3

In an interview for a manager position, I got the following question:

Say your team has been working on product A for months. Then one day your manager tells you that another team has been working on a very similar product, and in order to avoid duplication it has been decided that your team will stop working on this project. How do you react? What do you say to your manager and to your team?

It turns out that this scenario is not uncommon at my workplace, where competing departments fight each others for the same clients. My manager forbids me to collaborate with the teams which are building products similar to ours. This problem is way above my pay check. So my answer was an elaborate version of "Politics sucks and there's nothing much I can do about it".

The interviewer was clearly not impressed by my answer. Is my attitude about the work duplication issue wrong here? Or was I wrong to answer honestly to the interviewer?

6

I'm really going to ignore the glaring question if competing teams within the same organisation makes sense.

The teams may be competing within the organisation for that client, but once upper management decides to go with one project, you all need to work together to deliver. There is no time to feel like a loser, or hard done by.

I get that your manager forbids you to collaborate on projects similar to yours. But once your project has ended, it's not collaboration, it's hand off.

You should have congratulated your team on their hard work, and offered whatever work that you have already completed to the other team, so that they have the best chance at completing the project to the clients satisfaction.

Then, in competitive spirit, you look at what the other team did well, so you can learn how to improve your own team.

Your answer was not impressive, because it contained no information about how you can turn what would be a negative experience for your team, into a positive event for the company, and a positive learning experience for your team.

The interviewer may have also been wondering if you would be looking to do what you can to change what they may consider a somewhat toxic competitive culture.

3

So my answer was an elaborate version of "Politics sucks and there's nothing much I can do about it". ... The interviewer was clearly not impressed by my answer.

You are correct that there is nothing you can do if, after working on a project for months, upper management tells you to abandon it. But this is regardless of the reasons why they cancelled it.

The fact that teams compete directly on projects where you currently are, doesn't mean that's what happens in other places; in lots of places, work gets duplicated simply because the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and politics doesn't always play a big part. So your current experience might have coloured your outlook more than necessary, for responding to this question.

If the project you are working on, and possibly emotionally invested in, is cancelled by upper management, you should be able to accept that change graciously, keep a positive attitude, and just move on. I can't read the interviewer's mind, but I think at a minimum they were looking for a signal of that.

And actually, since this is for a management position, I would guess they were looking for something a little more proactive than that. Would you encourage your team to likewise take it graciously and move on positively? Would you talk to your manager about what you could do to stop it from happening again? For example, would having more visibility into what other teams are doing have let you see and stop the duplication sooner, leading to less waste? You don't know if a problem is actually above your pay grade or not until you know what the problem actually is.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .