team lead wants us to have weekly group meetings to air problems and grievances

A reader writes:

At work, I have several coworkers with the same job title as me, but our supervisor has recently designated one specific person as “lead.” They are more experienced than the rest of us and have been here the longest, so this makes sense. She is to organize training for new members, be the point person for questions, take over scheduling, and restructure how we run our meetings, etc. She is essentially in the role of managing us on a day-to-day basis, but she’s not really a manager. She is our coworker and does the same job we do; she just has extra roles that she has taken on. She’s struggling with how to do this effectively.

In reorganizing our meetings, she has eliminated a couple of them and instituted an informal but mandatory meeting where we can all talk about what is going on in our week. The idea is for us to discuss things that we want to change or work on in the office environment, clients who are difficult or causing problems, things coworkers are doing or not doing that affect our ability to work, etc. She wants to give people a forum where they can talk about things, to manage the office culture in a proactive, ongoing way, rather than being reactionary when problems happen, and to foster ideas that might benefit everyone, but that we wouldn’t have come up with on our own. We are located in the Midwest, and everyone here is (notoriously) passive aggressive and doesn’t like to talk about their feelings. Our lead is a very kind, smart, personable character, but is very direct and was hoping to change this part of the office culture to facilitate more open communication. Behind the scenes drama drives her nuts.

Today we had our first meeting, and nobody wanted to say anything. We basically all sat there like we were in trouble. When the lead gave an example of what types of things she’d like for us to be able to discuss–a coworker of ours behaving unprofessionally in response to a comment–he got really offended and emailed her later to tell her that it was untactful and that he was upset. They’ve worked it out, but I don’t think a group setting is going to work well for our office. I think we all (except our lead) prefer to handle things quietly and one-on-one. She understands this, but thinks it is dysfunctional on some level and impedes our team growth and coherence. She wants to help move people to be more open about what is going on in the office so we can talk about issues and resolve them, rather than pretending like they aren’t there. Plus, many concerns affect more than just the two people immediately involved, and this meeting would provide an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the resolution.

Do you have any suggestions about how we might construct this meeting or approach this goal? How can we use this time for this purpose, given we’re all a bunch of really sensitive, introverted perfectionists who earnestly want to please people and have everyone be happy? How can we engage people to talk about problems or concerns, but not offend anyone? We’ve already established that we use “I” language, and that if you have a concern, you also need to come forward with a proposed solution, or at least some idea of where you want to go with it, so we don’t just complain or point fingers. So we’re trying to be really respectful about this. Would one-on-one office hours be better? Will it just be a tough transition, but eventually work out? Do you think this is even a good idea to begin with?

No, it’s very much not a good idea.

If your office genuinely needs weekly meetings to discuss difficult clients, problematic coworkers, and things you need to change, something is pretty damn dysfunctional. That kind of thing might come up here and there, but in most offices it’s not going to be a weekly meeting type of frequency, and most of that stuff isn’t going to be best addressed through a group meeting anyway — and especially not an unstructured, free-flow, “raise any random concern you have about a coworker with the whole group” type of meeting.

In fact, that’s a recipe for either uncomfortable silence (which is what happened) or demoralizing and upsetting people (which also happened).

Frankly, it sounds a bit like the idea of someone with little experience managing other humans coupled with grandiose ideas about what can be achieved by people just talking things out.

(To be clear, I’m a big fan of people talking things out. But not in this format with these prompts and this structure.)

Maybe you could say this: “You know, I don’t think we need a weekly meeting for this kind of thing. I’d like to just address issues as they come up. And I don’t think a format where the group addresses issues with one person will be constructive; I think that’s a recipe for tension and even drama. I’d like to propose that we continue handling those things one-on-one, as most offices do.”

If her concern is that people tend to pretend like problems aren’t there, well, she can certainly take the lead in raising them with the people involved to get the problem resolved. That’s what good managers do.

I hear you that you want to be respectful of her and open-minded to her ideas, but you also get to speak up when you think something’s a bad idea — and as long as you do that politely and respectfully, a good lead will welcome that input.

{ 168 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. coffee powerrr

    Total agreement with AAM’s first line: ’tis not a good idea to do this, even in private.

    What this lead may be doing is gathering information and enticing people to “turn each other in”

    I had an experience like this where a new manager came into a unit of 4 coworkers and basically enticed us into doing exactly this. The result was we talked to each other even less often and this manager had all the keys and data she needed to discipline people at her will.

    I would say as little as possible to this person as she sounds like the type of person who wants to know everyone’s dirt then selectively use it against either you or them, when it suits her.

    Good luck!

    Reply
      1. fposte

        Yeah, I think it’s an eager novice attempting to be proactive. If we just talk to each other about microwaving fish, nobody will ever be annoyed! But that’s not how humans anywhere, not just the Midwest, work. I mean, I like the idea that she’s encouraging people to speak up if they have a problem, but making the forum for that big and public is so discouraging that she might as well tell people just to hush their muffins.

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        1. Ad Astra

          I got the same vibe, though I’ve known plenty of not-so-novice managers who are obsessed with being “proactive” in all situations, even when it doesn’t make sense. In my experience, this leads to a lot of pointless meetings and an average of zero action items. A lot of hurry up and wait.

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        2. Sunshine

          Agreed. I can totally envision my younger self thinking this was a good idea. No malice – just a bit naive.

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        3. Vicki

          My favorite “Miss Manners” quote from a letter many years ago:

          The sweetly misguided notion that no problems exist among different people except communication problems, and that we would all love one another if only we knew one another better, does seem to Miss Manners to have been exposed with time.
          — Judith Martin (Miss Manners)
          “Employee Retreats Should be Overtime”

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    1. AnonaMoose

      “this manager had all the keys and data she needed to discipline people at her will”

      Jesus. Where did you work, San Quentin?

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      1. Charityb

        I was thinking East Germany, where the Stasi had everyone reporting on each other and maintaining secret dossiers against every citizen. I’m not sure if this is a good analogy though; it doesn’t sound like the manager is asking people to secretly report negative things about their colleagues to each other, it sounds like she’s asking them to vent publicly in a group meeting. Both ideas are bad but they’re bad in different ways; the former is somewhat sinister and untrustworthy while the latter is more likely to be a result of inexperience.

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    2. INTP

      It doesn’t sound malicious to me either. I have moved from another region to the Midwest and I can totally identify with having no idea to communicate the way people do there and thinking things might go better if you could only get them to feel safe saying things out loud in a slightly direct manner. It seems like a case of someone identifying a problem and trying to come up with a solution, just being a little overzealous and not understanding just how non-direct the office culture really is. To some extent, the team members might need to just grow up and learn how to be direct with each other because it could get time consuming for the manager or lead to have to be the go-betweens for every unpleasant conversation, but I don’t think that every negative feeling between a team needs to be aired on a regular basis.

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      1. chillgamesh

        If this is a Midwestern thing, that explains a lot. I moved to the Midwest from the West Coast and ended up in a super dysfunctional office. Lots of weird drama where people were friendly to each other’s faces but you found out through the grapevine that they hated each other. Made me really paranoid to interact with anyone. That said, a group meeting to share grievances would NOT have helped. Probably would have led to people just quitting.

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        1. ActCasual

          How do people handle things where you’re from? I am in the Midwest and I guess I just assumed that was fairly universal. It gives me hope to think it’s not. Oh, to be in a place where people are direct with each other…

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        2. Lynn Whitehat

          Yeah, my husband is from Minnesota. It seems like you should be able to assume “well, we’re all Americans, we should have enough common culture to work together naturally.” But if you are a non-Midwesterner dealing with Midwesterners, you should treat it like you’ve been sent to Ghana or something. Start with the assumption that it is a very foreign culture and there is a lot you do not understand.

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          1. Oranges

            As a Minnesotan I find it weird that other people’s cultures are so different. I’ve heard people say we’re passive aggressive and too nice. I have my own pet theories about that, hint it has to do with long winters both here and in Scandinavia. Also the social constructs are wildly different about bluntness.

            This can be hard for a manager from another culture.

            Things that help:
            One on ones are invaluable we will NOT say things in group settings.
            Soft words: it seems, might, do you think, etc. Use them they are your friends.
            Our lexicon is different so what is blunt language to you can be attack language to us.

            I do have to say that if I ever managed a team from New York, I would have issues that they weren’t listening to me, that they fostered an air of hostility, and not team players since I’m used to the social norms here. I think it’s important to note that cultures are different NOT better.

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  2. Dawn

    Man, it sounds like she had good intentions on calling the meeting but they backfired pretty quick.

    For example, at my husband’s company doing personalized software support for clients, his 8-person team (which handles a specific type of issue that comes up with this software) has a Friday breakfast meeting where they all just touch base on their week. They talk about big ongoing problems, bounce ideas off of each other on how to solve things, and also use that time to “gel” as a team. Additionally, his team lead is happy to help during the week on one-off problems as they come up. This meeting is only to talk about client cases and to act as brainstorming, as well as to be a touchpoint meeting so everyone comes together once a week.

    But hooooooly cow how in the world did your team lead think it was going to be a good idea to air grievances in a team setting? That kind of thing has a hard time working on a HIPPIE COMMUNE much less in the workplace.

    LW I hope that the rest of your team is able to go to your actual manager and provide some feedback about your team lead’s “leadership” if this sort of stuff continues.

    Reply
    1. Ella

      Agree with the idea of pivoting this from a weekly awkward complaint fest to a touch base about what’s going on with each team member.

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      1. Mike C.

        Then you lose the ability to have team members support each other in an ad hoc manner if there’s an emergency.

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        1. fposte

          Can you explain more about why you think that? This sounds like a pretty standard meeting, and in my experience they don’t function as either/ors. I would think it could even help ad hoc support because the team are more apprised of what’s going on with the other members.

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          1. Koko

            Agree with this. We have a biweekly “what’s happening in your world” meeting where we do a round robin and each person selects one to three projects they’re working on that impact other people on the team. It’s helpful in a lot of ways – sometimes it means I can give a team member a heads-up that I’ll need their help next week when I often wouldn’t have really thought to send a heads-up email and would have just emailed them when I needed the help.

            Sometimes one of my team members raises an issue I hadn’t considered or been aware of – “Oh, you’re giving away sample teapots to our Facebook fans next week? We’re actually out of teapot shipping boxes and I didn’t think we needed any right away since we’re between production runs, but I’ll be sure to order more today so they get here in time for your giveaway.”

            Sometimes it just means that someone is more tuned in so when something unexpectedly goes wrong next week, I can jump right to asking for help and not have to give the whole backstory. And I might add, these requests for last-minute help in an emergency go over a lot better when the person you’re asking to help you had the chance to make suggestions last week that could have prevented the emergency. People get much more irritated being asked to drop everything and help you when if you had only told them what you were planning to do earlier, they could have told you what would go wrong.

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          2. Myrin

            Yeah, it’s not like a weekly meeting suddenly prevents coworkers to spontaneously support and help each other out.

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          3. Shan

            My office is small, but we have weekly meetings where we touch base with each other (essentially just talk about what we’re working on and give status updates on current projects) and it works great for us. I completely agree with what you said: when we keep up with these meetings, I actually get MORE support from coworkers because they’re familiar with my projects. I’m also able to give more support, because we schedule things out, prioritize, and even redistribute tasks/work if needed.

            Sometimes during our busy season, we won’t have these meetings for a few weeks. I find that during these times, my coworkers are still supportive when I need help, but they usually have a lot of questions about the project I’m working on. It also becomes difficult to give support because I don’t see the big picture of what needs to be done, only my tasks. A coworker may expect my help on something, but if they come to me right before a deadline, I’ll be way too busy…a meeting would have let them know exactly when my deadline was and how much I’d be available that week. It’s just better for our team as a whole to have weekly check-ins.

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    2. Anne S

      I’m on a couple of teams that do this every few weeks (they’re software teams, so it’s Retro from Agile-style software project management), and it works for them for a couple of reasons. First, they were already pretty functional interpersonally to begin with. Second, they don’t complain about team members, or really free-form complain at all – instead, it’s focused on changes that they need to make to make things run more smoothly, things like ‘when dealing with [Other Team], we need to allow more slack in the timelines because they take longer to respond’ or ‘[Database] always has issues I don’t plan for, so I need to get [Other Team] on board before making changes’.

      I have a hard time seeing how airing personal grievances is going to go anywhere but Drama City.

      Reply
      1. Lynn Whitehat

        Yeah, I was also thinking this sounds like a sprint retrospective gone horribly wrong. We do Retrospectives where first we all say what went well, then we say what didn’t go well, then we come up with action items. When we talk about what didn’t go well, we are always super- careful not to point the finger of blame. We make impersonal statements with lots of passive voice, like “a lot of the new features were added without any unit tests, so bugs slipped through that could have been caught sooner.” (Which leads naturally to an action item of “we should write unit tests”).

        Even that might be too directly critical for Midwesterners, but maybe there is something to work with?

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          1. Lynn Whitehat

            Ha! I have a co-worker who has a “most interesting man in the world” meme on their desk. “I don’t always test my code, but when I do, I do it in production.”

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    3. Graciosa

      Like Ella, I agree that this should not be a weekly complaint fest.

      I think the team lead’s heart may be in the right place, but this is not how to improve the work environment. A quick touch base may help, but there are other options that could work under the right circumstances.

      The members of the team are usually the people who know the most about the work – what’s working and what isn’t – and getting their input into how to improve it is only sensible. A team lead can be very useful in facilitating this, and the team’s collective ideas are often much better than anything I would generate on my own.

      However this does require some level of trust among the team members – and the manager – to begin with, and everyone has to approach this from the perspective of focusing on the work rather than the people.

      Complaining about waiting for Other Department’s approval at steps 2, 5, and 7 of a process does nothing. Brainstorming about how to consolidate the process steps to only submit all approvals to Other Department at once can benefit everyone. I don’t know if the OP can steer these meetings in a more productive direction, but it would be much better than a complaint session.

      Reply
  3. AMG

    I still don’t understand the Midwest being notoriously passive-aggressive. I’m in the Midwest, I personally tend to be assertive-aggressive, and I don’t think I’m an anomaly.

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    1. Mrs. A

      I think some of it depends in the definition of midwest. I’m in what would be the southernmost part of the traditional midwest and I see it more here (rural – ish area) than I did in the more central part.

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      1. Mrs. A

        And for the record, I try not to rock the boat, but I am not afraid to assert myself should it become necessary!

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      1. AnonaMoose

        TRUTH! I didn’t really understand passive aggression *as a culture* until I moved to Seattle. Dear LAWD. It was like ‘learning to lead – bootcamp style’.

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        1. Traveler

          This was my thought too. I don’t think you can overgeneralize to an entire region. But if we are going to play that game – If the Midwest is passive aggressive, then the west coast is championship level passive aggressive. Unless your talking about passive aggressive with a smile on your face, then maybe the Midwest could edge them out.

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          1. So Very Anonymous

            I’m a Midwesterner living in the deep South and I find people to be more passive-aggressive here, though it looks/feels different from Midwestern passive-aggression.

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    2. F.

      I admit I am getting as tired of references to “passive-aggressive” Midwesterners as I am to the term Bum F*** Egypt (or BFE) to refer to a small town/rural area in a derogatory manner. I find both to be disrespectful to those who are from the Midwest or live in small towns or rural areas. One finds a spectrum of personalities throughout every part of the country. We don’t need to stereotype.

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      1. Gene

        As someone who grew up in BFE Midwest (it was front page news in the weekly when we got a flashing yellow light on the highway through town), I find it amusing. Same with references to “Flyover States”. My brother was the senior class.

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      2. Not So NewReader

        There are plenty of P/A northeasterners, too. I have seen a group sit in total silence and it was because a corrupt company kept making stupid plans. Everyone sat there like lumps on a log. Was it passive-aggression, or where they just overwhelmed by the magnitude of all that was wrong? No way to know for sure.

        And this is what I think of here. The new lead knows there are massive problems. The people that work there know there are massive problems. I think the team lead needs to take one major issue at a time and see what can be done to fix it. She should focus on the work itself. If people are doing crazy things, then find out if the work flow is driving that behavior. (Ex: IRS agents were throwing tax forms in the garbage, because they could not keep up with the work loads.)
        Different styles of leadership are used in different situations, and this is what I would tell her, OP. In her case, her group has just shut down on her. That means build a new plan. I am not there, so I have no idea what would work in your particular setting, but I am thinking that she can start by picking one recurring PITA problem. Using one-on-one casual conversations, ask several people for ideas about PITA X problem. What do they think can be done? Collect ideas, maybe the best she can do is reduce it down to a mildly annoying problem. That is okay, reduce the severity of Problem X then move to Problem Y. Keep going this way targeting one thing at a time.

        Judging from what you are saying it is an absolute necessity that she not speak negatively of people behind their backs or in groups. If she does not follow this rule, she will just be shooting herself in the foot.

        As an aside, what I do not like about the P/A label is that it puts problems under the heading of “Cannot be solved”. While it maybe true that some people are passive-aggressive others may just be quiet because that is their nature or because no one else is talking. If everyone is behaving in a P/A manner then I have to wonder if there is something going on in the work place that is driving that behavior.

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    3. Ad Astra

      Generalizations about people from different regions of the U.S. can be tenuous because so many of us have relocated or were raised in one place by parents who came from another place, BUT…. I grew up in the lower Midwest and noticed people were indeed sometimes passive-aggressive. When I moved to the upper Midwest — literally just a few hundred miles north — it often felt like passive-aggressive was the default and assertive, direct people seemed to have overcome some deeply ingrained tendency.

      I’m sure it relates to Midwesterners being polite, sometimes to a fault. In comparison, I’d describe Southerners as friendly (also sometimes to a fault) — which no doubt sets people up for plenty of passive-aggressive behavior as well. I’d describe people from the Northeast as direct, and while they’re the least likely (in my experience) to be passive-aggressive, they do sometimes come off as brusque to the uninitiated.

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      1. Ad Astra

        I will add: Work tends to be the place where people are the most passive-aggressive, relative to their natural disposition toward that behavior. That and roommate situations.

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      2. AnotherHRPro

        I agree with Ad Astra. I’ve lived in the Northeast, Midwest, West Coast and Southeast and while generalizations never cover everyone, there are reasons the resonate with people. First off, I found folks in all of those areas to be nice and smart. But…people in the Northeast tend to be more direct, people in the Midwest tend to be more polite, people on the West Coast tend to be more carefree, and people in the Southeast tend to be more friendly. That does not meet that people in the Northeast are not friendly, but it isn’t an overarching characteristic that pops into your head when you think of folks from that region. Anyway, all people (regardless of geography) can be passive aggressive but in my experience I see it more in the Midwest and Southeast. I think it is related to the conflict some people may feel about not being perceived as “friendly” or “polite” when they are more direct.

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      3. Ask a Manager Post author

        This reminds me of my all-time favorite response to a rejection: the applicant who told me: “There is an astute air of refusal that I find quite distasteful. You were probably raised on the East coast, West coast, or Midwest given your style and grammar. I am not going to blame the customs and lifestyle of the geographical region you hail from in regards to the frigid nature of your professional demeanor. But I am upset to find that I can’t get a formal interview because other candidates have better qualifications than me.”

        More here: http://www.askamanager.org/2013/10/how-not-to-respond-to-a-job-rejection.html

        (There was indeed an air of refusal, as it was a rejection!)

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        1. alter_ego

          There’s this style of writing unique to people who are trying to sound smart. Some combination of feeling like a thesaurus was used for every word, and that the maximum number of words possible were used to write a sentence. This has it in spades.

          Also, was the applicant from the South? Because that’s pretty much the only region he doesn’t claim has distasteful style and grammar.

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          1. Ad Astra

            Yep, I know that style anywhere. He’s trying to sound smart and in the process is being ridiculously, unduly formal. And also rude. I’d guess his POV is that of a confused Southerner who thinks being Southern makes him inherently more polite and than people from other regions, despite clear evidence that he’s a jerk. I’ve seen it before. How can people who are so wrapped up in manners and niceties not realize that it’s impolite to insult someone’s manners?

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            1. Three Thousand

              The flip side of Southern “friendliness” is a vicious, xenophobic tribalism. You’re given the benefit of the doubt and assumed to be “one of us” until it’s discovered you don’t vote Republican or support widespread gun ownership or whatever, and then you’re an outsider. If you’re not white, you become a datapoint in favor of racial discrimination, and so on, not that anyone would be so horrendously racist as to say so in front of you.

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              1. Clever Name

                I moved from the Midwest, where I’m from, to a major southern city, and lived there for 7 years. The entire time, I was a Yankee outsider. You are so right.

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                1. Lynn Whitehat

                  I used to live in the South, and I was told I could live my whole life there, and even my CHILDREN would not be considered Southerners, should I have had any there. “If a cat has kittens in the oven, that don’t make ’em biscuits, do it?” Thank you for your honesty, so I know to move ELSEWHERE.

              2. Ad Astra

                But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are plenty of Southerners who managed to ditch racist, xenophobic tradition but keep that certain friendly charm you run into down there. And I hope in the future there are a whole lot more like that. The fact that both of these traits were prevalent for generations is more of a coincidence than a corollary, if you ask me.

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                1. Not So NewReader

                  Am smiling. A situation at work found me talking to a man from the south. We chatted about his situation and what to do. I had several ideas but I could not commit to any one of the ideas until I had done more leg work.
                  The man said, “It’s not true, what they say about you northerners. I am going to tell people that you are actually nice people.” I laughed. I said, “Every area has its good folk and its rotten apples.” I let him know that anything he could do to improve our PR up here would be appreciated.
                  It took me months to fix his situation, I think he remembered me in his will, not sure. I still smile when I think of him.

        2. AnonaMoose

          That’s likely the best crafted response to rejection that was totally off base and kookookachoo I’ve read…well, anywhere.

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        3. Me

          An astute air of refusal? Oh dear.

          He’s definitely got it narrowed down between the east, west, and midwest. Yep. Talk about zeroing in on things.

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            1. NotMeForThis

              Southerners are very proud of being Southern. I’ve lived in the South for 10 years and am still called a Yankee. The biggest insult is being called a New Yorker here (which I am).

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              1. Not So NewReader

                I always heard that saying you were from Connecticut would mean authorities would never find your body.

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        4. Winter is Coming

          I have always enjoyed the benefit of meeting new people through interviewing. The one drawback is the occasional nutter who responds in this way! They are few and far between, but I sure do remember them.

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        5. FD

          “Astute air of refusal”?

          Wouldn’t that mean that you were smart to decline him?

          Obviously this is a case of “I do not think that means what you think it means,” but I’m trying to figure out what he could have been going for…

          Austere, maybe…?

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        6. Charityb

          I feel like if you were trying to guess where someone was raised, and your guess is, “East Coast, West Coast, or Midwest”, that shouldn’t count even if you’re right. That’s basically like saying, “I bet you’re from one of about 38 of the 50 states.” or “I bet your ancestors are from Europe, Asia, or Africa.” If you’re going to stereotype someone like that, you shouldn’t hedge your bets that much… it kind of suggests that you don’t think that your stereotype is too accurate.

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          1. Ad Astra

            In my head, the first draft of that email said “I bet you’re from the East Coast” and then the rejected candidate thought “Well… I mean, people on the West Coast are rude too,” and added that in there. And then remembered that, oh yeah, Midwesterners are rude too, by Southern standards. Click click click, throw that in there.

            I have received rejection emails from all corners of the United States and saw no perceptible difference in the politeness of anyone who bothered to respond to rejected candidates.

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        7. MMM

          How can an air of refusal be astute? That doesn’t even make sense. Your air of refusal was clever? intelligent? wise?

          as·tute (əˈst(y)o͞ot) adj.
          having or showing an ability to accurately assess situations or people and turn this to one’s advantage.
          “an astute businessman”
          synonyms: shrewd, sharp, acute, adroit, quick, clever, crafty, intelligent, bright, smart, canny, intuitive, perceptive, insightful, incisive, sagacious, wise

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          1. Charityb

            Maybe he meant, “your decision to reject my application was astute”. I mean, it WAS, given the tenor of the response.

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      4. INTP

        Yeah, there were moments of passive aggression that were just shocking to me in the upper midwest. I know multiple stories of people sabotaging laundry because the person dared to leave it in the washer too long, and being incredibly proud of it. Why didn’t they just move the laundry into a dryer soon after it finished washing and move on with their lives? Because that would have been “impolite.” (Letting yourself get so worked up that you put someone’s clothing in a bleach puddle is apparently not impolite.) I still can’t fly through MSP without gravely offending someone. Once I stepped a couple of feet down the empty aisle waiting for a plane to deboard and a girl sitting in her seat started elbowing me because she thought I was trying to get off the plane ahead of her. (I know because she started loudly talking about it to her seatmate and plotting to trip me. I hadn’t intended to skip the line but you can bet I didn’t move back to my row and got off the plane ahead of her after that.) This kind of stuff never happens to me anywhere else. My mom visited me for 2 days and she was commenting on it within hours.

        Locally, these things are not seen as passive aggressive, just as being “polite” and then standing up for yourself when someone is “impolite.” But to outsiders, it’s shockingly PA.

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    4. MK

      Even iff it is true that passive-aggressive is a characteristic of people there, then this manager is trying to go against not only the culture of the workplace, but that of the whole area. That’s hardly a realistic attempt; people are not going to change their whole personalities and culture at the behest of a team lead.

      Reply
    5. INTP

      I moved from California to Wisconsin at one point, and the culture did seem very passive aggressive to me. But I don’t think the locals saw themselves that way because they just saw being passive aggressive instead of assertive aggressive or being undecipherably indirect as being “polite.” I never really learned to figure out an urgent command from a polite suggestion because they’re all phrased the same way. (Well, I could recognize a command when someone eventually blew up on me for not treating it as such.) For ex, the coworker responsible for training me would say stuff like “This is incredibly nitpicky and minor, but in addition to everything you did, I probably would have done XXX.” And I would assume XXX was something good to do if I had time but not necessary, when it was actually an integral and mandatory step of the process that should take priority. I figured it out when he got incredibly frustrated with me for not prioritizing XXX all the time.

      I think cultures just have different degrees of directness, because I had a coworker from the DC area in California, and he had a lot of the same issues with us. But yeah, I don’t think this stereotype just comes from nowhere.

      Reply
      1. Ad Astra

        “This is incredibly nitpicky and minor, but in addition to everything you did, I probably would have done XXX.”

        Are you me? I think I’ve encountered this exact statement a million times, and it did not mean the same thing in one state that it did in another.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I have encountered that a lot, also. I learned when I trained people to just clearly state, “You did great with parts a, b and c, but you need to make sure you do d, also.”
          I have seen less of this way of speaking over the last 15 years or so. I am hoping we are drifting away from it.

          Reply
      2. MashaKasha

        “This is incredibly nitpicky and minor, but in addition to everything you did, I probably would have done XXX.”

        Only time I felt completely disoriented here in the Midwest was when I started dating after getting out of a 20-year marriage. Guys kept using these code phrases that I kept misunderstanding, that “nitpicky and minor” reminded me of. “I had fun” = “this date sucked, you’ll never hear from me again.” “Let’s be friends” = “this isn’t working, you won’t hear from me again.” and so forth. Like, how are you supposed to know that this is what it means??? Took me a while to learn to decipher this (initially very unhelpful) information. But I thought it was the dating thing, not the Midwest thing.

        No one did the “nitpicky and minor” to me in my almost 20-year career here, though. If something was important, colleagues made sure to tell me that it’s important. But that might be the nature of my field, you don’t leave anything open to interpretation, or else things might break and you might end up being the one to fix them.

        “I never really learned to figure out an urgent command from a polite suggestion because they’re all phrased the same way.”

        LOL, yeah. People do do that here!

        Reply
      3. teclatrans

        Yes, I think you have nailed it. I think people are using passive aggressive and indirect interchangeably, or maybe blurring the lines? If Midwestern culture prizes friendliness and southern culture prizes niceness (did I get those right?), both could lead people into passive forms of conflict resolution, as could a cultural value of “laid back” (and even a culture which values directness, as there are still ramificationa of directness thay pwople will want to bypass).

        Reply
    6. MashaKasha

      I moved to the upper-east Midwest from overseas almost 20 years ago, and I’m genuinely puzzled. I have not seen any overt passive-aggressiveness of which the OP speaks. People seem to be the right mix of friendly/assertive/private/what have you. Of course some people are jerks, but there are some jerks everywhere.

      Then again, when I finally visited NYC a few years ago (four visits in two years, about a week each), I fell in love with it at first sight, because I thought New Yorkers were SO NICE. (Something you don’t hear every day, but I still stand by my opinion.) Brought my teenage son with me on my last visit and he had the same reaction. So, hmmm, maybe there really is something afoot here in the Midwest, that we no longer notice because we’re so used to it.

      Reply
    7. madge

      Anyone who assumes Midwesterners aren’t direct has never met a Midwestern farmer. They’re still polite but very direct. I assume because they don’t have time for nonsense.

      Reply
  4. TotesMaGoats

    We have a Monday morning stand up and it’s just to make sure everyone is aware of what’s going on during the week from a high level perspective or report out on successes from the previous week. It’s usually no more than 15 minutes. I think I could see her meeting working for most things but not the office culture part. If everyone works with all the clients then a weekly catch up on problem clients would be a good thing. Keeps communication open and not muddy. I could even see talking about office processes/procedures that aren’t working. But not office relationships. Group meeting is not the place for that.

    Reply
  5. JeJe

    I empathize with her on her desire to change passive aggressive behavior. Of course this isn’t a great way to accomplish that. But, if she or anyone ever finds a way to do it, please let me know.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      I think if the culture makes life easier for you to be p/a, then trying to change that is…not going to work so well.

      I can only see this sort of thing ending in explosions.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Your first sentence is key, there maybe something about the company that encourages the passive-aggressive behaviors. I hate saying this, but of all the companies I worked for the worst P?A behaviors went on in the company that was the most corrupt. I firmly believe it was the corruption at the top that was driving the passive-aggressiveness through out the company.

        Reply
        1. nofelix

          Any visible poor behaviour at the top is toxic because it creates a culture of people not being accountable.

          Reply
  6. Adonday Veeah

    Hoo boy! There are people who do this professionally. It is a SKILL. In the hands of amateurs, it’s a landmine.

    OP, do hope you are able to talk her out of this. Great damage can result otherwise.

    Reply
      1. Platypus Anonymous

        We had a version of this (solely for the purpose of others airing their grievances at me) in my office.
        I don’t actually remember any of the grievances they aired; just how upset I was afterwards.

        Reply
    1. NotMeForThis

      Years ago at an offsite meeting at former company we had a guest facilitator who took us through an exercise where departments were asked to confront other departments (in front of everyone in attendance) about why you hate their department. As in, I walk to the center of a circle and call out the benefits department and say “Benefits Department, I hate you because XYZ”. It was SOOOOOOOOO BAD. I don’t even understand how anyone thought this was a good idea. It took years for people to get over that train wreak.

      Reply
      1. misspiggy

        W-what?! I think this is in the top five most outrageous things I’ve read on AAM. Which is saying something.

        Reply
        1. NotMeForThis

          I can not even begin to say how horrible it was. Some people cried, some got angry & yelled back, others just shut down. While it was bad being told “why” your department was hated, it was worse going into the circle and calling another group out. Oh the humanity… I actually get a little upset thinking about this and it happened more than 10 years ago.

          Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        We could write a book, “How to make your company implode on itself”. I think this one here would be the BEST solution for self-destruction, I cannot imagine a better idea.

        Reply
  7. Mike C.

    This concept isn’t terrible with some changes.

    1. You don’t sit there and complain about other coworkers. That’s terrible.
    2. You need to take complaints seriously and turn them into things that can actually be changed.

    When you’re trying to improve a dysfunctional group, you’re going to have to spend some time venting. That’s ok. Asking people to come up with ways to improve the workplace is a great idea, if done in a structured manner.

    Having a weekly meeting to talk about how to run the workplace in a better manner seems perfectly fine to me and we do that here. It leads directly to employees having a hand in a safer, more efficient workplace and they are recognized for the improvements they make. Done right, with proper support from management (and this is why you need weekly meetings!) you can bring a team together and work a whole lot better together.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Is this even a dysfunctional group, or just a group that’s not fitting the new lead’s mental template of functional?

      Reply
      1. JeJe

        The OP was talking about passive aggressive behavior and background drama. That doesn’t fit a mental template of functional for a lot of people.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          Those descriptions were only in relation to why people don’t like the new meetings, though. I don’t see any real indication that there was anything wrong with how the team was operating before except by the team leader’s (bizarre) standards.

          Reply
      2. Ad Astra

        I guess we don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this lead’s idea of “behind-the-scenes drama” is actually just people working through their own interpersonal problems without pulling unrelated people into it.

        Reply
      3. Mike C.

        I think that’s a fair question to ask, but the approach I’m pointing out works well for functional groups as well, they would just be farther along the process.

        Reply
  8. CV

    We do a weekly meeting, but we frame this sort of thing around “challenges” and “successes” – the focus is on processes that aren’t working, or are working particularly well, or case management stuff around clients (usually as anonymously as possible), rather than… complaining.

    Reply
  9. Chris

    I had a well meaning manager that tried to have a weekly “clear the air” meeting. It very quickly turned into a “why everyone hates _ this week” weekly meeting that led to such drama I ended up tranfering shifts and departments. My take away is you never try to hash personnel issues out in a meeting setting, that conflicts are addressed behind the scenes with only the necessary players. As your lead found out people don’t (typically) react constructively to this model.

    And maybe point out that rather than quelling the conflict/drama, what she is doing is creating a culture that thrives on it. My experience was once these people knew they had a forum for grievances against each, they ran with it. Issues that we could once talk about normally one on one were amplified for an audience.

    Reply
  10. Sassy AAE

    I could never, ever function in a setting like this. In fact, if it was ever suggested to me I’d just be like, “You for real want to have a struggle session in 2015? So. Okay, just so you know it’s a form of literal torture.”

    Reply
    1. Green

      If my work started doing this, the first thing I’d complain about in the Complaining Session is the Complaining Session.

      Reply
  11. map

    One of my teams used to use a brief informal survey to check on the “pulse” of the team – our lead would send the same link every quarter with questions about job satisfaction, training, growth opportunities, team environment, etc. The results of the survey were anonymous. We’d then gather to review the findings as a team and use the time to discuss general trends/areas in which teammates were becoming decreasingly satisfied and to brainstorm on solutions.

    Perhaps a similar approach could be implemented on a monthly or quarterly basis as a more “passive” approach to airing grievances without pitting teammates directly against each other?

    Reply
    1. KA

      Thanks, I think this could fit into what she’s trying to accomplish, but doesn’t have the same potential to be accusatory or personal. I’ll pass this suggestion along to see if she thinks she might like it.

      Reply
  12. Florida

    There is nothing more annoying than someone who turns a problem between two people into a department-wide issue. It sounds like that’s what she is trying to do. If you have a problem with Mary, and you solve it with Mary, that’s the end of it. Why do that whole team need to hear about you and Mary?

    I’ve worked with a bunch of therapists before. So, about half of the office (but not me), would have actually be qualified to lead a group therapy session like the one your leader is proposing. But that’s hot how we dealt with problems because we’re not trying to heal a dysfunctional family. We are just trying to work together effectively. That usually doesn’t require group therapy facilitated by a wanna-be therapist.

    Reply
  13. Ad Astra

    If this lead is concerned about passive-aggressive behavior in the office, she can:
    1. Tell people that (and it sounds like maybe she has)
    2. Make a point of dealing with conflict directly and assertively, and expecting the same from her coworkers

    I can kind of see where she was going with her meeting idea, but the sorts of conflict you run into most often in an office setting require one-on-one discussion, not a regular airing of grievances. And, personally, I prefer my meetings to be more structured than just “Tell me what’s working/not working for you this week.”

    Reply
  14. PrettyPrettyKitty

    “The idea is for us to discuss things that we want to change or work on in the office environment, clients who are difficult or causing problems, things coworkers are doing or not doing that affect our ability to work, etc.”

    I think that this would be fine for a weekly meeting if you left the last thing (problems with coworkers) off that list. At my office we have a weekly meeting that is basically just running through our current projects, and we organically end up discussing things like clients who are difficult, things that would help us if they changed in the office, etc. But the problems with coworkers? Definitely not a staff-meeting-appropriate topic.

    Reply
  15. LBK

    Wow. The team leader has some serious misconceptions about what makes a team functional and what constitutes drama. Dealing with an issue one-on-one with the person it concerns? Functional. Professional. Preferable in almost all circumstances and generally basis of all of AAM’s advice. Setting up a required meeting for people to basically sit and call each other out in front of everyone? Dysfunctional. Dramatic. Unprofessional. Useless in getting anything accomplished but embarrassing people.

    Teammates being too siloed can certainly be a real issue (it is on my team), but the way to fix that isn’t by forcing people to air grievances, even if it’s about problems that might impact other people. Have people make some lists of general things that impact their work that others should be aware of. Do some shadowing and/or cross-training. Create visibility about ongoing work so things can be tackle ad hoc while they actually matter; there’s no way I’d be able to wait until a weekly meeting to check in with my teammates about whether something will impact them or not.

    Much like yesterday’s (s)mothering letter, this may have started from a good place, but it’s gone way down the wrong path.

    Reply
  16. Argh!

    As someone who has worked in both the Midwest and Northeast, I highly recommend Midwesterners act more like Northeasterners. Sitting silently when your opinion is solicited is soul-killing for your coworker (and probably your boss too). How would you like to try to get a bunch of mannequins to open up? Her first example was a poor choice, but the idea is a good one. If you want these meetings to be more positive you could think of something that drives everyone nuts that’s not personal and come prepared to the next meeting.

    My current work environment in the midwest is highly disfunctional due to everyone not wanting to say anything unpleasant in the open. Our meetings are more like lectures, with our boss just telling us what to do & what we think and us (except me!) just nodding our heads. Really good ideas die a silent death that way and really bad ideas go unquestioned for years or decades.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      I’m curious now – what do people say in meetings in the northeast that’s “unpleasant”? Are we talking about actually being rude, or does something like “I disagree with the strategy we’re discussing” qualify? I can only think of one meeting I’ve been in that turned nasty and it was because that person was nasty, not because of any particularly northeastern quality.

      Reply
      1. AnotherHRPro

        The reality is some people can get offended by direct comments that people make (like me, who is from the Northeast). Something as simple as “Bob, I disagree with you. The ABC account is in jeopardy and we need to act quickly to resolve these issues” can be perceived as too aggressive to some.

        Reply
              1. So Very Anonymous

                Yup. My Southern workplace is like this. Lots of backbiting and anger OUTSIDE of meetings, dogged silence IN meetings.

                Reply
        1. MaryMary

          Have you tried throwing a “with all due respect” in there somewhere? People in my office use with all due respect the way southern ladies use bless your heart.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            I hear “with all due respect” as “you haven’t given me a reason to respect you but you outrank me so I have to make it sound like I do”.

            Reply
        2. MashaKasha

          Wow. No, I’m never leaving IT. Apparently it’s my safe haven of directness here in the Midwest. I’d lose my mind too if my coworkers said one thing and meant another! Luckily, never happens. Probably because there isn’t really a nice inoffensive way to say things like “production server is down and we need to get it back up asap”.

          Reply
          1. MashaKasha

            Although, on second thought, when my older son had a summer internship in our area, also as a software developer, he once got written up and reprimanded for saying “this is bad code” about a piece of, well, bad code, written by someone who’d left the company years ago! He was puzzled and so was I.

            This might be an example of what Argh! is talking about. How do you clean up the bad code when no one is allowed to call it bad?

            Reply
      2. Argh!

        Midwesterners consider anything negative “unpleasant.” If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all! So “Can we consider changing the way we do xyz” would be met with an uncomfortable silence.

        Reply
    2. Ad Astra

      This sounds like a company culture problem more than a regional culture problem. If people are as reluctant to speak up as you describe, it’s probably because of a negative experience or an ongoing message that disagreeing is simply Not Done.

      Reply
      1. Charityb

        It could also be an interpersonal style. Personally I like time to collect my thoughts and prepare what I have to say in a structured manner. If I’m asked to speak spontaneously about literally anything that is going on in my work I’d probably stumble and not have much to say compared to if I were asked a specific question about a particular area.

        A good meeting facilitator tries to structure things so that people who prefer more structured meetings and people who prefer more free-flowing meetings can both participate, but a bad facilitator just kind of sits there and expects everyone else to do the work.

        Reply
    3. Jennifer

      But it’s a hugely bad idea to just start complaining to everybody about everything and especially everyone who is bothering you. That is not a “safe space” to do that.

      Reply
  17. Simplytea

    Why can’t this be something along the lines of: what is a problem you’ve been having trouble solving that others can frame differently? It should be about your OWN project, not about other people.

    For instance, if I’m having trouble reaching out to a client, maybe someone else knows their assistant. Or if I’m having trouble writing a new letter, maybe someone already has a template. XYZ.

    Reply
  18. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    I’m having serious deja vu… was there another letter about someone’s boss wanting to set up meetings to air grievances? I hope this isn’t going to be a new trend.

    Reply
    1. MashaKasha

      They’d have to torture me to get me to complain about a coworker, be it to the coworker’s face or 1:1 with the boss. Not happening. It’s a cultural thing. I grew up in a place where people don’t tell on each other. So yeah good luck with that new trend.

      Now if they ask me what I think about the way things are being run, how our work is organized, and what could be improved… ohhhh almost every one of my jobs, I could go on all day. But don’t expect me to name names. Not happening.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        We have so much freaking tattling going on here that I wouldn’t tattle if someone punched me in the face. In front of witnesses.

        Reply
  19. Bostonian

    OP, could you suggest a different, more structured format for the meetings that keeps it focused on the work problems and not the interpersonal stuff? Maybe one of the formats some commenters have offered, where people each talk about what’s been going on in their work, or a review of the week’s priorities or something? Suggesting an improvement might go over better than complaining about how much you don’t like the meetings and think they shouldn’t happen.

    Reply
  20. copperbird

    I’ll share an exercise we have done in the past in team meetings. Everyone gets two blank index cards, which we number 1 and 2.

    On card 1, we wrote a couple of things that we thought people felt our team did well. Then added them to the card 1 pile. On card 2 we each wrote a couple of things that we thought people felt our team did poorly, and added to a similar card 2 pile.

    Then the cards get spread out in two clusters and we wander round and read them, and have a guided discussion around the common factors.

    I think you could easily try something like this and ask people to write about what has been going well or badly. But it is good to let people air the good stuff as well as the bad.

    Reply
      1. KA

        I like this too. It’s in line with what map was suggesting above. I’ll include this in the list of potential options. Thanks!

        Reply
  21. Elizabeth West

    Commenting before I read all the comments, but this seems way too focused on the negative. A weekly gripe session isn’t going to foster a collaborative atmosphere. Maybe that’s something the OP could point out.

    Reply
  22. Artemesia

    Frequent meetings can be a good idea — I know political campaigns where they met twice a day quickly, standing up, so everyone was on the same fast moving page and things could be shaped and coordinated as things rapidly changed. I know PR type firms that have frequent meetings, again focused on action. Frequent meetings that are focused on what is needed to produce outcomes can work and should be modified to fit the tasks and culture — BUT meetings whining about each other are the worst. Interpersonal conflict is the last thing to hash out in a meeting. I hope the OP can give feedback to help this novice focus meetings on the tasks at hand and not the personalities at hand.

    Reply
    1. SL #2

      Some medical clinics do a morning huddle for 10-15 mins before the first patient arrives. We actually have a weekly check-in with our consultant that lasts about 10 mins each time. I agree, there are pros to quick daily or weekly meetings, but they need to have a clear goal and also focus on the outcomes, not on the interpersonal conflicts.

      Reply
  23. Dr. Pepper Addict

    “It’s the airing of grievances! I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”

    It’s a Festivus for the rest of us!

    Reply
  24. LCL

    I don’t get Alison’s response, and some of the others. I have read the letter and Alison’s response several times, and still don’t understand why this is a bad idea. I think it is a fantastic idea, if there are enough things to talk about, and if there is action taken afterwards. Asking everyone to discuss things isn’t grandiose, it is begging for open participation instead of behind the scenes sniping.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer

      Announcing your problems with other people in front of an entire group at work is a terrible idea because hoo boy, is fighting and other nastiness going to break out. That is not a safe space to air your grievances. People are reluctant to say anything openly there for a reason–it makes things worse!

      Reply
    2. Kyrielle

      If it was discussing problems that needed to be group-resolved or group-aware, then it would be a good strategy. For example, “I think the X process is an issue because it is slow and I’m hoping we could speed it up by retooling Y portion of it – maybe in Z way, but are there better ways to do this, or reasons not to?” Or “Client Q is having problems with Z this week, please be aware – I’ve had to use protocols G and H on it. Is there a better way to approach it?”

      But “LCL keeps turning the music louder when I’ve asked for quiet” or other interpersonal problems between two team members, no. Dealing with those in a group when only two people are involved and it shouldn’t be affecting the others is *spreading* the drama, not containing it.

      Reply
    3. MashaKasha

      Behind the scenes sniping and a free-for-all open fight are both bad options. I’d rather not have to choose between the two, because both are pretty horrible for the morale. There’s got to be a third, better way. Like the one Kyrielle proposed below – discussing problems with the overall process or parts of it, but not with other people as OP’s team lead wants to do.

      Reply
  25. KA

    Hi all, thank you so much for your comments. I apologize if the passive aggressive Midwestern thing upset anyone. I was trying to convey the idea that the individuals who make up our office were not raised in, nor are operating in, a culture that likes to address things aggressively or directly, and highly values everyone getting along and being nice. This can be, and in this case is, problematic. I didn’t mean to insult anyone.

    That being said, I would not actually call us a dysfunctional group. I work with kind, smart, thoughtful people who mostly like each other and work together well. Things come up here and there, as with any group of humans trying to work together, but I think we’re a great team and 95% of the time things are good.

    This was an honest and well-meant attempt to 1) try to make things even better, and 2) help facilitate communication between and within employee groups. Our organization is undergoing a lot of changes, has doubled in size recently, and is taking on more tasks in our contract. We’re trying to find our way through this “institutional puberty” the best we can. Our lead is not a wanna-be therapist or wanting to bring one-on-one problems into a public forum, but is a coworker thrust into this weird, quasi-managerial position, by virtue of the fact that she’s been here longer than the rest of us, and she is trying to address the organizational issues we do have.

    Our larger team is made up of primarily two employee types. Group X (my group), who approaches our work from a conceptual/content-focused/big-picture angle, and Group Y, who approaches our work from an administrative/organizing-chaos/efficiency angle. Both groups are needed, and both are good at what they do. For the most part we complement each other and work together well. However, there is a very clear difference between X and Y in what intermediate goals we focus on, and how we approach them. There is also a very clear difference in personality types, which magnifies these other differences and makes them difficult to address.

    In group Y, they have spreadsheets, checklists, and protocols for everything. They take great pride in doing something “right.” In group X, we use rough guidelines and sort of work through things based on what seems best based on the content of the work. We take pride in getting at the real objective of the people we work with, and in doing something “well.” (hopefully the distinction makes sense…both things are good, worthy goals) There is the added difference that individuals in group X are generally much more direct about issues than group Y, but still aren’t really comfortable pursuing discussions about “unpleasant” things if the other side doesn’t engage.

    Given these differences, when group X is upset, group Y feels attacked, and we end up not being able to address issues efficiently. What I believe our lead is really trying to do, is to open up an avenue to address issues caused by these differences. Most of the time things are good, but if they’re not, this is usually the cause of any discord.

    An example of this actually happened very recently. Group Y renamed, consolidated, and moved some folders we all use. Group X knew there were to be some changes, but had not anticipated anything of this magnitude. It’s group Y’s job to manage our files and documents, but group X can’t do their work if they can’t find anything. When group X sent questions to group Y about why the folders were moved/changed, and asked that they move them back and consult with group X before making big changes, we got back something along the lines of, “Under direction from our supervisor, we have moved the folders back to their original location. All staff members were informed that there would be folder changes in the agenda for such-and-such meeting on MMDDYYYY.” No other follow up emails were responded to. The obvious answer is, “communication,” in big gold letters in the sky. The problem though, is that group Y clearly feels they are communicating and group X clearly feels differently.

    This is the kind of thing our lead wants us to be able to talk about and thinks is dysfunctional. But it’s difficult to work out the differences in goals/approaches that are due to personality differences without things becoming personal. Our lead wanted to take this a step back from the specifics of the situation, because she didn’t feel she could use this example without upsetting people, but then it sets up the meeting as this weird, sort of directionless, awkward conversation. It turned out that the item with the other coworker was a bad example that she thought would be innocuous.

    She has revisited the goals of this meeting with our feedback. She explained today that she agrees individual, personal grievances are best dealt with one-on-one, but she wants us to feel able to bring up issues that affect everyone. This week we talked about how our workloads are, if there was anything that we thought would be helpful for us to do our work best, and if we had any specific questions/issues we wanted group input on. So I think we’re on the right track, but the question remains. How do we constructively address differences between groups X and Y if group X feels micromanaged, and group Y feels offended that group X seems ungrateful, but people are unwilling to openly discuss the topic?

    Reply
    1. Cassandra

      You might find some useful techniques to steal from what IT folks call “devops.” The tl;dr version of this is, many organizations split IT into developers who live on the bleeding edge of everything and sysadmins who have to keep mission-essential systems running, and often the twain conflict. Devops helps to bridge that gap.

      Reply
      1. KA

        Thanks! This sounds appropriately analogous. I’ll take a look. I actually have a friend who does Agile development stuff, so I’ll drop him a line. I hadn’t thought to ask him.

        Reply
    2. Not So NewReader

      Great example, thanks for the share!
      In your example of the files that are being shared, why does one group have say and another have no say? I think that somewhere there is a boss that is in charge of both groups and that boss should be guiding any big moves like this. That way it can be coordinated between groups.
      It sounds to me like the problem is not the individuals but rather an upper manager that is too laid back. There are too many people making random decisions and no one is in a position of having a clear overview of what is necessary.
      At this rate one group could decide not to unlock the doors until 9:30 AM and effectively lock the other group out of the building.

      There has to be someone there that has an overview of the whole flow of work, that is the person that should be brought in here. Just my opinion, though.

      Reply
    3. Kira

      Thanks for clarifying, op. I think the airing of personal problems really colored our responses. My nonprofit is working on interdepartmental communication right now. Different from your meeting: we meet weekly but cancel if there aren’t specific agenda items, and the meeting is between the department heads to work on process issues and updates, not the entire teams. Basically, I keep a running list of agenda items, ranging from status checks on ongoing projects to one off requests. The meetings have been in place for a few months, and seem to be working. My team is kind of the team Y in your scenario – we think we’very communicated everything multiple times, and team X is always surprised.

      Reply
    4. Elder Dog

      OP, suggest your lead google “venting study” and read up on what she’s suggesting.
      I remember when this was introduced at a hospital I was working in the late 70s, and within two months seven nurses quit. Mostly the best nurses. There’ve been a lot of studies showing that was not an unusual outcome.

      Reply
    5. Kala

      There’s a meeting idea called a Sprint Retrospective, which is a part of the Agile software methodology — some aspects of it might help provide some structure to the meetings you’re trying to have.

      Basically, at the end of a development cycle, which can vary in length, but is often 2-4 weeks, the whole team has a meeting.

      You put things into 3 categories:
      1) What should we *keep* doing? (I.e., what’s going well?)
      2) What should we *stop* doing? (I.e., what’s not working? what’s failing?)
      3) What should we *start* doing? (I.e., what’s something we could be doing that would improve our processes?)

      Having three questions to answer gives the meeting structure. Additionally, answers to question #1 are a great opportunity to bring up positive stuff about the team, which starts everyone out on a good note before moving on to discussing the problems.

      Reply
    6. LBK

      Honestly, I’m not sure how you get past this problem without pushing people out of their comfort zone. If something as simple as “Where’d you move the folders?” is viewed as an attack and results in a cold, defensive response…I don’t know how you solve that problem productively. That is as straightforward a question as you could ask.

      I think maybe there needs to be some cultural retraining and expectation setting around taking things personally. Someone needs to lay out that people are expected to answer questions asked of them, even if that question is “Can you explain why you’re doing it this way?” and that feels like a challenge. Giving specific examples of how this could’ve avoided further conflict would probably help – as in the folder example, if someone from Group X had asked up front for some info about what the new system would look like, or if Group Y had just done the obvious thing and explained it when Group X asked afterwards.

      Unfortunately, if the supervisor is the one that authorized such a petty response, I don’t know who’s going to enforce this.

      Reply
  26. Stranger than fiction

    Apologies if anyone suggested this already as I’m short on time and didn’t read all comments.
    Op, look into 15-5 employee engagement software. A friend of mine uses this and it basically lets your employees complete a weekly check in type thing with some specific questions about how your morale was this week and why; what’s working and what’s not and things like that. Then your manager can collect the data and act accordingly which may include meeting on certain topics that more than one person brought up, etc

    Reply
  27. Patty

    The problem with her plan is the point at which it asks for personal evaluation of others.

    Talking about problem clients and asking for advice seems like a good idea. Discussing the process itself, great….brainstorming ways to be more efficient and effective, also great.. Status updates and sharing successes, awesome,

    Airing office gripes, nope…

    Reply
  28. BenAdminGeek

    As a new manager I would have thought this was awesome. “We’ll all just get together and hash it out!” Naive BenAdminGeek would have exclaimed to himself as he sent the invite out.

    Jaded BenAdminGeek can see why this would appeal, but regardless of which American subculture folks are in, I just can’t see an airing of grievances working well. I always try to consider how the person on the team least-equipped to handle emotional turmoil will deal with something, as opposed to how I would like it to go.

    Reply
  29. Mr. Mike

    OMG. I worked in a place where the manager did this because he wanted to ‘bring the team together’ and since we didn’t know any better, we started bringing up issues to which the manager would get irate and talk down the person or just yell at us in general. The weekly meeting became known as: You-Suck-a-Thons and it really destroyed morale and made everyone rather paranoid and suspicious. It took eight years, but he finally got fired. Of course, no one that was involved was really there anymore… so I guess it worked out….

    Reply

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