my manager delegates to the group rather than to a person

A reader writes:

I want to know: Is this weird? Is this a reasonable management style?

My manager has taken to emailing several of us at once, asking that one of us decide to do a task/project and let her know. I’ve had previous managers do this verbally when we are all in the room or for minor tasks, but my current manager is doing this for big tasks and sometimes when we’re not even all in the office. We’re all feeling overloaded at the moment, so it’s not as if any of us are grasping for new things to do.

Last week, something fell through the cracks because no one took her up on the email, and she was quite upset with all of us. Is it the individual responsibility of each of us to make sure everything she has emailed to all of us is getting addressed? Isn’t she abrogating her responsibility for actually delegating work and making sure our workloads are fair? I’ve definitely noticed some people working overtime that didn’t used to because they feel compelled to volunteer if they can see no one else is, even when they are overloaded.

Yeah, your manager is dropping the ball here.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with saying “hey, who has time to take this on?” rather than just assigning it to someone. But if she’s asking for volunteers, then until someone volunteers and becomes the owner of that item, responsibility for it continues to live with her — responsibility to track and follow up on it, or assign it to someone, or otherwise ensure it gets done.

It’s not your job to track every group-request that goes out to ensure that someone claims it. If she wants someone other than her to be responsible for that, she needs to promote someone into a team lead or similar position.

She has lots of other options here: She could keep doing what she’s doing, but assign it to someone specific if it’s not claimed by the end of the day. Or if you all have similar workloads most of the time, she could have a rotation for how she assigns this stuff. Or if she knows enough about each person’s workload at any given time, she could assign it to whoever makes the most sense. Or she could ask a specific person, “Do you have time to do X and finish it by tomorrow without disrupting anything else you’re working on?”

Lots of options, and you could suggest that she try one of them.

But the group call for volunteers with no follow-up until it’s caused a problem that the thing remained undone … is not the way to go.

{ 108 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius

    This is a horrible thing to admit, but it’s the truth. I have had incompetent bosses manage like this, and I really liked it because…

    I got to pick and choose whatever projects I wanted to do vs. the boring stuff that needed to be done. If something came up I didn’t like, I wouldn’t volunteer. If something fell through, I had zero responsibility or ownership. I never felt bad if the entire group got in trouble.

    I’m not paid extra and promoted to make these decisions. The boss is. I’m not doing the boss’s job. (I do that enough now but that’s another story.) The upside is it worked out great for me!

    Reply
    1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

      I did this a couple of times before feeling really guilty! Great that it works for you though- making lemonade, etc

      Reply
    2. Anonymous Educator

      But there is a difference between “Any volunteers?… Oh, great. You’ve got it” and “Any volunteers?… … …” and then just assuming someone’s got it.

      Reply
      1. Kenny

        I have a done this a few times in the past. My main reason is that I am searching/looking for that motivated person who carries initiative to take on a new project while adhering to any projects they currently handle. I am tired of seeing employees of past that have the mentality of no teamwork and only do what is in their job description. (Looking for the go-getter so to speak)

        To me, it is kind of a screening process on an employees progression up the ladder. This will better define my reason to put a particular individual in a position of more responsibility, stress, and management said person will eventually oversee. The person(s) I place in lead roles will not carry attitudes of complacent tendencies.

        Reply
  2. Adlib

    This is a terrible way to “manage”. I haven’t experienced this before, but a friend of mine I used to work with told me to just email him or one of his team members directly but not all of them for this very reason. Nobody is really going to jump at extra work if there are other people on that email.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      The first time I managed a team of RAs in college, it was really difficult for me to delegate and let go of tasks (something my manager kept pushing me to work on). It sounds like this manager has the exact opposite problem – “not my responsibility, here you go team! You figure out who gets to do it!” That’s the laziest form of managing, if it can even be considered managing at all.

      Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        She is, in other ways, a terrible people manager. This was just an example that I wasn’t sure if it really was bad management or if it was just something that annoyed me personally

        Reply
    2. Gen

      Honestly I would because I find it physically uncomfortable to see tasks going undone, like I can’t stand a long silence when asked ‘any questions?’ so I ask stuff even if I don’t really care. Of course coworkers realise this and leave stuff because I do it, which has caused chaos when I’ve out sick etc. It’s a bad habit that I’m trying to work on but in a management situation like this i’d really struggle to let things slide and end up burning out. And it sounds like some people at OPs firm are doing the same

      Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        A coworker and I are a bit like this; we were always volunteering when we could see no one else was, but we just got so overloaded that we realised we just couldn’t anymore.

        Reply
        1. DDJ

          And I’m guessing that there are people who never volunteer. And the ones who won’t do something if it’s not “their job” specifically (even though it could fall under their responsibilities). I’m definitely the type to volunteer if I can manage it, but there are just some people who will never, ever go the extra mile.

          Reply
    3. Jadelyn

      We had I.T. close down our “general HR group” email address for this exact reason. If an employee sent something to “HR@[company].com” and we all got it, nobody knew who was going to address it. Sometimes it meant things went unaddressed because we all expected someone else to get it, sometimes employees would get three or four separate replies within 5 minutes of each other because we all jumped on it. It was confusing and chaotic and now we distribute info about who to contact with each issue, with the caveat that if their email winds up going to the wrong person we’ll forward it on to the right person for them. It’s much more efficient that way.

      Reply
      1. zora

        We had a group email address in a previous job, but it was successful because we replied-all when we responded. So, when you had time to respond to requests, you filed/deleted any responses with the original request, and only answered ones that didn’t have a response yet.

        Also, we had a very short response timeline, under 2 hours, so you would clear a block of emails at a time, and we never had any problems with lost requests.

        Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        The other way to handle a general email group is to have one person whose job it is to read the emails, and then forward/reply to assign the issue to whoever is the right person, therefore specifically and effectively delegating it (and informing the “client” who the follow-up contact person is, so the client can chase her own project/answer).

        Reply
        1. TootsNYC

          My team has a group email, and we also do a reply-all to claim the question/project. And since I’m the Big Cheese, I watch to be sure it’s been claimed, or I assign it, etc.

          So, the group self-assigns, but the manager keeps track and follows up.

          Reply
  3. Ramona Flowers

    This sounds so frustrating. It’s actually a pet hate of mine when people do this and don’t follow up. Commiserations.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      Also, if you are overloaded it can be an idea to ask your manager what she wants you to prioritise.

      Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        She has told us what she wants us to prioritise, but then she keeps giving us extra urgent things to do and we can’t prioritise the important things because we have to do the urgent things. Several of us have spoken to her about this and got nowhere.

        Reply
        1. designbot

          I’d email back when she has one of these requests then and say something like “I could jump on this but it would mean putting off X. Is that what you’d like me to do?” That forces her hand to say yes she’ll accept X later than previously indicated or no you don’t have to do this task. It’s the professional version of “not it!”

          Reply
          1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

            I think she would just expect us to manage both- she has no concept of how time works. I think it doesn’t help that she works an extra 15+ hrs every week and doesn’t report it so she has a limited sense of what is reasonable to get done in a day/week

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              I often work extra hours, and this is one of my fears–that I’ll lose my sense of how much can get done in a normal day.

              Reply
  4. Hills to Die on

    I had a manager like this and everyone would fight over the ‘good’ tasks and ignore the ‘bad’ ones to elevate their visibility in the department in the company. It sucked.

    Reply
  5. DecorativeCacti

    There’s a reason they teach you in first aid to say, “You, call 911,” and not, “Someone call 911.”

    Reply
    1. LadyKelvin

      This is also why my husband and I have a chore list. Instead of “someone” (me) needs to sweep the floors, its Lord Kelvin’s job to sweep the floors and my job to mop them.

      Reply
    2. Lemon Zinger

      Great point! I was a lifeguard when I was young and this was an integral part of emergency training. Assign specific people specific tasks so that they’ll actually get done.

      Reply
    3. seejay

      This is why partner actively takes it upon himself to be the one to *just call 911* when he sees an accident or emergency happen because he doesn’t trust that someone will do “You call 911” and that everyone else will assume someone else will do it.

      But you can’t assume someone else will do this in a work environment. People are going to avoid the stuff they don’t like and it won’t get done.

      Reply
      1. George Willard

        The context for this is that the person announcing “you, call 911” is performing CPR, and therefore needs to delegate the calling to someone else if others are around. You learn this in a CPR class.

        Reply
      1. Courtney W

        In my social psych class this semester the professor asked if any of us had ever heard his term. After a long silence I told him we were all just trying to model it for him by waiting for someone else to answer the question. He at least pretended to think that was funny, but yeah…not such a great thing in real life, and definitely not in the workplace! I don’t really understand why someone applies for management if they don’t want to make decisions.

        Reply
  6. FlibertyG

    My boss does something similar by saying “we” need to do something. Usually by WE he means me, but sometimes it’s either up for debate or he is going to do it. I don’t always hear WE as an assignment and we’ve flubbed on this before. I have told him, when it comes to doing something, there is no WE, there’s you or there’s me – but he still does it.

    Reply
    1. k.k

      Oh man do I hear this. When I first started working for this person, I took this to mean that I should do something. I’d spend a bunch of time working on it, only for boss to come back later and tell me all about how they just finished the project/are working on it. So all my work was for nothing. So then when “we” was said, I stopped taking action. Of course these were the rare occasions where I was supposed to do something.

      Reply
    2. Turquoise Cow

      My old boss used to do this. We had a joke that he was using it like the Royal We.

      It got super frustrating when he and others started saying “We” when it was stuff they wanted Me to do, but “I” when it was stuff I had done, but they wanted to take credit for.

      Reply
    3. Amber T

      Ugh my boss does this now. 99% of the time, he says “we” but means “you.” I’ve taken to clarifying with him when necessary – “Are you handling X or am I?” “You want me to follow up with Fergus on Y?” He’s slowly grasping that I need more direct orders than “we need to do this,” and I’m learning what he expects of me and his language styles. We’re working on it!

      Reply
    4. bleh

      I had a boss exactly like this. She was terrible in many ways, but she did this constantly and I eventually just replied, “okay great, are you going to do that or should I?” every single time she did it until she would commit to an answer.

      Reply
  7. Allergist

    Ugh. My worst manager of all time did this. It was really really frustrating!

    I amassuming that this managersucks in other ways. Personally I would look to transfer internally asap.

    Reply
  8. Delta Delta

    This is frustrating. It’ll cause some people to jump and pounce on every assignment if they want to curry favor with the boss. Or if someone has time and can do something and volunteers it may irritate a co-worker who normally does that particular kind of task. Or nobody volunteers because everyone is waiting for someone else to jump first. Not effective.

    Reply
    1. Antilles

      Eh, I don’t think the strategy itself is really that bad. The simple ask of who can fit in time in their schedule is often a very good way to handle things – it can pseudo-balance out the workload, it helps when the manager doesn’t entirely know every detail of every employee’s project, etc.
      The problem just stems from the fact that OP’s manager isn’t following up. If you don’t hear a response within a reasonable timeframe, then you need to shift strategy and start asking people individually.

      Reply
      1. JulieBulie

        Right. My boss will tell us what’s coming, and we’ll talk it over among ourselves and figure out who wants/will do what. The next day, he asks us who’s doing what. After that, he follows up with each of us on our projects.

        It sounds as though OP’s manager is just putting things out there and then being surprised when they don’t get done. That’s… I was going to say that it’s lazy, but it’s more like negligence. This company doesn’t need a “manager” to do that. A random number generator would do a better job of assigning work.

        Reply
        1. JulieBulie

          My point (which fell by the wayside) was that this is about followup, as you said… but then I derailed myself over the fact that, since she can’t be bothered to follow up, she should at least make specific people responsible for each task.

          Reply
          1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

            Haha- I love it- I am definitely sharing that with my colleagues, re: random number generator :)

            Reply
      2. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        It’s also that we all have too much on our plates already so if we take on more work, we’re committing to either working extra hours or stopping/postponing something else that we have to do.

        Reply
  9. Chicken Fishing

    This is frustrating. I had a boss like this and I’ve found one thing that helps (at least for you individually) is to always respond even if you aren’t volunteering. Just saying “Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately I won’t have time to take this on this week as I’ll be focused on X and Y.” Then you have at least communicated that you won’t be able to do it which usually absolves you a little from the anger if something slips through the cracks. Of course sometimes your boss may respond with “Don’t worry about X and Y, I’d rather you focus on this” and then it becomes your responsibility.

    Reply
    1. LS

      This is what I was going to suggest. It’s better to give a definite response than to ignore it and hope it goes away. And you’ll have made it clear to your manager that you are not picking it up.

      Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        Thanks – I’ll share this idea with the team. I’m not sure what happens if everyone says they are too busy, but that’s also the manager’s problem, not mine.

        Reply
    2. The Rat-Catcher

      I came here to say this. And it has worked out sometimes as you said, where my manager has said “we can put off Y.” Usually though, it falls to someone else to do as I have a pretty good idea of what to prioritize when, and so if I could have put off another task to volunteer for the current one, I would have already done that.

      Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Something like this: “It seems like some projects are falling through the cracks with our current system, since there are times when no one volunteers. I think it’s especially tough right now when we’re all so busy, because people are less inclined to volunteer to take on something new when they see others are being asked as well. Can we try a different system — maybe a rotation system, or you just assigning things based on your knowledge of who has the capacity to take it on, or checking with individual people rather than sending it to the group where it’s easier for it to get ignored?”

      Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        At this point (because I have resigned due to other bad management issues), these words are for 1) advice to my remaining colleagues and 2) potential input to an exit interview discussion/form.
        I will definitely suggest it – I think the ‘assigning things based on current workload and skills’ (because we are not all generic) is the direction I’ll go, but she doesn’t really recognise/acknowledge people’s workloads.

        Reply
  10. Anon Anon

    I don’t think this is a bad way to do things for a select group of projects that are more desirable. Basically, the stuff that people want to jump on versus ignore. But, even then there needs to be a specific time frame indicated to respond, an indication that the task will be assigned, and the manager needs to have a working knowledge of what each of her reports is working on.

    Basically, I think it can work well if it’s used strategically and in a limited fashion. And for the OP it sounds like the manager is being lazy. Because it takes time working out which of your reports is best suited and has the time to work on a particular project, especially if you are assigning work very regularly.

    Reply
  11. CMDRBNA

    My soon-to-be-former (yay!) manager does this as well – she’s pathologically afraid of confrontation and direct communication, so she’ll do things like send an email with 8 people cc’d on it that says “We need to move forward with this” or something similar.

    No one knows who the “we” is, so usually nothing ends up happening.

    Reply
  12. LawBee

    I actually do this, but I have a very small team – three people. It works for us, but I can see how it would be a disaster in the making for any team much larger. And I do assign specific tasks to certain people when it’s warranted.

    Reply
    1. Be the Change

      Us too. We’re a little larger but we have plenty of good communication and then if something really does need to be assigned, I will say directly who I think should have it.

      Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        I also think maybe it would be ok if we had less going on, although in a larger team, you could still get people only choosing the fun stuff and leaving the boring stuff to whoever feels the most guilt.

        Reply
  13. Paige Turner

    In response to OP’s question, “Is this weird?”- I work with developers who are on a scrum team, and this is similar to the way that they work- the group decides in advance on a set of tasks to be completed in a set period of time, and then everyone on the team picks tasks to complete on their own. It’s frowned upon for the scrum master (team lead-type role) to assign work to individual employees. Maybe the boss here is used to working under that kind of system, but isn’t doing a good job implementing a scrum environment. I’m not an expert on scrum, but it’s my understanding that a lot of people try to partially implement scrum practices, or implement them poorly, to generally bad results.
    Anyway, even though it’s possible to have a functioning system where the boss doesn’t directly delegate work, it’s obviously not working for OP’s team now, so hopefully they can bring their concerns to the manager and implement a better system.

    Reply
    1. LS

      The difference here is that the team decides together how much work to pull in for that time period, and then they decide amongst themselves who will do what. (At least that’s how it works in our team.) So it’s work that’s already in for that sprint, not extra stuff that’s being dropped on them from above. That said, I think this is a great example of how letting the team allocate tasks can work really well in the right environments!

      Reply
    2. SusanIvanova

      Another part of it is to have a task tracking system – some tasks go directly to the person best suited to handle it, others go into an “up for grabs” stack, either because everyone could do it or the expert is overloaded. You’re expected to go through that list and pull things from it into your list. Maybe Wakeem could do it in an hour, but he doesn’t have any free hours, and you’ve got a day you can devote to figuring it out or at least getting it down to where Wakeem just needs a few minutes to finish it.

      Reply
    3. Student

      The problem with this, beyond being an ineffective way to get things done, is that it can create huge, unmerited gaps in how work is allocated. Some people take the fun bits and leave everyone else with the less-fun bits. Some people do a high-quality job, others do a bad job and need their team to clean up after them constantly. It’s all obscured so managers aren’t aware of what’s really going on, and then managers reward people who did flashy bits or exploited metrics the most ruthlessly, even if they didn’t bring the most value to the piece.

      Reply
  14. ZoyaTheDestroya

    Am I the only one who had never heard the word “abrogating” before? Adding it to my vocabulary!

    Reply
  15. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    My grand boss does this when my boss is out. He just group emails all of us designers with something vague — “I need an ad by 4:00 p.m.” — and then goes radio silent and won’t respond to follow up questions.

    Reminds me of this:

    “This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.
    There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.
    Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.
    Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.
    Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.
    It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”

    Reply
    1. Daisygrrl

      Hah, the admin at my old office put this up in the office kitchen when we were having trouble getting people to clean up after themselves.
      Shockingly, it didn’t work.

      Reply
  16. Naruto

    Oh god, I hate this. A few weeks later: “What’s the status of this?” or “Why hasn’t it gotten done?”

    Um, because you never assigned it to anyone and no one volunteered to take responsibility for it?

    Reply
  17. JAM

    In my office we have multiple assistants reporting to multiple bosses and they do forward every project to the queue. But what we also have is one generic email that forwards to everyone on the team, a team lead who makes the decision how to delegate when needed, and a log system that lets everyone see which projects have been taken and what’s outstanding, deadlines, and all information from the original request. Request comes in, team lead adds to queue and delegates unless claimed based on work level. Team lead is responsible for status checks and assisting to meet deadlines and makes a bit more money than the rest of the team during the time they are the leader. There’s no way this system would work without those checks and balances and a ho hum boss.

    Reply
    1. Stranger than fiction

      This sounds awesome. I assume there’s more than one tem lead, though, in case one is out of the office?

      Reply
  18. Machiamellie

    There’s plenty of free software out there for project management. Trello is one of them. Perhaps suggest it to your boss in order to streamline the process and so everyone knows what’s on everyone’s plate?

    Reply
    1. DecorativeCacti

      We use Asana. You still have to have someone (the manager) who will take the responsibility of managing (like a manager) who is assigned what tasks. It would be easier for someone (the manager) to see if a task is still unclaimed and then assign it.

      Reply
  19. Not So NewReader

    Ugh. Management is not for the faint of heart. A boss has to be able to say, “Bob, please work on X and, Sue, please work on Y.” Maybe that should be a test question for interviewing potential managers. “Show me how you would instruct someone to work on a particular task.”

    I don’t understand why the boss is surprised with the results she is getting with her management technique so far. It’s fairly predictable that some things will get done and some things will not.
    I told one boss “With our group here if you ask for someone to do a particular task, everyone assumes that you mean someone else not them. And, of course, no one is going to check around to make sure all tasks are taken as people will accuse them of trying to act like a boss. Unfortunately unless you link a name to a task it’s may not get done.” Then I went on to explain that this happens because some feel they are too busy, some do not know how to do the task and some are waiting for others to do it.

    The boss reluctantly agreed to directly give tasks to people out of the sheer fear that stuff would not get done. I don’t think she ever understood that it was her job to do this.

    Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        I should have left like you did. You made the wiser choice. That is because even once you clear up this issue, you still have ten more issues of the same size right behind it. Instead of doing real work, you end up doing all this remedial stuff. It makes the job too hard.

        Some work problems are the tip of the iceberg. And this here is one of those tip of the iceberg problems. It is happening because it’s allowed to happen. Older and wiser (sigh), I would encourage people to move on if they can. We can’t make the boss stop being afraid of their job.
        Congrats on your new job. I hope this is a much better place for you.

        Reply
        1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

          No new job yet, but hopefully something soon! I am just lucky to have savings so I can make this choice for my mental wellbeing. Hard for other people who can’t quit without the next job secured :(

          Reply
    1. zora

      Yeah, this exactly is why the boss gets paid more than their reports (usually). Suck it up and do the managing. Rawr.

      Reply
      1. DDJ

        I’ve actually seen a huge shift in my own manager. She used to be the type who would assign something to a group, expecting that someone would take the initiative to get it done. More recently, I’ve heard her being more directive (particularly with folks who will never do anything more than the bare minimum). One of the first times she assigned a task to someone like that, after getting the push-back, I was shocked when she responded “I’m not asking if you could do this, I’m telling you that you need to do this.” I was actually (weirdly?) proud of her.

        And since that time, I’ve definitely noticed a shift in the dynamic where there are times she’s much more directive and times when she leaves things up in the air a little more. Of course, she DOES regularly follow up to make sure things are getting done.

        Reply
  20. Stranger than fiction

    The problem I’ve experienced with this is someone will say “i got it” and maybe they don’t reply all or another team member doesn’t see their reply and responds to the first email “i got it”…and it becomes a cluster where you’re not really sure who did indeed get it.

    Reply
    1. Sunshine on a cloudy day

      Story of my last dept. I spent more time running around trying to figure out who was working on what and tracking down the status of missed projects from other departments than doing actual work at my last job. It was a nightmare.

      The other funny thing – whenever I describe my old dept to people in the industry they think the team was very large for the size of the firm. And it was… Because they worked in such chaos. Everyone felt overwhelmed but half the time work was being duplicated or things requested with plenty of time became all hands on deck fires (then pushing other projects back and turning them into fires) because the group was so disorganized. With a bit of organization and project management the team could have been cut back by 20%. The head of the dept was a partner and very charasmatic so was able to get the budget he needed.

      Reply
  21. Kelly

    Our director does this in our daily huddles EXCEPT one of us either takes it on then and there or she assigns it. I like the flexibility in her method. I don’t feel pressured to take everything on, and I know what others are working on so there’s less duplication of effort (which is my hugest pet peeve)
    Kelly

    Reply
    1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

      I think if it was in a group meeting, it would be fine because the assignation happens right there!
      We used to have daily huddles before this manager..

      Reply
    2. Sutemi

      If you don’t have daily meetings, a whiteboard/project board/ticketing system can also work. The bottom line is you need to have transparency of who is doing what projects, in what timeframes, and what projects do not have anyone assigned.

      Reply
  22. blatantlybianca

    I have had to “manage up” an instance like this. The root cause was an overloaded manager who simply didn’t know how to track who was doing what and did what your manager is doing. I implemented an Excel file on a shared drive and set the expectation within the team that we’d add our ongoing and expected projects/tasks so our manager could see who had resource availability/limitations. Once we’d all entered our info, we shared it with our manager and outlined expectations of how she could use it going forward to mitigate the not knowing.

    On my current team our manager has implemented Asana, an online project management tool that lets you get super granular on tasks within a given project.

    Reply
      1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

        Although now I realise we used to have this (the team work plan) and she stopped it when she came. Funny how you forget these things!

        Reply
  23. Denise

    My manager does this, but there are only two of us in the team so co-ordinating hasn’t been too much of an issue so far. I’m fairly new here though so I’m not sure whether it’s something that’s sustainable long-term. I’d very much rather if he’d just assign tasks specifically.

    Reply
  24. Quilter

    I left a job because of this reason. We had a small team so maybe it made sense to the manager to just let us decide among ourselves, but the problem was that that way of doing things benefits individuals who will put their own needs first and foremost. There were individuals on my team who jumped on the plumb assignments and stayed mum on the undesirable tasks. As someone who cared about the success of the team and making sure nothing got dropped, all that meant was that I was always doing the tedious tasks. It’s a good way to lose good employees.

    Reply
  25. TootsNYC

    If the OP can’t persuade any change, then she can look out for herself.

    And just make sure to always respond, even if it’s “I won’t have time to do this one.”

    She can give reasons, or offer herself as an option (“I won’t be able to do it. But if no one else can, I could maybe help if you’re willing for the Llama Project to wait. I’ll assume not unless I hear from you.”)

    Reply
    1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

      I have looked out for myself by resigning! (although I hadn’t yet when I sent the letter)
      Now I’m trying to look out for the people I’m leaving behind especially since I’ve heard they’re going to wait a few months to replace me.

      Reply
  26. nnn

    Until such time (if any) as the situation changes, if OP wants to help make sure things don’t fall through the cracks while operating within the scope of her own job, she could do so by setting the precedent of replying all even when not able to unconditionally accept the task.

    For example, if the manager says “Someone needs to do this for the end of the day” and OP replies with “Sorry, I’m absolutely slammed for the rest of the day and can’t possibly take on anything new unless someone takes something off my plate,” that puts the ball in everyone else’s court. Everyone else will probably see that the ball is in their court and also reply with whether they can or can’t take the assignment. And if no one can you can go back to the manager asking what should be reprioritized.

    If you’re worried about it looking bad to that you’re jumping to decline work, answering with nuance can help. “I can if absolutely necessary, but I don’t have time to give it all the attention that it merits so if someone else has more leeway they should take it,” or “I can do it in overtime, but not during regular time”, or “I’m working on the teapot report, but I could do it if someone takes the teapot report off my hands”. Then you come across as trying to solve the problem rather than as just refusing work.

    Reply
  27. Rookie Manager

    Confession time: I kinda tried this on Monday at the team meeting. It was ridiculously unsuccessful and will go in the ‘things to avoid’ pile for future.

    Reply
    1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

      Some people have suggested how it can work, but I think the conditions have to be right (people aren’t overly busy, you as the manager still hold responsibility for it being assigned if no one volunteers)

      Reply
  28. The Pretty One

    OK so I will admit that I do this. Partly so people feel some ownership and control over their workday. My normal style is to do a general call-out. If no one takes it, I assign it fairly quickly- within a day or two. If something falls through the cracks, I take the blame.

    Reply
    1. CM

      I think this is the best way to handle it as a manager. I don’t mind just being assigned work, but it would be nice if I had some choice about what projects I worked on.

      Reply
  29. bridget (better screen name to follow)

    I have a partner who does this to a group of associates and it drives me *nuts*. It’s particularly awful when the email comes in at 9 p.m. with a “this is an emergency and needs to get done by midnight.” Because then everybody stalls for a bit hoping anybody else will come forward, and whoever ultimately gets stuck with it has even less time to finish it.

    Reply
  30. oranges & lemons

    Our team does this for smaller projects and it does sometimes feel like a work-themed game of chicken–there are definitely some people who get away with doing less by never volunteering. Personally I often respond by messaging the group with what I’d have to put off to get it done and my manager will ask someone else to do it if my thing is more important.

    Reply
  31. Anonymous Educator

    We’re all feeling overloaded at the moment, so it’s not as if any of us are grasping for new things to do.

    If people are feeling overloaded, that is definitely not the time to ask “Anyone want to do this?” People will volunteer if they feel they have room on their plates.

    Reply
  32. LizM

    Our office is trained in Emergency Response, and this is something they teach – if you’re given a task or you identify a need, you are responsible for it until you’ve passed it off to a specific individual and they’ve confirmed that they understand the task and are capable of completing it.

    It’s seeped into our everyday, non-emergency projects, and I find it kind of annoying sometimes but still really helpful.

    My husband hates it because now that I’m in the habit of doing it at work, I also do it when we’re making plans and divvying up parenting tasks with our toddler.

    Reply
  33. EvilQueenRegina

    We have a shared mailbox where I work and although what comes into that is possibly more minor than OP is describing, the system our manager implemented is that we work through it in date order, whatever came in first should be actioned first unless something is legitimately time sensitive. Is that feasible for any of your incoming work? Usually we are meant to allocate ourselves to things but our manager will do so if there’s a particular reason to, and will intervene if it looks like something is slipping through the cracks..

    My one coworker has been told off now for trying to allocate work to the rest of us when she has no authority to, and isn’t happy about it.

    Reply
  34. Marisol

    This sucks OP, and I hear you when you say you all have enough on your plate already. HOWEVER, this also may present you with an opportunity that you might consider capitalizing on. If you want to appoint yourself the ringleader, the one who takes the initiative to check in with folks about what assignments to take, not necessarily do the assignments but just help coordinate them, then you will be creating a sort of de facto authority over your peers as well as a natural liaison with your boss, which over time could, depending on how your company is structured, lead to a promotion or greater responsibility. The strategy is not without its pitfalls, as there is also a chance you could become resented by your peers, or become the group mother who does gruntwork while others get to work on the good assignments. So it may or may not be worth doing, but given the facts you have presented, it seems to me like it might be worth considering.

    Reply
    1. The OP (Cascading Carrots)

      Definitely not interested in doing that – it’s not the way my org works that that technique would get me anywhere :)

      I already have the de facto authority because I used to manage the team but I don’t get benefits from it- just more work/responsibility

      Reply
  35. RB

    I like this manager’s approach. I’m going to implement it in all aspects of my life. I currently have a to-do list for household chores, one for yard chores, and one for errands. I will now begin accepting volunteers. Anyone?

    Reply
  36. babblemouth

    I had a manager who did this from time to time and it was maddening. One time in particular, he was asking for a volunteer to handle a project that was time-bound to happen in the following week-end. He asked the group, and no one volunteered. We all had existing commitments that we didn’t want to break. He ranted at us that he expected his team to be more pro-active, and if we wanted to be seen as leaders deserving of promotions, we should be happy to take charge…

    It was horrible.

    I would have felt very guilty, except my existing commitment was a week-end away with my boyfriend, which I had specifically blocked to make up for a bunch of other times I’d had to drop plans with him so I could work.

    Reply
  37. LSP

    As a project manager leading teams of people for several contracts, anything that doesn’t get done is MY responsibility, so I’d better assign it to someone in particular, give them a firm deadline, and follow up with them. That’s pretty standard stuff. If your manager is just throwing assignments out into the void and blaming her team for not getting it done, she is a bad manager. She is failing to do a very basic piece of her job, especially since she a) didn’t actually assign the work to be done, and b) obviously didn’t follow up with the team to find out who was doing it until it was too late.

    Reply
  38. Greg

    Done properly this is an excellent way of organizing a team (though that doesn’t sound like what is happening here) and is a common way of delegating task in many high-performing organizations. If deploying self-organizing teams, the teams are self-managing around particular streams of work. The is particularly useful around complex adaptive systems. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_adaptive_system

    This is also a common pattern as organization move to servant leadership. The team knows how to do the work and how best to distribute it. The manager is there, not to micro-manage or delegate but to support the team and create and environment for them to be successful. The team owns and does the work.

    In both cases, there is a lot of structure and discipline to make it work. The team members would certainly know what is going on and be part of making it happen. Neither of those seems to be the case here.

    Responding because most of the comments seem to be dumping on the overall concept whereas when executed well, is, I believe, a better way of distributing complex work.

    Reply

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