the weekly meeting Rudy holds with Phil and Richie, to reconcile the parties if needed." - it sounds like John has delegated this conflict to you. Did he give you any explicit instructions about what authority you have, or exactly what your responsibility is? It sounds to me like the first thing to do is talk to John and clarify your role if you haven't yet. – dwizum Jun 11 at 13:34
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    @Lilienthal : I'm in charge of business development for the department, same echelon as the team managers. I already managed before joining that company. John expects me to act as a buffer in the meetings but that goes only for Phil and Richie, not the remainder of Rudy's team. – Siorki Jun 12 at 15:15
44

Do you think that the issues with Rudy's team are due to his inability to manage (as opposed to an unmanageable employee) and do you think there is any reasonable chance that anything you tell Rudy can cause him to salvage his team? If the answers are yes and no, respectively, then I think your obligation is to bring it up with John instead.

John, by inviting you to sit in on Rudy's team meetings, seems to have understood that he needed a neutral party, perhaps to "reconcile" as you said, but perhaps to help him understand if the issue is with Rudy, or with a team member(s).

If you are convinced that the issue is with Rudy, and that it is really unlikely that Rudy can fix it on his own, then John, as Rudy's manager, needs to know that there is a real, legitimate, management issue with one of the teams.

It is not your job to propose a fix, or to implicate who is at fault: that is John's. But it is your job to let him know that he has a problem, and the scale of it - if the team blew up, and you didn't provide him with enough of a warning, it could look very poorly on you.

17

First of all, remember the three Cs: You didn't Cause this problem, you can't Control it, and you can't Correct it.

It doesn't sound like an engineer's approach to solving this problem is feasible. An engineer's approach would be to examine the situation, understand the factors, design a solution, and implement it. That's been tried. And "John" rejected it.

It also sounds like the attempted intervention based on "well-being at work" failed. "Rudy" mocked and dismissed the concerns of his team about recognition for their work. He probably has not yet realized what a career-limiting move that was for him.

It sounds like the members of "Rudy's" team have the expectation that another near-term intervention will rescue them from this situation. I think you would be wise to make sure the team knows you, Siorki, cannot be the intervenor. It's above your pay grade to intervene in this.

What can you do?

  1. Ask the dissatisfied team members if they can imagine any ways to work around this problem and still be effective. Present the question to them as something to think about, not something to answer immediately.

  2. Make sure "Rudy" and "John" are both aware of the team's dissatisfaction. "Hey John, you probably already know this, but Rudy's team is close to a meltdown. I don't know what more I personally can do to help. Do you have any suggestions?" "A heads-up, Rudy, you would be wise to check in with your team and make sure they have everything they need from you to do good work."

Try to detach your own work interests from the situation. Yes, you need things from Rudy's team. So does John, because John only succeeds when his department succeeds. Don't take it personally that you can't fix the problem.

Let things unfold. It may set the company back. "John," the new director, will take a career hit if part of his department melts down. Not you.

  • 3
    (2) isn't realistic so far as Rudy is concerned. If a team manager has no idea that his team is about to implode, telling him so won't make any difference - apart from the fact that the bearer of the news will make a new enemy. – alephzero Jun 11 at 16:21
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    True about changing "Rudy's" mind. Notice I suggested saying "check in with your team," not "your team hates you and is ready to quit." – O. Jones Jun 11 at 19:19
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    This answer seems a bit too one-sided. Siorki learnt how the employees see the situation, not how Rudy does. He doesn't know who's right and shouldn't try to make judgements. I've witnessed both. Employees suffering under an awful boss. But also bosses bullied by employees who use arguments like "lack of recognition" to defend themselves against reasonable expectations concerning their work or behavior. As an outsider Siorki can't know who's right and shouldn't make judgments. He should stick to facts. – BigMadAndy Jun 11 at 21:15
2

There isn't much you can do, and there is probably much that you don't know about the situation.

It is possible that John, having taken over only 3 months ago, has been working with his bosses on a reorganization plan that would solve the problem, but everything remains status quo until that is announced and implemented.

It's also possible (maybe even probable) that John has recognized Rudy's deficiencies and has been coaching him or perhaps has put him on a performance improvement plan. It will take time to see how that develops.

I'm not clear on what your role is and why you report directly to John. If John is relying on you to report on the situation, the best thing you can do is be as direct and impartial as you can be.

2

You were given instructions from John to attend that meeting and he obviously had a reason why you being there would be of value. I would suggest following John's explicit instructions (attending the weekly meeting with Rudy, Phil, and Richie) and his implied instructions (reporting back on what you see in that meeting as an impartial observer).

Rudy is not in your chain of command so it is not your job to save him. Act as eyes and ears for John and call it a day. Should John want you to intervene those instructions need to be given explicitly.

  • Agreed, that was my intention. And that will shine a light on how Rudy actually manages, as opposed to the second-hand information I deal with today. – Siorki Jun 12 at 21:43
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You are maybe being set up. Rudy will fail and the team will know you so you will become his replacement. Too late will you realize that the problem was not with Rudy but with the team, which is a group of imbeciles!

I know, not very realistic, but a possibility never the less. Good luck!

  • We have so many people longing to be promoted to management, but never discount the possibility of the powers above picking someone not interested in the position ... – Siorki Jun 12 at 21:27

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