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4 months ago I joined a company as team lead. One of the senior members around my level in the company has a habit of publicly and vocally calling out people when he sees something that isn't done the way he thinks it should be (he used to be the manager of my team and tends to criticize my team and its individual members, as well as giving me advice on how to handle their management).

I don't want to criticize him or suggest he should be more reserved to avoid alienating people for petty things. Generally speaking, I like the guy, he is clever and passionate about his job, and a lot of the time he can be perfectly pleasant, it just seems that whenever something goes on around him he doesn't like or thinks isn't right, he has to point it out vocally, making everyone around him on edge and feel that he is pointing out their flaws to make himself appear better.

What can I do to minimize his impact on team morale without antagonizing him and making the situation worse?

  • 2
    I think the heart of your question is good, but the amount of details may be a bit distracting. Since the question is closed, I am going to make an edit to try to get it reopened. If you think I botched it, or didn't get at the heart of your question, please feel free to edit it as needed. – jmac Nov 20 '13 at 7:23
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Your situation is complicated by the fact that he used to manage your team. He is having trouble letting go and seeing that it is no longer his responsibility.

First talk privately to your team and tell them not to get rattled by this guy's criticisms. Remind them that they report to you now and that you are satisfied with their performance and that you will tell them directly and privately if you ever are not. It should help them to know that they don't have to feel fear when this guy criticises them. Tell them that you are going to make sure that upper management gets a better picture of the team than this guys paints.

Next talk to the guy. Tell him that you are happy to hear his input because of his past experience in the team and that some of what he has said is helpful, but that you want to hear it privately and will communicate with the team directly yourself. Tell him that your own management philosophy is that you publicly praise and privately discuss problems. You may need to remind him that getting the work out of the team is no longer his responsibility and that you expect him to respect your management style in handling your own team. Don't worry so much about alienating him. He is misbehaving, he needs to be talked to about it. If he doesn't want to listen then you may need to get the next level involved. It is important not to be passive in these situations. The more he criticizes without being challenged by you, the worse you look and the worse your team looks.

Another way to disarm him a bit is to make sure you publicly praise him and tell upper management when his input has been helpful. If you have publicly praised him and he then complains to management about you asking him to stop putting down your team, he looks petty and you look more professional. Part of the game here is making sure management sees you as an effective leader and that they learn to discount his criticisms as jealousy or a general cranky personality. You also need to make sure management knows that your team is doing better than he is making it out to be, so make sure you tell them about how the work is being done faster and how morale seems improved. To protect your team and their reputation, you need to be tooting their horn. If the only thing management hears is this guy's criticism, you look bad. So you need to be proactive if mentioning successes, mentioning deadlines that were completed early or on time, mention hard problems they solved etc.

After the discussion, every time (and you have to be consistent) that he starts to say something negative in front of your team or about your team, you then immediately ask him to hold that thought for later when you can discuss it privately. You may even need to take him aside right then. You could ask him to shoot you an email on the subject and that you will take it under consideration and then change the subject. If it happens in a management meeting, you can say, "This is something we need to discuss outside this meeting and not waste the others' time right now" and then set up a time to do so. He needs to understand that public criticism of your team is not acceptable and that you will not tolerate it. Your team will notice that you stand up for them and that is actually more important than shutting the guy up.

Where possible do not invite him to meetings that include your team members.

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    I think this is a bad idea to initiate a talk with the team "behind his back" – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 19 '13 at 16:36
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    It is not behind his back. He does not have any responsibility for the OPs team. He needs to let his team know that the criticism isn't changing his management style or how he views their performance. He needs to get them calmed down about this. – HLGEM Nov 19 '13 at 18:03
  • I honestly think this tactic will create more problem then it is intended to solve, the problem is with the employee and needs to be resolved with him only. If he is that bad why is he still working? – Sigal Shaharabani Nov 20 '13 at 8:38
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    He said his team's morale was being affected, it would be irresponsible not to talk to them about that and work to mitigate their concerns. – HLGEM Nov 20 '13 at 14:00
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    I have upvoted this because I think this is a good strategy. This is not a strategy I typically will use simply because my personality is a little more direct (potentially antagonistic). He needs to understand that public criticism of your team is not acceptable and that you will not tolerate it. is exactly how I treat my team. In the face of public unwarranted criticism, I typically refute it publicly (immediately). – Joel Etherton Nov 20 '13 at 18:23
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In my opinion you're handling it more or less okay, but what's missing is that if you feel he's criticizing team members in public you should have a private talk with him and say that as the team leader you request to receive complaints first instead of running to management or making them public.

This will show that:

  1. You care about what he has to say
  2. You do not accept continuous vocal and public criticism about team members

Unless other team members have something to say about his behavior you should not initiate a discussion about him with them.

Don't be afraid to talk to him despite his alienation and disapproval of how the team is being run.

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There is a good way to handle this guy that plays into his personality, at least, I see one:

Give him a process to follow to criticize the team. You said he ran the team like a classroom before. I'm betting this guy loves setting processes.

Tell him these things:

  1. "You are an experienced team leader, and as such you are well aware of the importance of a unified, consistent message to the team from leadership, especially regarding the junior members." (Don't mention any by name, but I'm betting this guy loves the idea of people being "junior" to him.) I need you to not disagree with directions I give the team, or with current procedures in a public way.

  2. "When you see things that need attention or improvement, please send me an email with what you see that's incorrect or could be better, your reasoning for why there is a deficiency, and how you would implement improving it."

  3. "Once I have had time to review your observations and plans, I would like to discuss them with you privately."

  4. "My style of implementing change is not to criticize what's wrong, but to show what can be better. I realize that's different from your style, and while your way isn't necessarily wrong, I need to have the latitude to manage the team my way."

Now you have the advantage in that he is leaving in a few months, so you can slow down this process and just let him ride out his time. You said you like the guy, and that he is clever. He probably does have some good ideas. Implement a couple of them and publicly give him credit for them. It'll go a long way towards letting him leave with his "honor regained."

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In this situation I would be the blocker for my team. Anytime I hear this individual talking to my team I would interject that we had discussed how to implement that and decided to go forward that way. So any problem you have with the implementation should be directed at me. Then listen to what this lead has to say, thank him for pointing it out and let him know you appreciate his concerns and will consider them going forward.

This will help provide your team with the confidence to do their duties knowing that you will have their back and should prevent this other lead from chastising your team. If there is an actual need to address the problem you can always do it with your team your way. When there is no real problem you take the heat from your team. If the other lead is willing to actually explain then you may even be able to get him to start coming to you and explaining the problem before he starts ranting. If all he wants to do is rant then can be the person that listens to his rant and let it roll off your back.

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