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I have a question. I am a senior software engineer, not a team lead. I have received feedback on two annual reviews, from two different managers at two different companies, that team productivity could have been improved. Like this was negative feedback on my review. I was surprised to hear this, given that I am not the team lead and I thought this was the team lead’s area of responsibility. The first time I heard it, I thought it might be a fluke. However, given that I had similar feedback from a different manager at a different company, maybe there was something to it.

Is it normal for senior-level staff to be held responsible for team productivity, even when they are not team leads or managers? This was not spelled out in my job description. I am not one of those folks who frequently says “this is not in my job description.” However, being responsible for the team’s productivity implies a certain level of leadership and supervision, which seems crucial to be spelled out in the job description, especially as to whether I am authorized to engage in supervision of staff members. It would be easy for a team member to respond to me, “You are not my supervisor,” and they would be right.

Given, in both situations, I am finding that management hired staff that is dramatically underqualified with technical skills and/or professionalism. This is to the point where I have had to file feedback and complaints to management. Sometimes staff does not have adequate technical skills, where it is taking too long to get the job done. Alternatively, there is outlandish unprofessional behavior that is interfering with the work being done.

I have not been part of the hiring process, to screen candidates and bring them on board. With one company, I started giving management interview questions and criteria to look for when hiring new staff. Gradually, the new staff that was brought on board improved. For the second company, employee roles are getting outsourced to another country, where salaries are 10% of salaries in my country. It would be an understatement to say that this complicates the situation. Due to the lower cost of labor, I do not know whether management is willing to tolerate more errors.

Granted, if I am going to be held responsible for staff performance, I should have a voice in who gets hired/fired. Also, I should have authority to supervise, to ensure that staff is in compliance with quality standards. Without explicit authority, this enables unprofessional staff to undercut my instructions and get away with it.

The feedback further surprises me, because I applied for both the senior software engineer position and the team lead role at one company. I was not considered for the team lead position, yet I am still accountable for team performance as a senior software engineer.

My question is, is it normal for senior software engineers (or senior staff) to be held responsible for team performance, when they are not the team lead or manager? It would be helpful to get feedback from people in the information technology (IT) field. IT seems to have more gray areas in employee roles, than a factory that produces widgets on an assembly line.

Please note that my long-term career goal is to become an architect. I am not interested in a management track. I am not sure if an issue like this might come up again in the future.

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As a software engineer who's had multiple jobs I can say that it varies. Sometimes if there's no designated lead, then the most senior ones kind of takes on that role and may have similar expectations of a lead placed on them (common in smaller companies and startups). But in your case there are explicit "lead" roles, so those people should be the ones who does all the lead stuff, including monitoring the team's productivity and addressing productivity issues.

Given that they turned you down for the lead role but specifically called you out for not taking on a lead's responsibilities, I think in these situations it's best to discuss it with the people who reviewed you. Clarify with them that they did mean that they were faulting you for not ensuring the team's productivity, and if so explore why they're placing this on your head given you're not the lead. It could just be that your managers don't quite understand the dynamic of lead vs. senior, and what responsibilities fall on each. Or it could be that they're trying to get more out of you than they're supposed to, given your position. You won't know until you discuss the reasons behind the feedback.

The course of action will depend on what their reasoning is, but as @Kilisi said, you should definitely stick relatively closely to what your job description says by default. If they want you to do things outside it then have a clear, documented discussion with them about it. Otherwise it can lead to issues like taking on extra responsibilities you shouldn't be, being overworked, getting assigned work that's not in your area of expertise, getting blamed for issues that aren't under your jurisdiction, etc.. Best to avoid all that with a simple, clarifying discussion.

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I am not one of those folks who frequently says “this is not in my job description.”

Become one, when attacked unfairly justify yourself confidently. Don't let these things ride, it weakens your negotiating stance. Make sure you clarify your role if you need to.

This is actually the managers problem, don't let him/her pass it to you.

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From your description, it seems like the problem originated from the fact that somehow you did not have a clear goal set for your roles and responsibilities.

Without a reference for measurement (i.e., the goal setting), it's hard (impossible) to measure the achievements, or lack of it. If it's done anyways, it's not likely to go in favor of the employee.

Please talk to your manager / superiors about a clear goal setting, and have regular performance reviews (not annual, maybe quarterly or even more frequent, if you see fit). Do not wait for a long time for a review to happen and judgement to be passed on as a verdict, make use of the review process - utilize the review and feedback loop:

  • Seek feedback
  • Decide on the work items for improvement
  • Perform the activities and log the efforts and outcomes (and learning/ findings)
  • Go for next review

Make sure you consider all the scenarios you mentioned in the question, while deciding and agreeing on the roles, like:

  • Primary expectations (delivery , fulfillment - as per the job description and contract)
  • Secondary responsibilities ( If you're willing to take on: Having a leadership role, authority, reporting structure and process etc.)
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Team productivity and personal productivity are different things. Personal productivity is basically completing your assigned work on time. Individuals are responsible for their personal productivity and supervisors are charged with disciplinary authority to correct personal productivity problems.

Team productivity is about the responsibilities you share that make the entire team go faster. Are people learning from each other? Are you reviewing each other's code to spot problems early? Are you helping each other out when people are struggling with a problem? Do you talk about designs before you waste too much time building the wrong thing? Are you asking for help when you get stuck? Are you talking to each other so you avoid unnecessary duplication of work? Are you choosing your tasks in a way that accounts for the talents of the entire team? Are you communicating outside the team about requirements and dependencies?

If a team has productivity problems because they aren't communicating well, who is the team lead supposed to address about that? The only real option is to put it on the entire team, because the lead can't communicate alone.

If you don't want to get dinged for team productivity in your reviews, then have an answer ready like, "I can't do anything about people slacking off, but I've been trying to help the team get better at task x I'm good at by pair programming an hour per day. Joe has already been handling bugs in that area that previously I would have been a bottleneck for."

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