I lead large teams in the field and partner with a core team at the headquarters of my organization. My boss is at HQ and largely ignores me because all of my projects come in on time and under budget. I have literally been told I am a “dream employee.”
The fly in the ointment is that I am constantly having run-ins with another member of the core team at HQ—I’ll call her F.
We disagree on what is her responsibility and what is mine and we are constantly butting heads. She doesn’t have the same skill set and knowledge base as I do, nor does she have the experience or seniority. She argues endlessly about some of my decisions—or worse, reverses them without talking to me about it. Then I have to come back in, re-direct everyone and get the project back on track.
This is causing delays and making other members of the team crazy. She gets upset when I don’t agree with her or alter her changes and runs down the hall to my boss to complain. Then I get a call from my boss, who tells me I need to find a way to get along with F and work it out. I have really been trying, but she just won’t see reason.
The final straw was my annual performance review. After glossing over all the good stuff—on time, under budget, my teams like and respect me, the customers are all happy—I get dinged on my bonus because of this situation with F! I just want to scream. Or quit. What say you?
I am so sorry for your frustration. I know it well. I worked in the field for many years and suffered from being out of sight and out of mind. As a manager now at HQ, I know the difficulty of trying to protect team members in the field from the natural solidarity of folks who can have a quick and impactful chat at the coffee station. I have experienced and been responsible for the problems that can arise due to lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities among team members.. I mean, who doesn’t suffer from lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities?
People who have responsible managers, that’s who.
It is absolutely your boss’s responsibility to get in there and mediate between you and F—to figure out who is responsible for what and who makes exactly what kinds of decisions, and to craft the process for what to do when there is a grey area. It is not appropriate for him to delegate that job the way he has, with you left holding the bag.
Okay, great, so we can blame your boss—which helps you not at all. What can you do? Here are some ideas:
- Fight hard to schedule an in-person mediation meeting with your boss, F, and you for the next time you are at HQ. Make it as soon as possible. Be prepared with a list of what you think is your job and what you think is F’s job. Use a RACI chart to help you. A RACI chart (Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed) is a way to plot out—with absolute clarity for each task and decision—who is ultimately responsible, who needs to be consulted and included, and who needs to be kept informed at each step. It is an amazing tool and I encourage you to use it. Argue it out and abide by the consequences.
- Make it priority to improve your relationship with F. I know, right now you are mad at her and thinking Why should I take the high road? If you are going to quit, you don’t have to do this. But if you are going to stick around, you must turn F from an enemy into an ally. Up your communication with her. Have weekly meetings where you catch up on projects and review decisions and haggle things out. If the relationship is there, she won’t go running to your boss every time she is annoyed with you. If the relationship is there, when she has a problem with you she will pick up the phone and say “Hey, what the heck?”
- Spend more time at HQ. I know it is inconvenient, disruptive to what you consider your real work, and a colossal pain—but there is no substitute for showing up. Be there in person for team meetings. Show your face. Go to happy hour. Meet with your boss so you are real to him—as real as everyone else on his team.
- Share regular business updates with your peers and your boss about what you’re working on and what you do all day—because in the absence of information, people make stuff up. The more your colleagues see, hear, and get information from you, the more they will understand your work—and the more likely they will be to trust your authority and be comfortable that you know what you’re doing.
This all adds a lot more to your to-do list, I know. But the first order of business in getting things done is to build and nurture relationships. It would be so nice if you could just do your job without interference, but that just isn’t the way it works.
Don’t quit. Maybe scream a little. But then pick up the phone and work it out.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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