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At a company I was recently working at my immediate manager often undermined other managers. They seemed to have a clique with some other managers but viewed all other managers as the enemy and would deliberately obstruct or delay the projects that they were involved with outside of their own team, e.g. saying in our team meeting, "I didn't do any work on this project because the project manager is bossy". When I complained about this behaviour to their line manager I was told that this is "normal behaviour" and "what I would have done myself" (i.e. their line manager would behave the same way).

I have worked at a lot of different companies but this is the first time I have come across this attitude. I have never been a manager so I don't know if maybe there is some rationale behind it. I am no longer at this company but I would like to understand better if the situation occurs again.

I have always thought that when at work you put your personal feelings aside, try to get along with everyone you work with (no matter if short-term or long-term) and do what's best for the business. Is there any way that undermining most other managers could be good for the company? I can't see how as a non-manager I could ever get away with that kind of behaviour. How could I have handled the situation better? Should I have ignored it as a "management issue"? Was I wrong to think it was an issue?

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It's not news: adults tell their kids to behave like adults while they themselves act like kids. If people can afford their behavior and the system is configured in such a way that they know either that they'll get away with it or that there is no cost to themselves from their behavior, that's the way many will behave.

You can decide four ways:

  • It's not an issue

  • It's an issue but there is nothing you can do about it except get yourself hurt. Don't start wars you can't win. Don't start wars that ain't worth fighting. And don't start or get into wars that it's someone else's job to fight. There are some wars that you should fight as a matter of high principle, even if the end result may be a crushing defeat for you. I doubt that this war is one of those.

  • It's an issue but there is a winnable way to deal with it - It's winnable if you've got full support from top management and you have been delegated enough authority to mandate some changes.

  • It's an issue and you'll fight no matter what. If you have a vocation as a martyr, an idealist, a sucker (?), you are more likely to fight no matter what. Friendly cautionary note: in the unlikely case that you win, someone else may well hog/hijack the credit.

  • I would assume (2) is the best choice. If you feel confident, you could talk to your manager, acting as the inexperienced but keen employee who would like to learn the art of intrigue and undermining competitors from a master, obviously outwardly agreeing with what he or she does. You might learn something that helps you in a similar situation, maybe when you are a manager yourself at a place where other managers try to undermine you. – gnasher729 Oct 27 '14 at 15:30
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Is there any way that undermining most other managers could be good for the company?

This could be an unexpected result of the company creating a competitive environment between managers. There may or may not be formal comparisons when evaluating them or determining compensation. Instead of just "every man for himself" there may be cliques that form so they can gang up on other managers and just say they don't like the "bossy" ones.

A sports manager may want to see two players fight (counter-productive if one of them gets hurt) as a way to "fire up" a team that isn't competing hard.

I can't see how as a non-manager I could ever get away with that kind of behaviour. How could I have handled the situation better? Should I have ignored it as a "management issue"? Was I wrong to think it was an issue?

You could have asked more questions to get to the root of the problem. I'm not sure you could do anything about it. It seems like this is a major part of the company culture. You could have presented data that showed how much this was costing the company, but you don't have anything to compare it to when you don't know if or why this behavior is encouraged.

Some companies sacrifice profits to maintain charitable, moral or ethical goals. Your company may think if your managers like or cooperate with one another, they'll slack off more than the productivity they are wasting fighting with one another. I doubt you'll find this in the company mission statement.

You could have tried to be the whistle-blower, but I doubt it would help and the people in charge are already condoning it. Good thing you have moved on.

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To quote the great Mahatma Ghandi: Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

Lead by example. Eventually, most will see the benefits of your cooperative relationship building across the organization. They may not adopt it wholesale, but certainly the benefits will redound to your professionalism.

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