Been at a new job for 3 days, and the boss has a "team building" meeting... at least that's what the meeting request says. I get there, there are cookies and coffee and all of my new team, about half of whom I've met. The boss who hired me comes in and closes the door. She proceeds to explain how her boss has given her a terrible performance appraisal. She makes several points about how she has been accused of unreasonable demands, poor communication, using charge accounts as punishment, and insulting her team in public. There is nothing but silence in the room. She says she is going to leave the room for 20 minutes and that when she comes back, we should have solutions to this problem. So she leaves and closes the door behind her. After about 30 seconds of silence, I say "Wow, that was uncomfortable." The lead engineer says, "Welcome to the team."

So there is a relative consensus in the room after about 10 minutes that it has gotten better over the last 6 months. But that there is still a communication issue. She keeps priorities to herself, and when they shift, there is no explanation offered.

The conversation degrades after that, but it seems there is way too much nervous laughter.

She comes back and almost immediately someone tells her it has gotten better over the last 6 months. She is happy to hear it. After some more awkward conversation, the lead tells her, in a very round about way that she needs to delegate more of the priority setting to team members. She responds with, "But how am I going to do that?" And waits for the answer. I'm thinking, well duh, you give up some authority, but it sounds like you don't do that. More awkward conversation, but nothing of substance.

  • A bad manager doesn't always mean a bad job, especially when, as here, it's clear that their boss has said this needs to be corrected. I grant it's a bit of a gamble, and it depends on having someone in the group who's good at gently saying "you know, this would be a great opportunity to work on ...; how about ..." – keshlam Jul 26 '15 at 13:53
  • One more thing: managers never "give up" authority, they delegate it. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 26 '15 at 15:38
  • "She makes several points about how she has been accused of unreasonable demands, poor communication, using charge accounts as punishment, and insulting her team in public." Those are specific allegations, each of which requires a specific resolution. What has she done to curtail unreasonable demands, for example? She should have gone over each allegation with the team, ask if the allegation is still valid. If the team alleges improvement, then she should have asked what demands has she been making lately that the team deems unreasonable. Often enough, a reasonable explanation is all it takes – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 26 '15 at 15:47
  • She would not be not kissing up to the team - in fact, she wants unfiltered appraisals from the team. The goal for her - and the team - is to work more effectively with the team to accomplish objectives as laid out by management. She probably never got the memo that a manager at her level acts in support of the team's efforts to accomplish objectives as stated by upper management. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 26 '15 at 15:52

Assuming your question is indeed how to handle it: you haven't been there long enough to contribute an opinion, so stay out of it. Just take it as a warning that you may have to "manage your manager" to make sure they're giving you all the information, direction, priorities and feedback that you need to do your job. If you aren't sure how, talking to other team members about how to interact with this manager most productively is probably worthwhile.

Learning how to work with/around questionable managers comes with experience. And in fact this manager may not be as bad as this exercise suggests; again, talking to your co-workers will give you more insight into the realities of the situation than we can.

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    It seems that this manager is not very good at her job, but wanting to improve - which puts her ahead of many others! – gnasher729 Jul 26 '15 at 9:14

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