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

Remember the letter-writer whose new team lead proposed weekly meetings where everyone would air concerns and grievances? Here’s the update.

I forwarded the link to our lead and we went through the comments together after a couple of days. We both thought people got really caught up in the idea that it was back-stabbing and tattling, or some sort of power play on her part, when that was not the situation at all. So a lot of the comments were not relevant. But there were a few good ones. In terms of the advice you gave directly, I think we took away the message that the format/content that was initially introduced was not a good idea, but pretty much everything else we did came from a few contributor comments.

Those 2 or 3 people whose comments we really focused on talked about how to structure “loose” meetings around what people wanted to do that they weren’t, what people felt they should keep doing, or things they should change/stop doing. They were very focused on solutions rather than focusing on the problems beyond understanding what we were trying to address. So that’s what we used as a starting point.

The meeting has mostly evolved into everyone who has questions/comments/concerns for the group bringing those with them, and we take turns bringing up our items and discussing them. We put a recap of any important decisions in the notes for a larger meeting agenda so the information can be disseminated to everyone it might affect. If we have individual concerns, we email the lead, and if there are common themes she’s seeing, she’ll bring it up so we can all discuss it. If we’re all sort of quiet when we first get there, our lead starts asking us what good things happened in our week, and as we go around, that usually engenders some sort of conversation. It varies a lot from week to week, but I think it has turned out pretty well.

Our supervisor is really happy with how it has turned out, since some good suggestions and special projects have come out of it, and we’ve identified quite a few instances of people interpreting instructions or policies differently, and have been able to clarify those for everyone. The special projects have resulted in pairing of some unlikely folks, so I think we’re all working across our job descriptions a bit, and learning how to use each others’ strengths in the context of a larger team.

Not everything is perfect, and we still have some passive aggressive things going on with certain employees, but I think we’ve all just come to expect that from them, and take it for what it is. You can’t change who people are. It’s actually kind of funny, if someone does something that is borderline inappropriate and someone is a little offended, they will very dramatically act pretend offended and say, “Ugh, I’m bringing this up at tea time.” Everyone chuckles and the person who said or did the particular thing will look a little sheepish. So it has allowed us to passively address social discomfort/inappropriateness via the euphemism of “tea-time.” I’m glad our lead is a good sport about it, because it’s actually been working to address the problem it was supposed to by cluing people in to how others might be feeling. I know individuals have followed up with each other after a “tea-time warning,” with the offending party asking if the other person was actually upset and why, then apologizing. Sometimes they’ll do it on the spot, sometimes later in person, sometimes via email. Sometimes people are just joking around when they say it, so it lets it remain this way to call someone out, but not really directly, because they might be joking. Often they’re not really offended, just pointing out that what the person said could be offensive, so it keeps awareness up. Occasionally, if a person suspects they may have offended someone, they’ll actually initiate the discussion by asking them somewhat jokingly, “Are you offended? Should we talk about this at tea time?” Maybe not the ideal solution, nor one easy to apply elsewhere, but an organic one that seems to be working in this context. I find it amusing. People are so funny.

Thanks again for taking on our question.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Ann Furthermore

    I think this update should have come yesterday, since it was Festivus (ha). Seems like you’ve all come up with something you can live with, and something that is useful and not a complete waste of time. That’s qualifies as a success in my book!

    Reply
  2. Anonsie

    I’m personally cringing really hard at the idea of a passive-aggressive, pretend to be joking but maybe actually be joking and make the offender guess which it is, sort of non-solution to this. I’ve only ever seen that as a standard practice in workplaces that were highly toxic, and having to play that game every time something may or may not actually be problematic sounds almost worse than the initial issue.

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    1. Fluffernutter

      Yeah I worked for a place like that. I didn’t know what I was doing to piss people off. I would ask if I did something to offend … to be told “No! You’re great! I know you are direct and busy so don’t worry about it!”

      Only later that day I would get a call from my manager about “Cornering” said employee ….

      It was pretty miserable.

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    2. Koko

      I’m actually alarmed that people are saying offensive things so frequently that “tea time” has become stock vocabulary in just two months. In a normal workplace those should be happening so infrequently that you don’t have a standard euphemism for addressing them!

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    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I don’t think it’s bashing commenters, but rather saying “here’s what was and wasn’t helpful” — which I actually like since I enjoy knowing what people took away from the advice. Sometimes, of course, people do that in a defensive way, but it doesn’t read that way to me here.

      (In this case, the outcome isn’t the one I would have chosen — it still seems way too feelings-based to me — but it sounds like the OP’s office is happy with it, and I’m grateful to her for coming back and updating us!)

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    2. jamlady

      I agree with Alison. It doesn’t seem like “bashing” – it seems like feedback for the commenters. A “this worked but that didn’t” kind of thing. Constructive conversation from all sides is probably really helpful for the letter writers – but in the end, they choose one path, and I personally like to know which one ended up being the right one for each given situation.

      Reply
  3. C.

    This situation makes me so uncomfortable. I missed it the first time around, but seeing the follow-up strikes me as really bizarre and still completely out of tune to everything Alyson had initially said.

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  4. Lisa

    Oof, I read this as a pretty positive update and then saw the comments… this isn’t a prescription for every workplace, but as a temporary thing in a place where passive-aggressive behavior has gotten out of hand, if they like it and it’s working for them and people are happier, great. There are some people who have really serious issues with handling direct confrontation, and in some places there are so many you can’t fire all of them. So a process where they can feel safe receiving a criticism by using humor isn’t a bad thing.

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    1. Not So NewReader

      I agree. This group of people may come out ahead of other groups because of their use of humor and their ability to look at their own foibles. It sounds like a good update to me, considering this is a group of people that had pretty much shut down entirely.

      I think that it is interesting what types of comments OP found helpful. Sometimes the comments digress and then the digressions have their very own digressions. It happens when people basically enjoy talking with each other get together. My pastor has a similar problem when he tries to start service on Sunday, people just keep finding things to talk about.

      Reply
  5. Argh!

    I like the round-robin idea. That gets things out in an equal fashion, giving everyone a chance to hear from the introverts who may have great ideas but don’t generally speak up. I’m glad you came to a workable solution.

    Reply
  6. Maggeleh

    I am actually very pleased with this update. Of course, I’m a therapist, which may be skewing my interpretation of the usefulness of feelings talk (this actually sounds an awful lot like group therapy to me), but it sounds like the brainstorming that’s happening is improving their productivity, along with the clarification of work goals and ideas and the raising of awareness. These seem like all good things in the OP’s work environment (while fully recognizing it takes a special kind of environment for this to work).

    Reply

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