WWYD: Being a Team Player

Today’s installment of “WWYD,” working for someone without experience.

Last week my team’s leader was notified that he will be demoted from his position and another team member would be promoted to replace him. Our current team leader is well-liked by everyone and is very good at the practical aspects of the job, but he couldn’t seem to play the office politics. The new guy is very good at making friends with the right people, and is smart and seems nice enough, but he has almost no experience with management or the industry! We hired him right out of school a year ago, and while his reports are decently written, it’s obvious that he’s new and doesn’t really know what’s required by the clients or a lot of the other basics of the field.

Although there’s been no official announcement, our new team lead is scheduled to take over this month, and he told another team member that although he lacks experience, “if everyone pitches in, [he’s] sure we can make it work.” He’s probably right — we pretty much managed ourselves with a really bad team lead we had a few years ago, although we lost a lot of more experienced employees who got sick of it. The problem is that he’s planning for us to all “pitch in” and take on extra tasks and responsibilities, while only he gets the big raise and title. The corporate culture is not one where we’ll get any recognition or appreciation, let alone anything more tangible. One coworker has already told me he plans to do his job, and nothing more. We’re already insanely busy, so taking on more work would very possibly involve unpaid overtime to get the work done.

So what would you do? Take on the extra work with no compensation because he’s a decent guy and we’re a team, or do only our own jobs to the best our our ability and let our new leader face the consequences if he can’t do his? The former makes me feel like a doormat, the latter makes me feel like a bitch. — K.

If this is the kind of corporate culture where you can’t talk about your reservations (the team leader appears too inexperienced to actually lead; because of the inexperience, workers are asked to take on more work when they are already very busy and aren’t being fairly compensated for doing so) to the higher-ups who can set things right, or explain the motivations behind the changes — the kind of corporate culture where good, smart, hardworking people are demoted for not playing office politics — honestly, the thing I would do is what some of your other coworkers did: get fed up, look for a new job, and mosey on out of there. I’ve left a few jobs due to a toxic work environment before.

But if having a reasonable, adult conversation with the higher-ups about your reservations is actually an option, that’s what I’d want to do, and then take it from there.

To be fair, I don’t actually know what it’s like to work in this office, so let’s say the environment here is not toxic, but occasionally dysfunctional. And to be fair to the new guy, perhaps he was hired because he’s talented, if only inexperienced. Helping people learn the ropes is what being a team player is all about. Of course, it doesn’t mean taking the ropes while the team leader wanders off to do whatever he’s doing instead of learning the ropes. If he’s really a decent guy, he’ll try to pick things up as soon as he can so he’s not a burden on everyone else. He may want to prove to everyone that he’s really cut out for the job. I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

You could also have a reasonable, adult conversation with him too, and perhaps ask another coworker who shares your reservations to join the conversation (so it’ll feel more like it’s coming from the team instead of just you). Set clear goals and expectations. If he’s a decent guy, he’ll be ready to listen.

Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.

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