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I have been designated by my boss to deliver the technical part of a project. To achieve this I have the support of colleagues, which I need to lead. These colleagues are less senior than me, but there is no clear hierarchical separation between us.

As a team we discuss the technical issues in a first step. In a second step we discuss solutions and implement them. I regularly give an update to our boss presenting in a high-level the work we have achieved. Everything is fine with this way to give him updates.

However there is one colleague which communicates for the project and often includes our boss in CC even when there is absolutely no reason to do so. His ideas could look good from a high-level point of view but they are not always feasible and need to be discussed with the team first.

In my view such team communication should remain within the team unless there is a conflict, which needs the intervention of the boss.

This behavior is seen as disturbing since this gives the impression that:

  • Only one person is active
  • We are uncoordinated
  • We have a lot of great ideas but we only apply very few of them

My first idea would be to have a chat with the colleague in question. However I would find it a bit strange to ask him not to report to our boss. Would you have any recommendations?

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    I think your boss is in charge. You should talk to your boss about that colleague and then your boss should clearly state to (the complete team) that he don't want this kind of involvement. He should also state that it does not raise the persons credit. But you have to prepare your boss for this... – Timothy Truckle Jan 14 '17 at 16:00
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    "I find this behavior disturbing for our team members since this often gives the impression that he is the only person working and this gives him all the credit at the end of the project." If you are justifiably worried that he gets the credit for the work of a team of people, then there must not be a significant amount of substance to the project you are leading. Or you must be an ineffective team leader. Or both. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 14 '17 at 16:45
  • I don't get it. What exactly is the issue with him reporting to his boss about the work he has done? Isn't that what employees are expected to do? – Masked Man Jan 14 '17 at 16:45
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    Have you been officially appointed team leader for the project, or did you give yourself the role? – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 14 '17 at 16:48
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    Still not clear from your edit what your issue is. Your boss has designated you to deliver the technical part, but he is still the boss (unless he has explicitly appointed you as the team's manager). Also, what project updates are you sending to the boss? Your post seems to imply that only this one employee is sending updates to the boss, isn't that what you should be doing as a technical lead? – Masked Man Jan 14 '17 at 17:35
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This gives the impression that only one person is active.

If the management has this impression, then make your reporting more effective. As against reporting a laundry list of tasks, let your status reports carry more details, such as which team member worked on what task, the complexity involved, the time taken, completion percentage, how much more time is required for completion, what impediments were resolved to get here, etc.

However, it is extremely unlikely that the management carries this impression. Management would not keep paying anyone for several months for doing nothing, and certainly not an entire team (minus one). It is all business.

Hence, if management got the impression that only person was doing all the work, they would either:

  • Demand to know what the others have been doing (and/or),
  • Fire all the others.

As neither of these seems to have happened, you can assume that they do not think the others are doing nothing.

His ideas could look good from a high-level point of view but they are not always feasible.

Easy! Beat him at his own game.

Assign to him the task of implementing his own excellent ideas. Mention that in the status report as well. Talking about great ideas is easy, but when he is forced to deal with the implementation challenges, one of these things will happen:

  • He will reduce or entirely stop showboating, because the more "great ideas" he sends to the boss, the more work would come his way.
  • Management will see a lot of incomplete tasks in his name, and demand an explanation from him.
  • He will be forced to follow the protocol. He would need cooperation from the rest of the team to decide if the ideas are feasible and to implement the feasible ones.
  • He will actually implement those ideas! That would be great, right?

However there is one colleague which communicates for the project and often includes our boss in CC even when there is absolutely no reason to do so.

Rather than getting "disturbed" by this, use it to your advantage. Issue tracker is a very handy tool, not just for tracking issues with the software but also to deal with such issues. :-) Every time he emails great ideas to the manager, respond appreciatively, tell him that you have created a task in the issue tracker, and ask him to update a tentative start date. For example:

Hi XYZ,

This is a fantastic idea! I have created task no. IDEA-12345 so that we don't forget it. Please update the task with a tentative start date and any other details that you deem relevant.

You don't even need to take a "bad guy" stance. Speak positively about him with your manager, praising the great ideas that he keeps posting. That gives him no chance to complain when things go downhill.

My first idea would be to have a chat with the colleague in question. I would find it a bit strange to ask him not to report to our boss.

Your idea is right. You should always try to resolve issues first by directly talking to the person, and escalate only when that doesn't work. You also cannot tell anyone not to talk to their own boss, so don't do that. Tell him that you want to talk about his ideas and prepare a plan to implement them.

Ask him to assign a priority to each idea. In particular, let him decide which idea he wants to take up next, so that you can mention that in the status report. If he doesn't know what he is talking about, he will take an evasive stance, with comments like, "Uhm, actually, I don't think I can do that right now", "I need to talk to XYZ before I can start", etc.

You can then tell him to figure that out after the meeting or raise it at the next team meeting. Let him know that if he doesn't raise it at the next team meeting, it would imply that he has figured it out himself and you would update that in the status report. This will further compel him to either work with the rest of the team or acknowledge that the "great idea" is not so great. In the latter case, you could tell him to post a comment in the issue tracker, or do it yourself, with something like:

XYZ analyzed this idea in more detail, and decided that it is not currently feasible due to problems 1, 2, and 3. Closing this task for now, we will reopen it if needed if/when these problems are resolved.

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I really like Masked Man's response, just want to add a few more thoughts:

You're saying: "This behavior is seen as disturbing since this gives the impression that: [...]"

You're not saying by whom this is seen as disturbing. Is it you? Is it your boss? Or your colleagues? I'm guessing it's you, because I don't see how your boss can find it both true and disturbing, and if your colleagues were clearly on your side, you'd not be pondering about what to do, right? However if it's really you, why didn't you say so?

As I see it, that's a really interesting question. Its existence indicates something really important about how you see yourself in that team. You seem to be torn about it, that's why you didn't want to say: "I'm disturbed."

If you can't say it here, you probably don't want to say it in the team either. But in a way that's what leadership is about. Look at it honestly: If you take any great leader of the past, how much of what they did was administration and how much was emotion, energy, gut feeling, trusting themselves, their vision, and conveying it to others? What I'm trying to say: Good leadership is a lot about emotions. In your particular case chances are high that if you're disturbed, others are disturbed too, BUT that doesn't mean you have to do something about it right away. If you do want to do something, you may take Masked Man's approach, I really like it, because he avoids the danger of working against that colleague or taking anything personally.

Furthermore we don't know anything about your colleague's motives. I don't even know if his understanding of your and his role is coherent with yours or your boss's. So be careful to be on the "right" side before you do something.

It seems ultimately you and that colleague suffer from the same condition: You both desperately want to prove yourself to that boss. If that's the case I really don't think that your boss sees it as a negative feedback about you if your colleague is doing what he's doing. Why should he? You'll be judged by the results of the team, and if he doesn't like what your colleague is sharing all the time, he will tell him directly. You should also trust him to be able to read between the lines. This involves both your colleague's talkative behavior and your discomfort about it. He'll most likely be able to take it for what it is.

This doesn't mean not to do something about it though. What you will have to confront for yourself is why it is that someone can make you insecure so easily or make you believe that the quality of your work won't be seen.

With respect to that colleague I think the following approaches will help lighten up the situation:

  • Praise his motivation where appropriate and see it as an important asset in the team.
  • Take his ideas seriously and always prove to him why they aren't feasible if they aren't.
  • See it from the positive side: If he's talking to your boss, you have to explain less. You can even ask your boss directly if you need to explain certain things again because your colleague already sent an e-mail, and from his answer you'll know if he even reads everything in detail.
  • Take into account the possibility that he really believes in his ideas and sees you as an inhibiting factor, and that's why he's showing this behavior.
  • Praise him in front of your boss if he's done something well, and mention it to him that you did.
  • Ask him if he'd like to do some presentation works for the team since he seems very fond of explaining ideas. That's an elegant way of including him and at the same time let him know that his behavior is a little odd, and he has the chance to correct the role he's in if he feels wrong with the role he was assigned so far.

Regarding your concern that there is the impression "We have a lot of great ideas but we only apply very few of them": Isn't that totally normal? If they build a museum or a park, they get a lot of designs, but ultimately they decide in favor of just one. That's part of the process, and a high number of ideas is actually great.

Last I want to give you some insight about the way I see leadership: You must be flexible and willing to embrace the unexpected. That means: A bad leader assigns people roles according to what he thinks he knows about them, but what he knows about them is wrong, so they can't perform. A good leader assigns people roles according to what he knows about them, and he knows them quite well, so the assignments fit well and the team does perform. A great leader conveys a vision and lets people naturally gravitate towards their full potential with respect to that vision. This approach has no textbook, and it always takes unexpected turns, and in a way you'll not feel like a leader at many times. Yet, it's the result that counts and everyone's satisfaction in the process as you reach it. I can assure you that this approach works. Everybody somewhere has a longing for being in a position that is a perfect fit, and there's some natural tendency to move towards it if you let people move freely.

Relax. I can assure you that nobody will really care about the process if the result your team delivers is great. And vice versa: If the result sucks or there is none at all, everything you do now will be seen as wrong in the end. Work for that result and nothing else. Forget all the politics to the extent possible to you.

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    Fantastic points. I wanted to include a few more points in my answer, but it got too long already. You have covered all that I wanted to add, and a lot more. I hope you will be around here for a while, the community would benefit from your insights. :-) – Masked Man Jan 15 '17 at 8:06

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