I work in a very matrixed organization. My actual boss works remotely and I seldom interact with him one-on-one, but we have a team lead on every project.
In my work group, we all work on different projects as they come in. One of my peers in another group is causing real problems for me. He never keeps his agreements and tends to hold up every project he is involved with. I’ll call him B.
He agrees to his role and then makes excuses, but no one in charge seems to know or care. It isn’t my job to give B feedback—and I wouldn’t know what to say—but it’s getting to the point that everyone in my group tries to avoid working with whatever group he is in.
I was just invited to be on a really fun and interesting project that I said yes to, but I heard B will be on it. I have a good relationship with that team lead, and I’m thinking of giving him the heads up about the chaos B causes.
What do you think? I hate to tattle, but I also hate knowing what’s going to happen and doing nothing.
This sounds like mayhem. The only way the matrix can work is if there is some solid oversight and everyone can be trusted to pull their weight. The fact that you are having this conundrum is an indication of poor leadership—because sometimes if everyone is a leader, no one actually has to step up and take responsibility. There’s a lot to be gained in terms of nimbleness and creativity with matrix organizing principles, but this is a classic example of one the potential downsides.
I understand this doesn’t really help you.
This might: Think about your basic values. What you are reacting to is the general unfairness of the situations caused by B. Unfairness essentially reduces all of us to four-year-olds. It literally affects brain function. It is important to be aware of this so that you don’t do something that is not aligned with your values and that you may regret. You may think that reporting someone’s past bad behaviors to an authority is the right thing to do, but your choice of label for yourself – “tattler”—indicates that you would judge yourself poorly. Frankly, you seem to be judging yourself for even thinking about it.
I sense some real doubts there, which leads me to say: don’t do it. I’m not sure what you would have to gain, but you definitely would have the respect of the team lead to lose. Because, as you well know, nobody likes a tattle tale.
Here’s what you can do. As the assignments are being divvied up, ask the group what the consequences are for slipping on deadlines. Agree as a group how you will behave. Keep your own commitments and acknowledge when others keep theirs. The first time B shows up with an excuse, call out that his lateness is going to slow everyone down and refer back to original agreements of the group. If the group doesn’t step up, then you can talk to the team lead and mention it isn’t the first time you have seen this behavior from B. You don’t have to be mean about it, just truthful and factual. Then it is the team lead’s problem.
Also, I would recommend that you make it a priority to develop a relationship with your actual boss. He is probably so busy that he figures no news is good news and that if you needed him, he’d hear about it. But you don’t want to be in touch only when there is a problem.
In my world view, it is your boss’s job to know his people and make sure they have what they need to succeed—but since that isn’t happening, you need to step up and be on his radar. Get on his calendar and be prepared with a list of all your projects so that he knows who you are and what you’re up to. To the extent possible, research his goals and priorities and ways you might be able to help him. Maybe then, when you really need his influence, he’ll have your back.
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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