The last eleven years of my life have been spent working at a place that has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but through it all, I worked on a small team of two (later joined by a third in December of last year) and together we did (and do) great work. Through it all, my team mate and I became good friends and coming to work through those shifts in management and departmental turmoil somehow didn’t seem as bad. In the last couple of years we had a department manager that let us of the leash somewhat and allowed us to do what we do best. As a result, I believe that we have had the most productive and successful three years out of the entire time we’ve been there. A lot of that changed a week ago Friday.
Almost a year ago, we lost our previous department manager and he was replaced by one of the team managers. He’s been in the department probably longer than anyone else and from what I know of him on a personal level, he seems like a nice guy. However, I decidedly do not like his management style. I experienced it briefly when my co-worker and I first started and then heard about it year after year from other co-workers after we were moved under a different manager and then were spun off into our own unit. He has a tendency to micromanage and has a vision of flattening teams and units so that everybody is cross trained and “equal”. The problem lies in that not everybody is equal. Some people are more intelligent than others, some people have different skill sets or subject matter expertise than others and ultimately, I believe that in his mind, if you’re a nail sticking out of the board, he’ll see that and try to bang you back into it.
For the last year things had been operating fairly smoothly in spite of his transition to being our department director. At least for our team anyways. We even added a new member to our team and somehow did so in a way that actually added another bit of lightning to that bottle. We had a few key projects that scored our department some brownie points and by his own admittance, those wins helped to secure his promotion. Rather than be surprised by what happened a week ago Friday, I’m more surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.
Things changed significantly after a joint meeting with our team, our project management team, and our director last week. He called our team manager into a private meeting afterwards and from what I’ve been made aware of, it was more or less a dressing down of his loose, sergeant-like management style. He thinks of what is best for the department in the way that he has influence to, via our team, and also works very hard to defend our team and its practices. Unfortunately, our director feels that as a result, our team has an elitist attitude. That in some way we’re smarter or more intelligent or know better than the rest of the department regarding certain key subjects.
While we do in regard to those particular subjects, I don’t feel that makes us elitist. Everybody in the department has their strengths and weaknesses and in our particular case, software development and user experience design are ours. However, due to our team manager’s defense that Friday, he received a follow-up meeting from both our department directory and HIS boss. It entailed another dressing down (I’m sure that’s not how they perceived it, but my team manager / friend perceived it that way). From here on out he has been discouraged from socializing with us at work, from having lunch or walking out to the car with us, and encouraged to draw a very strong line between himself as management and us as subordinates. In addition, he was told that the team managers were going to take more departmental responsibility and that he needed to stop thinking about his team and needed to start thinking about what’s best for the department, even if it means changes to how our team operates. He did implore them to realize that they’re trying to fix something that’s not broken, but it sounded like that fell on deaf ears.
Thus, began last week. It felt like being in a fishbowl all day, every day and the awkwardness of our team manager NOT being able to interact with us on anything other than a professional level was palpable. Especially for the two of us as we’ve been friends for eleven years now. Needless to say, I think things are going to change in a way that upper management has not expected. I’ve seen my fair share of ups and downs in the department. As a matter of fact, he and I spent nearly three or four years in a bad slump. While we managed to get through that to the highlight years of my career there, I don’t feel that I have it in me to go through another two, three, or four year period where I end up dreading coming to work. Where I feel that I’m not respected on a professional level and that my team is not respected for the work that it does and the positive attention it has garnered our department. All three of us have at one point or another in the last week, confided in each other that we are going to start exploring our options.
I feel saddened by this. I believe that in three to six months things WILL have changed but not in the way upper management expected it to. I think that, based on what we’ve talked about individually, none of us will be there anymore by our own choice. We will have let the lightning out of the bottle so-to-speak. I can’t describe how that makes me feel. Yes, I feel sad, but it’s deeper than that. I love my team. I love the way we joke around, have fun, and still manage to kick ass and chew bubblegum. It bothers me on a level that upper management can’t seem to understand that how we operate works. We’re productive, successful, and at the end of the day, get the job done in a way other teams can’t. Does thinking that make me elitist? Maybe. Does feeling that we are a few of the handful of GREAT people in our department of average to mediocre people make me elitist? Maybe. It’s just a shame that rather than encouraging the other teams and individuals to rise up to the level of the great people in our department, our management seems to feel the need to bring the handful of us down to everybody else’s level.
With everything that went on this week, it was a surprising coincidence that I received an email via LinkedIn from a design agency HR rep. I busted out a portfolio this week in time for a preliminary phone call from a recruiter on Thursday and afterwards, sent him my resume and portfolio link. It may be a week or two before I hear anything further, if at all. But, I guess I am officially in the game.