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TL;DR

I have an assignment, 3 weeks in, and due to schedule concerns and the team has a nascent understanding of the assignment at hand. However, I feel like the co-worker tasked to help me who has 20+ years of experience over me and usually gets high marks for performance, hasn't been pulling his weight or putting his best foot forward with the assignment. Online resources for inter-office relationships for a situation indicate to ignore the issue, do your own work, move forward, politely decline to help if asked by the person. But is this appropriate when he is tasked to help me? Do I approach my boss about this? More to read below.

TL;DR END

We are embarking on a new direction on our project in order to save time and make use of features of a product we didn't have before. I was tasked to research and understand the product in question and learn how to use it. Since this is a internal software development project with very little documentation it requires us to look through various different parts of the system. It has been a struggle and due to this struggle, my task lead assigned a team member to help me progress faster. I requested the team member to go through the setup instructions provided by the internal team that worked on the product and ask questions as necessary.

Unfortunately, after three weeks I'm still not sure where he is at and how much he understands while I have been digging deep into the code and system files trying to understand as much as I can from videos, tutorials, etc what is the challenges in integrating the product into our environment.

On the first week, it took him until the fourth day to finally screenshare his screen to show me where he was struggling and within an hour we were up and running. It seemed rather strange to me that it took this long to determine he was still having issues moving forward - especially when another coworker and I communicated throughout the previous week and were able to resolve most of the issues 1 to 2 days into setting up our system.

On the second week, the co-worker was tasked as an alternate. He made continuous comments that "he doesn't know what that means" and "hopes its not a lot of work". Mind you this was completely voluntary and I even volunteered myself. He was asked to take place for our task lead for two meetings and perhaps this could have been anywhere between 4 hours of work (1hr meeting, 1hr notes) or at most a days worth of work. That still leaves 32 hours in the week for other tasks. He only reached out once during this period of having issues and then towards the final team meeting of the week, he gave his opinion that we should reevaluate what we are doing but at the same time "I haven't gotten far in this assignment". It doesn't make sense to talk expertly on a subject you aren't caught up to speed on.

This week, he is finally sending me e-mails that shows he is making some progress but he is still struggling to understand what to do. I understand this and am happy to help but follow-up indicated that he didn't get much done cause he was fighting a headache all day and then today he went to see the doctor. At this point, I've already progressed well ahead enough to feel confident I have educated myself but still stuck on what to do next but there is still no progress on the second stuff that he was asked to do. Since this is an exploratory exercise, its inexcusable to not put yourself in the driver seat and start digging through things on your own.

Of course, asking questions is encouraged, in fact necessary, since this is a lot like a school assignment and you are learning something new for the first time. There is no implied expertise on the team and we are all looking to each other to figure out the task at hand.

Unfortunately, I can't help but feel I don't have a co-worker who I can talk to and try to combine our mental energies together to tackle this issue effectively and efficiently. Without the benefit of two individuals who can help each other bounce ideas off each other to ask the right questions and look at the right places, I feel I am left to figure out things on my own. I wouldn't have cared to discuss this but ultimately just today it began to bother me and now is occupying mental space. I'm not sure how to tackle the issue. A lot of online resources indicate to ignore, do your own work, move forward, politely decline to provide help to the person if asked. But none of that sounds appropriate to me. And I wonder how much of this applies to this situation because a lot of those resources are in reference to those who are co-workers. In this case, I feel like I was tasked to understand this and he was tasked to help me but I do not feel helped. Do I talk with my task lead? Do I approach him with "I have a work issue and I'm not sure how to talk about it"? Any advice?

P.S. I understand with the new normal and also to be sensitive to if someone is sick, but at the same time I expected more out of him, especially since he typically a very stellar employee. Maybe with the pandemic and remote work, he feels less accountable, I don't know.

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The absolute last thing in the world that you should do is run to your boss and say this co-worker isn't helping you. Firstly because you're expected to deal with obstacles and having to learn something on your own isn't really something you want to complain about. You're not blocked so the co-worker hasn't held you up. Secondly because the boss (probably) only put the other guy on because he doesn't have full confidence in you yet. It's in your favor that you took charge on your own. I'm not saying it's a crime to need help. Just that you've shown you don't need hand holding and that you confidently proceeded.

Usually senior developers are busy. He could be working multiple research projects that you know nothing about. He could also have valid reasons for needing a small timeout for health (stress or whatever) which may be hard to understand when you're really young but it's a thing. I'm sure his manager is aware of all of that.

So you deal with all of this with a smile and don't bad talk the guy around the office.

Personally, I would not turn it into a formal complaint/review issue since I don't see where it actually held you back. Funny thing is when I was in your type of situation, the "helper" either never helped or their help was so minimal that a cynic might say they placed bets on you failing. And when I wasn't in your situation and I ever had to ask a question, people did help. So maybe it's not as weird as you think but that's just a wild guess as I don't know your company culture or anything.

What you could've done was gone to your boss while the problem was happening and said something non personal like: "We don't get this... I don't think we will make the deadline if this continues." Or "Joe says he's too busy to help me. I don't think I can make the deadline if that's the case." So it's pointing out the blockage but not worded in a way that blames the guy personally. If Joe is busy it could be because of his boss or something else but not your problem to identify which like when you say "someone's behavior is actively weakening the team" it implies malicious intent/fraud/cancerous growth type thing.

And yes, I realize that this last paragraph may seem to contradict the first paragraph but the difference is in the tone and I still maintain that there's possible downsides to making noise about this particular instance given the details you have shared.

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  • Thanks, but I think what happened was my boss was overconfident I could handle it and now I am explaining why this is this is not in our skill area and we need to learn. The other thing is the other's guy primary job is to provide assistance since this a high priority task. But yea I won't "bad talk"
    – LeanMan
    Aug 19 '20 at 21:18
  • I was thinking - this behavior is a bit unacceptable and we depend on the other's contribution to move things. IMO, this slowed me down greatly because I was hoping we can tag team this as was the point of the arrangement. Would it be so bad to provide feedback? This is essentially what mid year reviews are for and if someone's behavior is actively weakening the team, shouldn't this be acknowledged? I think having a discussion with my team lead over the way this team member should be addressed and if that was not the issue, the issue be brought out to the open. Still bad idea?
    – LeanMan
    Aug 19 '20 at 22:50
  • @LeanMan As long as you kept the boss in the loop it doesn't sound like a big deal. I remember the first time I ran into a situation somewhat similar to yours with a co-worker. I was grinding my teeth hard for months but in retrospect it wasn't about them at all from the boss's POV. ha.
    – HenryM
    Aug 19 '20 at 22:52
  • @LeanMan I've added additional info to my answer.
    – HenryM
    Aug 19 '20 at 23:20
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The first thing that stroke me: why did he even struggle in setting up his work environment if you and a colleague had already done the same and could have helped him from the beginning... this seams like throwing him into something without giving him enough help to start right away.

Second: you let him struggle two weeks before spending some minutes to help him out...

And after he was not even able to setup his workplace you gave him two tasks and let him alone for another week?

I agree with you in one thing: he should have asked you from the very first day... but unfortunately there are people out there, who are to proud or to shy to ask. They think that will make them look weak or bad and therefor they try to figure out things themselves that could have been answered in minutes if they just dared to ask.

You say: you feel like you should be leading this colleague, and I totally agree: you SHOULD lead him... but you don‘t. You throw work at him and wait for him to deliver... what he can‘t for whatever reason... but you did not even try to find out, what the reasons are.

Let me tell you one thing: getting help in a project at FIRST needs you to put a lot of effort into bringing the other person to the same level of information and help them start, unless the other one is a genius with years of experience who can smell the needs of a project just from the technical specifications...

AFTER that they will help you. For me it seems: you did not invest... and now you get nothing in return.

As I don‘t know what your job description is I can not tell if it was your fault or the fault of your boss. But for me it was not the (main) fault of the new colleague who simply seems to be overwhelmed by the expectations he could not meet.

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    well we had a set of instructions provided by the other team that we pointed him to just like we did. I also let him know if had any questions to let me know. I thought if he had issues we would work it out together. But I had to encourage him on the fourth day to screenshare with me which he ignored the first time I asked. Only when I said, this would be easier if we screenshare, is the time he actually did it. And P.S. this guy has 20+ years of experience over me and does come off as a genius lol. Maybe bad assumption.
    – LeanMan
    Aug 19 '20 at 19:58
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    He is not a new colleague. We worked together since late last year on this project. He is not unaware of the teams goals and challenges. He just took a week vacation... that's the only thing I can think of other than, being an alternate last week and now this week had a headache...
    – LeanMan
    Aug 19 '20 at 20:00
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    Its funny how you said I didn't invest and didn't get anything in return. This is very much how I get provided new information or get caught up to speed. Provided instructions and ask questions as necessary. Most of the time I have to figure it out for myself.
    – LeanMan
    Aug 19 '20 at 20:06

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