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The team lead of a project in my company got promoted to Project Manager and one of the oldest developers who worked for 2 years on the project expected to become team lead. I worked in a different team at the time as a developer (and had got bored of the project) and had coincidentally asked my department head if there was any other project I could work on.

Turns out that I was up for a promotion that year and he promoted me and made me team lead of the other project even though I'm not very familiar with the technology. The developer who had hopes of becoming team lead and a few other developers who felt that she should have been made team lead, are now doing their best to humiliate me whenever I ask questions about the technology which I don't know much about. She and other team members also make it a point to spread humiliating comments about me in the gossip circles in the company. I'm struggling with a health issue because of which I'm finding it a bit difficult to cope with learning the new technology too. The team does not even share necessary technical information with me. The project manager tried helping me out in the beginning, but now even she seems to side with the team.

Speaking to the department head about the teams behaviour seems to provide no result, since he trusts the project manager and wants her to take necessary action. To me, the advice he gave is

"I work with people with the belief that they come to work to do their work rather than to engage in politics. If people aren't following your lead, talk to them and find out what is troubling them. If they won't follow what you say, then change the interface. Let someone whom they won't mind interacting with, interact with them, and you give the orders through that person. But don't give up your position as a leader"

What do I do in such a situation? I've tried winning over the team by being considerate but they refuse to accept my lead and are adamant. I've tried talking to them individually but they use the opportunity to insult me. The project manager is the only "interface" that I can use, but she's got her project managing to do, and she can't help. Perhaps the question I should ask is, how does one handle a mutiny?

  • What are your tasks as team leader? What decisions do you make that influence your team? – nvoigt Aug 15 '15 at 17:29
  • The tasks are to review their work, assist them when they are unable to proceed with their work and to choose the relevant technologies for the project. This became difficult because the project manager made me to do some of the work the developers were supposed to do with the excuse that it would help me get familiarity with the project, and while reviewing the work she points out mistakes and says that being a senior, I should have had lesser mistakes than the other developers (who obviously had lesser mistakes because they already worked on the project) – Anon Aug 16 '15 at 10:46
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    This article should have a wealth of information and advice for you. – Lilienthal Aug 16 '15 at 17:29
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    Making sure I understand - you're supposed to review their work but the PM is doing the reviews? Also, you're supposed to pick the tech to use and help them when they are stuck but you don't know the tech? Sounds to me like you need to get into high gear and learn this tech as quickly as possible while doing what your manager told you - stop worrying about the politics. – NotMe Aug 16 '15 at 22:51
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    At least now everyone should know why none of them were given the job. – user8365 Aug 17 '15 at 20:37
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You really are between a rock and a hard place. I suggest you take a few days off or arrange a weekend without disruptions to think about a strategy. This is nothing you can solve overnight.

Authority can come from two different sources: Power and Respect. Power as a source is obvious. If you can fire them, they will obey you. This is the authority most managers have. Respect as a source means your team knows you are doing the right thing even if they may disagree at times. If you know their job so well you can do it yourself better than they could they will respect you and trust you to supervise them.

It seems obvious that you have neither source. That is a big problem. It might not be your fault, but that does not change the magnitude of the problem.

You should ask your manager, what your authority over your team is. Don't let him get away with phrases or management by proxy. Ask him if you have the power to remove someone from your team. A "no" is a fine answer, just get an answer.

You should ask yourself if it is a reasonable goal to be on par with your team and overtaking them in knowledge of their tech stack in a few weeks or months. Think about it realistically especially concerning your health issue.

Based on those conclusions, make a battle plan. What is your base of operations? Power or respect? If you have neither and can gain neither, your plan will fail. If you have one or can gain one, assume you have it and plan further. How will you use it and to what ends. Power for example is dangerous. People don't like to be forced and your plan might well include building a whole new team. Make sure this actually is a victory condition. Destroying your old team might get you sacked.

Now to be honest, I don't see an easy win here. Respect is very hard to get and Power is not going to help you with this team, best case is it helps you get another. If you come to the conclusion that you cannot realistically win this fight or if winning it would be a Pyrrhic victory, you need to think about an exit strategy. You should not fight battles you cannot win.

A few things you could do to exit this situation:

  • Ask your boss for another team to lead
  • Ask your boss to be transferred back to your old position
  • Ask your senior. Admit he should lead the team and ask him how to solve this mess.
  • Apply for another job at another company as long as you still have "team lead" in your title
  • Ask your boss for management training. I'm sure they will tell you the same, but at least you got it from an official source.

And use any means necessary to stop personal insults. However, make sure that those actually are personal insults. If someone is gossiping that you cannot do your job properly and you drag him to HR and he can provide a document from your project manager that says you can indeed not do the job properly, that would be a huge setback.

Fighting for a lost cause is a lot of stress and pain. Before you start a fight, make sure you have a plan and you are prepared to follow it till the end. There is no harm in not fighting, especially not with health issues.

  • I found your review very insightful and well thought out. But it strikes me as a bit binary in the approach: seek respect or power, either battle or exit the situation. I think the reviewer needs to exercise some patience, tune out the bullies, and listen to those team members more who are passively listening to this bully. Being the nicer, more genuine person and not fighting back shows maturity. And that's a leadership trait most people are willing to follow. – GracefulCode Mar 18 '16 at 18:47
  • "If you can fire them, they will obey you" - or undermine you. And the more risky it is for them to do so, the more they will make sure you don't see it coming and will be no longer in a position to get back on them once it hit you. – rackandboneman Mar 16 '17 at 13:24
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    Respect is a two way street. I like this answer, but it sort of suggests that the respect of team members must be won in order to proceed, and in this regard I don't fully agree. I think the OP should make clear to the team members that they don't hold his respect either, and they should proceed with getting on with it. It's quite common to have to work with people you do not respect or like, it is a crappy situation, but is doable, as long as the people involved are "reasonable" and act rationally. – ldog Jun 19 '18 at 22:22
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I was in a similar position 9 years ago. I worked on a project which was closed by the company, I was sent to replace a team leader, who was looking for a change.

The change was not communicated well to the team (which I should have taken ownership on when the project manager didn't do so). So I was a manager of a former team leader who was taken back to a developer role because he did a bad job and was not a very honest person, 2 senior developers who were eligible for promotion but didn't have enough experience, neither one of them knew me or my experience. 2 out of the 3 resisted me as much as possible.

What helped me was to get people who were willing to help, another team was merged into my team and they were cooperative, I also recruited 2 more team members who did not have prejudice.

When you isolate the problem, you can start using disciplinary actions like bonus, reviews, etc. if your leaders support that.

You also need to acknowledge those who cooperate and help, and try to give benefits (more interesting tasks, more autonomy, encouragement, letting management know of their contribution).

It's never everyone against you, some are just doing what they're pressured to do. Find them.

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I will give you the perspective of someone who has been on the other side of this. My boss had all but promised me a project up until he called a meeting to reveal his plan, where he told all of us that a different person would be in charge. I was pretty much furious, not with that person, but with my boss.

However, it made it very difficult for me to work with this person because every time he shot down one of my suggestions I knew very well that it was going to make all our lives hell at some point in the future, because he truly was not qualified to lead that project in a lot of ways an his decisions took us way off in the wrong direction.

So, from "your" team's perspective, here they were, be-bopping along with their project and here you come, knowing zippo and wanting to run the show. Even if they have nothing against you personally, there's going to be a lot of frustration leaking out to your face and behind your back. It takes a much bigger person than I am to be furious all the time because some know-nothing is derailing my work and never let a word of that slip.

What are the consequences for the team if this project fails, and how much has your intervention increased the chances the project will fail?

My advice to you is that if your health is interfering with your ability to do your job that you should request a leave of absence to work those out. When you come back, things will probably have worked themselves out--the person who should have been lead will have proven that and your employer will have to find a different position for you.

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You need to be tougher to show them you're the lead and you're serious. When being treated disrespectfully, call the person out immediately and let them know you're not going to put up with this type of behavior. You need to do everything in your power to gain an understanding of the technology to avoid being in a position of ridicule. If you can, get new/additional team members and begin de-scoping the responsibilities of the existing team members, or get rid of a few of them completely. One of your new team members whom you trust can become the person you flow things down through to the resentful team members.

  • I get this is kind of harsh but I agree this is how you defend a mutiny. – paparazzo Aug 15 '15 at 19:21
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    Yes, insubordination of the type described in the OP needs to be dealt with harshly. You need to start using whatever powers you have. To start, you need to start documenting the behavior of your team, and I would tell them you are doing so. If you have any input into performance reviews, you need to make it very clear that everything you document will become part of their review. And you need to start getting higher ups involved. If everything you say is true, these are not the kind of employees an organization wants. – Mohair Aug 15 '15 at 20:47
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    I don't think the OP has the type of power necessary to actually call people out. Specifically it doesn't sound like the OP has any sort of hire/fire capability or even any input into reviews which would be required to truly squash it. – NotMe Aug 16 '15 at 22:56
  • The question used "developer", usually meaning a software developer. If you want any sort of productivity, you do NOT treat developers like this. The good ones can go out and get other jobs if their current one gets unpleasant, and that leaves you with nobody on the team who really knows what's going on. A demoralized team isn't going to produce nearly as well as one not demoralized. – David Thornley Jul 9 '18 at 19:46
  • That's true. I was not given any powers whatsoever to control the team. That was entirely the purview of the project manager, and we later found that she herself was discreetly instigating the team against me. The best thing to do in such a situation is to offer to step down. Nothing else will placate a rogue team. This situation was also a monumental failure as a remote team, since the department head was in a different city and the project manager and the rude, aspiring team lead were able to play politics. I made the mistake of not documenting everything they did. – Anon Jul 11 '18 at 16:50
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The fact that you are admitting to not understanding the technology is an indication that you should not be in that role in the first place. It would be bigger of you to be upfront and admit that you are in over your head and let someone that is more qualified replace you. Otherwise, take the appropriate action to INDEPENDENTLY learn what you need to learn; stop hassling people at work to train you.

Additionally, if you do not want to step down, and you feel you are actually capable of fulfilling the duties of the position, I suggest you start arranging lunch meetings with your new team. Invite them to lunch, and don't do so as the "boss", do so as a friend and colleague. From what you described, trust is something you need to build and having lunch with your team is a great way to build that trust. Not only this, but most team lunch meetings (especially in field of technology) involve conversations about the technology you are using! So if you keep your ears open, not only will you be able to build trust but you may learn the needed information to make you qualified enough for them to stop hassling you.

Everyone needs a boss, but no one wants a boss. Remember that. Good luck!

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    It seems you didn't read the question. The OP was put in the position against her will and her boss refuses to relocate her. WTF is "hassling" people to train you? How is the boss trying to learn what their suborinates are doing "hassling"? How can you learn if people refuse to tell you what they did, what they do, and how they do it? And a lunch meeting? Did you read the question? They insult her and spread rumours about her to try and get her to quit/fired. – Jack Aug 16 '15 at 9:04
  • These people didnt even want to be in the same room with me. Them even agreeing to come for a lunch is a far cry. Remember, every intended friendly interaction gets converted to mud-slinging. Even though I refuse to participate in insulting them back, to retain the dignity of my post. – Anon Aug 16 '15 at 10:54
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    The OP clearly has a history of interacting with the Project Manager and the Project Manager finally got tired of it, that is what I meant by "hassling". And there is no working against one's will, you can always say no. But that is the type of mature move that someone as immature as you wouldn't understand. If YOU read anything the OP said you would have picked up on how green this kid is. He doesn't know how to interact with anyone, he can't take charge, he can't make friends at work, ect. At some point seeing the real problem only takes looking into the mirror. – portfoliobuilder Aug 17 '15 at 17:14
  • @portfoliobuilder: Where do you see that the OP "clearly" has a history of interacting with the project manager based on the original question? – CleverNode Aug 17 '15 at 17:32
  • @Novina, "The project manager tried helping me out in the beginning, but now even she seems to side with the team". You read this didn't you? – portfoliobuilder Aug 17 '15 at 17:39
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TL:DR Don't try to perform a role you can't; give it to someone who can and then perform a role you can.

While I'm aware there are already answers, including one accepted, they all seem to have the assumption of the role being a "technical lead". In a situation where the OP has deliberately been put in charge of a team who all have more experience with the technology, I would challenge this assumption.

There are no details given by the OP regarding development methodology, so being as general as possible while choosing my words here is what I would try try to do:

  • Define your own leadership role in terms of managing process, defining tasks (stories, features etc), requirements gathering, the roadmap and delivery.
  • Tell the team that you will soon be nominating a technical lead/design authority from among them, the decision being based on your perception of their ability to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the technology.

The benefits of this are:

  • You are no longer trying to perform a role that you simply are not equipped to do.
  • You are performing a role that otherwise wouldn't be being done at all.
  • The team are now competing to communicate clearly and effectively with you in order to be considered for the technical lead role.
  • The role that the disappointed developer wanted may still be hers in the end (assuming she isn't out-competed by a teammate).
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Are you having one on ones with each member of the team?

Personally, I'd have an honest discussion with most of the key members of the team, that hits the following points:

  • This situation isn't ideal for you, and isn't what you wanted, but you're dedicated to making it work.
  • You're going to need help from the team member in order to get proficient in the technology the team is working on, and ask for ideas on how to learn, and where to start.
  • Making this team dynamic work is a shared responsibility for the whole team. It doesn't really reflect well on the team if they're considered hard to manage.

Additionally, proving to the team that you're adding value. One of the easiest things to do here is to find a problem that the team is having (and agrees that it's having, don't go solving problems the team doesn't think are problems yet), and get it solved.

  • The one-on-ones were suggested by my department head too at the time. Tried it and the team members just took the opportunity to insult me on my face even more. The trouble was that the project manager herself felt I wasn't the right choice as team lead (and management found out later that she instigated the team against me. She was penalized for this), and it was only because the department head felt I was technically more competent that I was made the lead. I was eventually asked to step down and soon everyone realized that I was more competent than the new team lead. Too late. – Anon Jul 11 '18 at 16:45

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