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One of our teams needs much more fixing than anyone else. This team has been around for 3 years and has never been fully autonomous. They often need outside help, though they do not lack specialized technical expertise. Other teams are able solve more difficult problems with less senior programmers. But it seems that they are unwilling to try. If they do not already know the answer they will not go looking for it. Often using the excuse that the fix does not exist or would be too hard to find.

Their manager refuses to accept any feedback on the team's problems and gets very defensive when it comes up. "Well, I asked other people about [bad behavior] and they do not think it is that bad." has landed in my inbox many times. I have always sent this feedback electronically to give myself time to filter out colorful remarks.

I have complained about this for years to middle management and never got a response. Tomorrow I have a meeting with this manager and the VP of engineering. I have a tense relationship with this manager and do not know the VP very well.

I just want the manager to acknowledge the problems and plan to improve. How should I prepare for this meeting? I want the VP to understand my concerns but I want to come across as professional and not angry. No agenda was published so I do not know exactly what will happen.

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    Let me get this straight, you want to tell a manager (who is not your manager) to do their job? Why is your manager not helping get things sorted out? – mikeazo Sep 22 '16 at 16:58
  • Who called the meeting? Why is your manager not involved? – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 22 '16 at 17:35
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I'll address your question by virtue of the title. What you should do about this manager is nothing. It's not your job. It's not even your manager.

You've already said that you have a tense relationship with the manager and he won't listen to you. You've apparently talked to other middle management. There's really nothing more you should be doing.

How should I prepare for this meeting?

By cancelling it. Since there's no agenda, just cancel it. If asked, just tell them that you've decided that it's not an issue for you to address.

I'm sorry, but I can't see any way that you can continue on this path without being labelled a troublemaker. You're operating from the assumption that you know what's best even when management doesn't agree.

I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that it could very well end up with you having to find other work. Going over the head of a manager who isn't even in your chain of command is really, really bad. If you think things are tense now, you haven't seen anything yet. You will be making a literal enemy who will use his (higher) position to see that you're discredited or worse. It's what you're basically doing to him, from his point of view.

Seriously, just don't. Do your job as best you can within your own team and leave managing the company and its people to actual management.

EDIT after comments:


You said:

I gave my feedback to the manager and his boss and if he did not want to improve that is up to him.

That's pretty arrogant and sure to offend. Given that you didn't call the meeting, the only thing you can really do at this point is to go into the meeting trying to show as much humility as possible.

It sounds like you need to apologize. You need to stress that you meant no disrespect and only want to improve things and then lay them out as objectively as possible without trying to lay blame.

I have to be honest, this sounds bad. The other way I'd prepare is to get your resume up-to-date. Depending on how this goes, you may need it. In fact, you may want to just move on anyway since you're obviously not happy with how things are done to the point you have an executive calling you out on it.

Lastly, I'd give you another piece of advice. Take a Dale Carnegie course. Even given what you've said here, you need to learn how to better express yourself and we're mostly technical people used to bluntness and abrasiveness. I'm not being snarky at all.

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    Cancelling the meeting won't really do anything. The bell can't be unrung. The suggestion that nothing should change simply because the person who sees the problem lives at the wrong point in the org chart should be an alarm that a company has a toxic culture. – Joel Etherton Sep 22 '16 at 17:26
  • @JoelEtherton I agree that it can't be unrung. No question. But you don't compound it by actually criticizing and formalizing that criticism in front of his boss. That will only make it worse. As for the culture, OP has been there for years, he's well aware of the culture and so I just addressed his actual question. Personally, I would move on to somewhere that doesn't have crappy management. – Chris E Sep 22 '16 at 17:32
  • I agree completely, so I'm formulating an alternate answer to approach it from a different attitude. – Joel Etherton Sep 22 '16 at 17:35
  • For the record, I agree wholeheartedly with your answer's ending statement. Too many people think they can run the company better just because management isn't actively fixing their problem. – Joel Etherton Sep 22 '16 at 17:36
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    @jsua it's not going to well for you. at best you'll be given a stern warning to never again usurp a manager's authority, which is what you did. Be ready for a humbling. Apologize to this person and promise to never again criticize him. – Retired Codger Sep 22 '16 at 19:56
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Frankly, you are angry, and that is not professional. You indicate that you've complained to middle management and you've talked to this manager directly, but these are the things you should continue doing rather than having gone to the executive level. It doesn't matter that you're banging your head against a wall. Find new ways of explaining to both the manager in question and middle management.

Things you should be doing:

  • Document the metrics in increased need for this one team (hours, tasks, comparables, anything that makes this team stand out as "needy").
  • Find new ways of speaking to this manager. Be less confrontational. Be collaborative.
  • Change the things you can, starting with your attitude towards this team and manager.
  • Stop simply fixing things and help those who need to learn fix the things themselves. (this doesn't mean stop doing your job, just stop doing it blindly)
  • Stay at your level of the org chart. If things need to go up, they go through your manager and your manager only.

The executive bell is already run, and it can't be unrung. The fact that you didn't call the meeting doesn't mean that you didn't ring this bell since it's a result of your actions. It's entirely possible that this is the result of your complaints to middle management.

What you need now is to de-escalate the situation. You need to make it less confrontational. Instead of an accusatory "they're not doing their share", make it a plea for help. Indicate that this team is generating tasks that are putting you behind and you're seeking help. Enumerate those tasks. Indicate why the other team should help with those tasks.

If quizzed why you felt you needed to bring it to the VP level, admit that it was ultimately a moment of frustration (and a mistake) and apologize for wasting their time. Don't belabor it. If rebuked, take it. Speak your peace dispassionately and professionally. Don't repeat yourself, don't make demands.

You will earn so much more in supplication than you will from accusation. The cornerstone of this is respect. From the cheap seats it doesn't seem that you've ever approached this manager with an attitude of respect. Your initial assumption based on what you saw is that "this team is not behaving like other teams, therefore the manager is bad at his job". If you want this manager to respect what you have to say, you will have to find a way to respect this manager. At the very least you'll have to make a display of it. That is the relationship you've damaged, and it is up to you to repair it.

Note: Edits made based on comments elsewhere (correcting assumptions).

  • Really good answer, better than mine. The only reason I'm keeping mine is to preserve the comments referenced in yours. – Chris E Sep 22 '16 at 18:35
  • @ChristopherEstep: I wouldn't say better. I think we're both saying essentially the same thing. I'm just trying to spray a different perfume on it. – Joel Etherton Sep 22 '16 at 19:23

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