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I have been working as a software engineer for 5 years at the current company I work at. Last year, I switched to another team to temporarily help out until the most senior software engineer got back on their feet after a burn-out. Well, he was since 'let go' for vague contractural reasons and now I'm stuck in this team.

The team has two other software engineers, one of them, Adam, now behaves like he is the team leader. We work with the scrum/agile methodology, so we have daystarts every day and a kanban board in which we track what our progress is. (This same methodology puts everyone at equal footing, but Adam didn't get that memo apparently.) In my previous team, as long as you got your work done in time, or if you explained why it can't be done in a certain timeframe, set a new one and got it done by then, everything is fine and nobody bothered you. I loved this way of working, we all just trusted each other to get stuff done.

In this new team Adam keeps asking me for status updates every single day outside of the daystart. "I saw you started [insert project], how far along are you?" "You mentioned you have sent a question to [insert other department or team], why haven't you called them yet? You need to stay on top of getting answers." Etc.

Like, every single day I feel he is rushing me to finish my work. When a program needs to be updated to the current standard, I usually look through the entire thing to see if everything is as I expect it to be, quality wise. If I spot an inconsistency, Adam just tells me to ignore it and only do the work as described in the story. When I finish a program he immediately tells me to hand it over to the testers, while I want to finish my unit test first so the testers don't have to wade through crap I should have dealt with.

I once did what he said, the testers found a mistake that would have popped up in my unit test and I got berated for not upholding the quality standard. I'm not making that mistake again.

I also feel he is trying to ruin my self esteem and the opinion my coworkers have of me. Things like "tom mentioned you were already working [insert timeframe] on this thing, I thought it was a simple change? He wonders what your progress is, if you can handle it." Like, if Tom wants to know the status he could just show up to the daystart or ask me directly. Why is he asking Adam about something I'm working on?

Working with him is starting to make me really uneasy and I'm not sure how to address it. I know I won't get backup from the rest of the team. Adam is also good friends with the department manager so approaching him is out as well.

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  • You are in a tough situation - is he behaving like that with other co-workers as well? And even more important: Is he holding up to his own high standards that he is applying to you?
    – iLuvLogix
    Mar 2 at 10:15
  • Past coworkers have warned me about him. In that he tends to speak very negatively about some team members during lunch breaks and visits the manager's office a lot and then a few months later those team members get let go. I don't know if he is currently giving others the same treatment. We are all working from home right now and in a new team it's harder to pick up on such things when there's no office environment where you can read between the lines so to speak.
    – Lena
    Mar 2 at 10:40
  • As for your second question, he is very ambitious, he does a lot of overtime and he is constantly picking up new stuff. Today we were refining a project only to find out he had already finished coding. If you measure productivity purely through quantity he is knocking it out of the park. I have some opinions about the overall quality of it though.
    – Lena
    Mar 2 at 10:40
  • Who is officially in charge of the team? Are all 3 of you equal?
    – flexi
    Mar 2 at 10:47
  • 3
    Don't declare your program change to be finished until your unit tests are done - they're as important as the code itself.
    – TrueDub
    Mar 2 at 11:15
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Key points:

  • The team has two other software engineers, one of them, Adam, now behaves like he is the team leader.

  • Nobody is officially in charge of the team. There is no team leader or anything like that, not in an official capacity.

  • Adam is also good friends with the department manager so approaching him is out as well.

Discuss it with your colleague

As there is no intermediary manager or HR and it's a small team with all of you at the same level of hierarchy. I suggest setting up a meeting to talk with Adam privately.

Explain that you find his actions causing you stress, it's making you feel uneasy and impacting your ability to be productive. - Use an example. Such as him asking for updates outside the daily stand-up. Ask him to trust you to do your job.

(Keep in mind he isn't your manager, neither is he employed as a manager.)

Use this as an opportunity to explain how you worked on the previous team, and try to sell him on this way of working. It's likely he wants to be productive and work efficiently too, but he will oppose any criticism or change at first.

(Again, he isn't your manager. Talk to him like your equal colleague, do not talk to him like he is your manager. Neither of you have to listen to the other.)

Set boundaries

You should start telling him to leave you alone (or I'm busy, come back later) when he interrupts you. If he asks for an update, refer him back to what was said in the daily stand-ups.

Start saying NO to any of his requests that you don't agree with. Explain why and what you plan to do instead. Try your best to discuss it and come to an agreement, but as he isn't in charge, he can't make you do something you don't agree with.

I understand not wanting to cause any friction being a new member of the team however, if you want things to change, you need to talk about this and it will be uncomfortable at first.

Talk to the Manager

If the above fails and Adam continues to micromanage and causes you to feel uncomfortable and stressed, then talk to the manager. - Regardless of the perceived friendship.

Managers have a job to do. Just because the manager is friendly with Adam doesn't mean the manger will ignore any complaints if Adam is causing employees stress (health problems) and reducing productivity.

One possibility is to avoid talking about Adam, and instead ask the manager to hire a Project Manager for your team, as currently things are chaotic and causing stress etc...

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  • I like your advice a lot, it seems the most balanced of all the answers. I will try and see if I can have a civil conversation with him about this and take it from there.
    – Lena
    Mar 2 at 16:26
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I don't feel you can change Adam's behaviour. Even if he is not de jure team leader, he is a de facto one, as he seems to be well regarded by boss Steve. People that get things done generally can get away with what you could describe as poor behaviour. And fundamentally if Adam doesn't respect you, he will not change his ways for you.

There are going to be answers or comments that will attempt to subvert Adam's implied authority. It's not going to work. Adam is just going to double down, and use whatever influence he has to bend or get rid of you. I'm just being honest. And it won't be through malice. He'll view your actions as simply a barrier to good team productivity.

If you think you are also heading towards burn out, or getting dismissed, you should absolutely go to the department manager and ask for a transfer. I think complaining about Adam is really out of the question. Instead you should frame it like you don't think you're a good fit for the team, and asked to be transferred out both for the teams sake and for your own. A lot of companies would prefer to retain competent employees than try to fill vacancies.

In addition, I really don't like telling people they should be looking for a new job. But it's something you should consider if you don't like your prospects.

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Next time Adam speaks to you in any way, look at him and say

Hi Adam. This is very confusing. You seem to be talking to me as if you are the team leader, or as if you are my superior? You do this constantly. We need to resolve this strange issue. You tend to go for low quality, high volume code, so it's doubly confusing that you are talking in this way. I feel that we should immediately have a sit down with Boss Steve and discuss this. You're a favorite with Boss Steve so it shouldn't be any problem for you right? We need to resolve this right away as it is causing a real problem in the team. Let's walk over to Steve's now - how's that sound?

You then mention that there is office politics where Adam is tight with Steve. Unfortunately in the workplace there's absolutely nothing you can do about such office politics; every single workplace will have something like that one way or the other, can only deal with it.

Basically to repeat, regarding strange things like this,

"When I finish a program he immediately tells me to hand it over to the testers..."

What you do is look at him and say

"Excuse me? You seem to be talking as if you are a team leader. Do not address me like that again. Let's go talk to Boss Steve about this strange problem.

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  • Honestly I feel that if I would talk back at him in such a way it would backfire majorly. 1 because I'm the new person in the team who still has to prove myself. 2 if Adam doesn't hold a grudge against me already, he sure as hell will if I address him in this way. Him being friends with "boss Steve" doesn't exactly help me
    – Lena
    Mar 2 at 11:23
  • This is needlessly confrontational, which most people are not comfortable with in the first place. I shudder to think what your workplace is like if this is how people talk to each other on a daily basis.
    – prieber
    Mar 2 at 18:02

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