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We have a small team (9 total, 3 of whom are admin assist types and 2 of whom are part time specialists), and I'm in charge of this small but strong crew. The team is great, very professional, organized, etc. Everything I could want as a manager.

But the boss.. she's smart, determined, and a huge workaholic (like, 4 hours of sleep a night consistently, a year a half later.) We decide on tasks for the week, and by mid-week, everything is changed, and there are a whole new pile of tasks to be done. Some of it is justified (the 'old' tasks are now no longer relevant), some of it, I think is a result of her stress (which is quite high and is justifiably so - it's a big, complex, many 0's job with constantly changing vision and needs). We are trying 'agile' but even that is built for 1-2 week sprints, which don't do a lot to blunt this. She doesn't seem to have much patience for the idea that we need to re-scope out work, or that we ought to re-insert management processes each time... I don't see any slowdown in changes coming (Think the person who walks and throws all the balls behind them.. everyone is struggling to catch up).

The team is feeling overwhelmed. My boss trusts me, and us, and our competence - I feel like I can say anything. But what do I say? What do I do? I want the team to learn and grow from this, to have us all walk away knowing how to handle this in the future.

Thanks for your thoughts and effort here. It's tricky...

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    The team is ... organized, etc Then you have documented everything, right? Present her the documented changes, such as "on 4th she wants A, on 7th, she wants B, on 11th, she wants A again, then on 14th, she wants C, etc." You get the idea? Give her the mirror, let her see herself. – scaaahu Apr 8 '17 at 4:22
  • Just stick it out for a while until she is hospitalized due to the stress, then you will hopefully have a much easier time. – Masked Man Apr 8 '17 at 4:30
  • I have made a niche of handling situations like yours on projects. It's always unique and creative which I enjoy, but always tough. I wouldn't dream of advising without specifics though. A possible suggestion, try a Kanban task approach with a custom modified sprint cycle...you can't do formal sprint the way your going. your Kanban tasks can be more fluid and adapt as you go along. As far as how to fix it though, that's frankly a consulting job and not a blog answer. It involves dynamics of personalities/products/technologies/timelines/processes/etc... fun to do, but not for a blog... – mutt Apr 8 '17 at 5:40
  • I wish I could help more as your situation sounds fascinating to me...bringing order out of chaos and making things work when they don't seem possible...anyway best of luck and remember creativity and optimization is key! – mutt Apr 8 '17 at 5:42
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My boss trusts me, and us, and our competence - I feel like I can say anything. But what do I say? What do I do?

Since you can say anything, a discussion about the constantly changing requirements is in order.

Talk about why this makes your team's work difficult. And ask about how together you can avoid these changes. Perhaps a "steering committee" approach could give your team longer-term directions that won't require such abrupt changes.

Or perhaps there is no solution and you and the team need to be prepared to change direction rapidly. If that's the case, talk about how to make this as efficient as possible. Perhaps the team needs fewer admins and more full-time task workers to give you more flexibility. Perhaps not.

You are fortunate that you can "say anything". Communication is usually the key to progress.

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I think first thing is make it clear from your boss that who is in charge of the tasks/projects you are talking about. If it is your boss, and irrespective of you being a manager, you are just a team member like others, then you just have to do the best you can and follow her directions.

But if you are in charge, then as a team manager you need to take a firm stand on what is the right pace of the tasks and when to change direction or not. You can obviously take inputs from your boss but I think you should make it clear to the team and to your boss that any change in direction should come from you and not from her.

You can then have regular meetings with your boss either with the team or separately and update her on the activities. In either case, if she is "suggesting" a change, then you need to decide if you agree or disagree with her. If you disagree, then be prepared to push back gently or strongly or however it takes to maintain your ground. But I think your team can learn and grow if they see you take a stand as per your discretion (which I assume your team would agree with more) and fight back professionally if needed.

I used to have lot of heated discussion with my boss in front of my team (Though as a project leader and not a manager) whenever I disagreed with his suggestion. Because at the end I was responsible for the project and I knew best what was right. Of course it depends on your working relationship with your manager as well. We never carried any grudge and used to go along perfectly well immediately after those meetings!

Some of it is justified (the 'old' tasks are now no longer relevant), some of it, I think is a result of her stress (which is quite high and is justifiably so - it's a big, complex, many 0's job with constantly changing vision and needs)

I do not think you should make that correlation unless she confided in you. Just in case if she knows about your views on this, she may or may not appreciate you doubting her ability to handle stress! Whatever are the reasons behind it, you just have to think it as directions from your boss. You need to decide what would be your response to that.

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