should I be concerned that my two employees do all their work together?

A reader writes:

I have two direct reports who have the same job title and, after some shifting of job duties, the same duties for the most part, they just cover different areas. One has the east region and one the west. (No travel, just assigned clients that way.) And then of course there are a lot of non-region specific duties that they share as well, taking turns doing them. Or so I thought. It looks like they are working together more than I realized. This made sense when West was new and East was handling a lot of their training. But I assumed that as time went on they would handle more of their duties separately.

To be fair, there are things where two people can be helpful, like some difficult phone calls, etc. But you don’t need two people on every call. You don’t need two people to simultaneously create the meeting materials for every meeting. In my opinion, them constantly working together isn’t the most efficient use of time.

Should I be concerned about them working together so frequently like their job is a group project? To cut off any speculation, I have no fears or concerns about a romantic relationship. I’m just really questioning is this a topic where I can say, “I want you to work on these tasks on your own, so that East can work on their tasks alone.” Or is it too micromanager? I HATE group projects and work, though I love group planning and idea bouncing, so I can’t decide if this is a case of my personal preference or not. Maybe it’s just something I let ride and evaluate if it’s working better than I expected in a couple of months?

I think I’m focusing on it because it’s coming up tangentially in a few different ways. Like East has served as the chair of a company-wide committee that does things like raise money for Jeans Friday, etc. and now they’ve pulled West in too. The problem being, they didn’t tell me, and they recently spent an entire morning planning upcoming committee items. This obviously needs to be addressed and will be, but I think I’m having a hard time separating whether it’s the actual working together that’s an issue or if it’s HOW they are working together that’s an issue.

I’d be concerned about this for two reasons: First, as you point out, it sounds like it’s not a good use of time; some of these projects don’t require the time and attention of two people.

Second, you won’t be able to evaluate their work individually if they’re doing everything together, and you won’t know if one of them is pulling a lot more weight than the other (and not getting enough credit for their work) or if there are weaknesses in one than you need to be aware of.

There are some things you can do to combat that, like assigning each of them an individual project and making it clear you don’t want them to collaborate on it. You can be transparent about why; it’s okay to say, “I want to get a better sense of how you’re each approaching X and where you might need support from me.”

But the most important thing is to ask each of them why they prefer to work this way. It’s possible that there’s more to it than you realize, like that East is great at X and West is great at Y and collaborating lets both of them produce work that would be stronger than what they’d produce on their own. Or there might be nothing like that. But ask and get more information before you decide anything.

Crucially, though, have those conversations with them individually. It’s possible that one loves the arrangement while the other feels burdened by it, and you’re more likely to find that out if you talk with them separately.

If you don’t hear anything in those conversations that puts your concerns to rest, then it’s reasonable to say, “It’s great that you collaborate and bounce ideas off each other, but not everything you’re assigned should be a collaboration and we’re losing some efficiency by having two people on every call or doing ___ (fill in with specifics). It’s fine to work on things like XYZ together, but projects like A, B, and C are individual projects that you should be managing on your own.”

{ 141 comments… read them below }

  1. Calliope*

    I get that in theory it isn’t the most efficient to have two people work on most of this stuff . . . but I didn’t see in the letter that work isn’t getting done as quickly and efficiently as it should be. So maybe in the case of these two people they have actually worked out efficiencies among themselves.

    I’m also not convinced by the “but you won’t know who needs extra help” rationale. That feels very “every boy and girl should do their own homework” rather than how adults function in the workplace. If East or West leaves and the remaining person is struggling you can address that as needs be.

    I do think it makes sense to talk to them about how things get split up and OF COURSE if work isn’t getting done quickly or well enough something needs to change. But otherwise, maybe they’re just a good team and that’s actually a benefit to the company.

    1. Calliope*

      (As it happens I probably am particularly used to this type of relationship at the office because I spent years in private law practice where ad hoc teams do develop this way and can function very well. So for me this is a “if it’s not broke don’t try to fix it” situation.

      1. Sue Ellen*

        I think what you mentioned about one of them leaving is really the crux of what the issue would be for me. If East typically does XYZ and West does ABC, then East will not be as proficient in ABC themselves. Then if West leaves, LW is stuck training a New West and also retraining East in how to perform the other half of their job. Team work is great, and I really don’t see the issue in the two people taking one single more to discuss committee items as long as no important balls got dropped in those couple hours, but OP seems more bothered by it than practicality warrants.

        1. Calliope*

          I think that’s a possible issue which is way it’s worth talking to them, but not necessarily a real one. First it’s entirely possible they don’t have a strict job duties split like that. Second it’s also possible these are not skills that are going to atrophy like that rather than just one person prefers X to Y but they’re both competent at both. And third, it’s possible if one does leave that’s a good time to consider rejiggering things such as hiring a new person for X instead of for a region.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          The flip side of that same scenario is that East and West will know each other’s projects and clients so there is no lag time on hottest projects if one of them leaves.

          1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

            That’s what I was thinking too. Not to say there couldn’t be down sides, but there could also be real advantages in how they each know what the other’s doing. Could come up not only when one of them fully leaves, but any time one & not the other is on holiday or off sick.

        3. Maybe*

          “…OP seems more bothered by it than practicality warrants” is not taking the OP at their word. It may in fact be a problem that they are working so closely together.

          1. Sue Ellen*

            I was taking OP at their word, but thank you for nitpicking the rules for me.

            I was talking about how OP was upset over them spending the morning talking about a work committee thing. I agreed with OP that it could be difficult having them work so closely, especially if someone leaves.

      2. Sallyanne*

        I’ve worked at a law office for over 15 years as a paralegal and two of my attorneys work this way with me. I find it to be faster and we produce far far more work than other people so it’s never been an issue for management.

    2. Goddess47*

      This was my first thought. The issue OP doesn’t raise is if there is work that is not getting done or done incorrectly. That’s more important than any of the issues raised here.

      The other is more of a long term question that OP can only watch for and not do much about at the moment. If either East or West leaves the position and the next person hired doesn’t want to do ‘group’ work (which I also mostly hated), how will that affect the remaining person?

      But mostly both East and West are truly happy, the work is getting done, and the clients are happy, roll with it.

    3. High Score!*

      The problem here could be if OP has to let one of them go, the other might resent the replacement. Or, if they go on vacation at the same time, would others know how to cover. Are they keeping things just to themselves that would normally be spread around a bit more?
      Cliques in the office are never good.

      1. Calliope*

        I think that’s also a possible problem but not clear to me that’s how it’s set up. Like presumably the same issues would be true if one only did East and one only did West and they didn’t talk to the hypothetical North and South people about it either. But it doesn’t actually say there are other people doing that job that are being left out or that this is affecting coverage or anything like that.

    4. Snow Globe*

      I had a similar question, but was wondering how the LW measures productivity and whether there are clear, objective goals. And if so, are the goals set high enough, or are we just assuming that 3% over last year is good? I mean, it sounds like West is a new territory, so is it growing as fast as it could? Or has growth been very gradual because you really don’t have anyone focusing on just that territory?

      If results are meeting expectations, then there is no reason for micromanagement of how it is getting done. If expectations aren’t clear, the LW should work on establish goals based on results, not on how the work is getting done.

    5. Random Internet Stranger*

      I agree! I collaborate and work with my direct supervisor constantly. Could we do the work separately? Sure. But it seems like it works really well to put our brains together. I don’t know the type of work they’re doing necessarily, but in some cases, this kind of thing works really well.

    6. Kella*

      The theme I’m seeing in the proposed “What if?” scenarios that are bad is that if for some reason, the two of them *can’t* work together on something, does the process break down and work quality decreases? If that’s the case, OP needs to know about that because that’s a different distribution of work they originally hired for and will affect how they hire and train in the future.

    7. I'm just here for the cats!*

      The thing I see is that they are each doing both west and east. I’ve worked in places where client managers had their own areas. If need be East could step in for West if they were out, but East was the leader for that area’s clients and did all of the calls, etc themselves. It sounds like they are both doing all the meetings, all the calls, all the paperwork, etc together. That means if West has a client who needs attention West cannot give that client attention because they are busy with the meeting with East’s client.

      The other problem is that the East employee is also a chair of a committee and she is now getting West involved with that work when West is not on that committee. It’s one thing if they maybe talk about it together a bit but it sounds like an entire morning was just for committee work, when West is not on the committee. That means for that whole morning West and East were not working on clients for their prospective areas.

      There also may be reasons why the company has the areas divided up. They don’t want too much work put on one person, or they want their clients to have a go-to person.

      So I can understand where the OP is coming from with this.

      1. Calliope*

        I think some of this is potentially true but really depends on the details. I personally wouldn’t be inclined to nitpick my employees if one of them happened to be interested in an internal committee they weren’t originally assigned to unless it was a very intensive one. Generally it’s good to have people taking an interest in that stuff and it’s usually not a huge time sink. One morning spent on company business is pretty reasonable from time to time.

        On the calls I think it really depends on how long and frequent they are. If it’s a few 30 minute check-ins a week that’s vastly different than half-day long working sessions and I think that really matters.

        1. JustaTech*

          Where do we find people willing to help out on a committee that they weren’t assigned to, and how can I get them to work with me?

          Mostly joking, but getting my coworkers to sign up for needed committees (that are included in end-of-year reviews) is beyond pulling teeth. I’ve resorted to major guilt tripping “Look, I’ve volunteered for the social committee so the rest of you don’t have to, but now it’s your turn to take one for the team and do safety committee! If folks don’t start stepping up I will quit all my committees and *you* will have to plan the holiday party!”

          1. Guin*

            Wow, forced committees for the holiday party? That is horrible and yes, you SHOULD quit all your committees, and so should everyone else. My co-workers and I call that “forced volunteering” and about a year ago, some of us rebelled and said we wouldn’t do it any more. We were so much happier and more productive doing our actual jobs instead of being resentful that we had to spend our time on events that had nothing to do with us.

      2. Maybe*

        Yes! Their arrangement sounds extraordinary inefficient to me. For example, they may be making only half as many calls as they would make working individually. I get that people working in the field of law (the commenters on this thread) find it efficient to work together, but in my field (writing and editing), working with another person slows down the work.

    8. LittleMarshmallow*

      I agree that this doesn’t seem as concerning to me as LW seems to be about it, but I have seen this arrangement hurt people and it is good for the manager to make sure that there aren’t issues that need to be addressed. One time I saw it was when two people that were working together both applied for the same promotion. When we did their interviews they both shared the same examples as though they were the primary contributor so as interviewers we had no way of differentiating if they truly had identical and equal skills or if either was exaggerating their involvement. It led to neither of them getting promoted because at a minimum it seemed like they were incapable of doing work autonomously. And it’s true that the work was getting done so functionally it was probably fine but it didn’t do either of them any favors to allow that arrangement.

      I’ve also got my own version of this going on now and I’m one of the ones that is working too closely. In most cases it does make sense for us to collaborate but we are very different people with significantly different skills and we are struggling to not be seen as the same person. It’s tough, but our managers have recognized the issue and are working with us to resolve it. It’s not punitive, it’s supportive. So from the side of the employee, my advice is to address it (individually as AAM recommends) but if possible approach it from a view of “I want to help make sure each of you have the support you need to work both collaboratively and autonomously when each make sense” not “you doing it wrong and must be inefficient because I don’t like group projects”. Side note in my situation, I’m the one that doesn’t love the constant collaboration I’m the group, but I needed my managers help to break away.

  2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    Another concern I would have as a manger is if East always does X and West always does Y, East’s Y skills are going to get rusty after a while and vice versa. This is especially true if what they are doing is something they like more or are naturally more talented at doing. That’s fine if the role can be specialized that way, but if people doing West and East’s jobs generally have to be good at X and Y then you need them both keeping their skills in X and Y.

  3. Tinkerbell*

    I would think the biggest issue, beyond evaluating job quality, is finding out how much time they spend collaborating when they would do something faster individually! Some people can be brutally efficient in two-person meetings, but some feel the need for group consensus before each decision and that can add a lot of overhead to every project. Maybe assign them each individual assignments for a few weeks (with strict instructions not to collaborate) and see how that compares to their usual time spent on the same assignments together? Presumably you can’t do this for every project, but you can pick a few representative ones and see whether there’s a difference!

  4. to varying degrees*

    I’m curious as too how many tasks are not being done? If both Est and West are working on a call together, say with an East client, are West clients being shifted and/or ignored? when they’re both on a committee together, who’s covering both regions?

    1. Littorally*

      Right, yeah. The phone calls are one of the things that really jump out to me as an obvious inefficiency. If they’re doing all their calls jointly, are the calls taking half the time as they would with one person? If not, someone’s time is being wasted. Does East really need to be on a call with a West client?

      1. LW*

        This was the crux of my inefficiency concerns. If they only call clients together then they are making have the number of calls they could make if the called their own clients separately. This applies to several other parts of their job as well, for instance reviewing the same grant application at the same time, instead of reviewing two simultaneously. This work is not particularly creative, nor easily split like the Data Dashboard example elsewhere where two people working on the same thing speeds up the process or delivers a better product.

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          This made me feel like you were having the Office flashback to when Kathy Bates showed up and discovered Jim and Michael’s co-managing. “Two men doing one job. Got it.”

  5. EngGirl*

    My question would be is all the work getting done on time and up to standard? If the answer is yes I’d leave it alone for the most part. If the answer is no and things are getting delayed or there are other issues then you need to address it. It also may be a matter of feast and famine. Maybe East has 75% of the work that needs to be done immediately and West only has 25% and it makes sense to collaborate. Maybe they’re trying to ensure coverage once there’s only two of them (although that should be something they discuss with you). Maybe you’re misinterpreting the situation and they’re collating on like 30% of their projects but doing the remaining 70% individually.

    Or maybe I’m completely wrong and this is way too codependent and you’re not getting what you need to be getting out of them lol.

    1. Esmeralda*

      For me the issue would be: are there things that I want to assign to one of these employees, but I can’t because their time is being taken up working with each other/working on the other person’s tasks.

      For instance, I have two committee fund-raisers, one for Jeans Friday and the other for Mellow Monday, and I want to assign one each to East and West. But because East pulled in West on Jeans Friday, West now does not have the time to work on Mellow Monday.

      And perhaps I have reasons for assigning them in a certain way, and NOT assigning them together. Either for networking, or managing personality issues, or skills development, or whatever.

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        “West, I see you’ve been assisting East with Jeans Friday, and the pair of you have done a wonderful job! But now I’d like to see how you work on your own on something similar. We’re starting up Mellow Monday again and I’d like you to head this as an independent project. What are some ideas you have?” And let West have a go at it. If LW notices West and East collabing, “Hey West, I really want to see how you handle this on your own. I know East has great insight, but I trust you to handle this solo.”

        1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          “…I trust you to handle this solo.” YES.

          This is a crucial part to include in any of the messaging.

    2. Cat Tree*

      If all the work is getting done this way, it doesn’t seem like the company really needs two separate positions.

  6. Alexis Rosay*

    This reminds me of a former coworker, Jane–she loved to collaborate and while she did so way more than was necessary, she was a stellar worker overall and I’m sure that allowing her to work in her preferred style helped the company retain her for far longer than they would have otherwise.

    Some problems did come up when Jane was able to insist on extra collaborative work with people who preferred to work individually, so I think that’s the main thing to watch out for here. But if both employees enjoy working together and are producing good work together, you may just have two employees who are happier than they would be otherwise.

  7. learnedthehardway*

    If they’re performing well, and doing a great job collectively, I would be cautious about not breaking a good thing. It’s possible that they are MORE efficient and productive when working together than they would be separately. There could be an advantage of retention, as well – working in a highly productive team is motivating. If the operations of both East and West are quite similar, it may be far more efficient to do their various initiatives in tandem (and be better for things like branding or company culture as well).

    I mean, do look at whether one is doing the majority of the work and the other is coasting, and I would coach them to make sure they are not neglecting their development in areas that are not their primary strength. You might also have to think about how to evaluate their performance – maybe you could encourage them to have individual projects as well as their collaborative work.

    But if you find that there are

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I also wonder if the way they are breaking down the roles makes more sense then splitting the client list into regions? The LW should really listen thoughtfully when they talk to East and West. This could be a legit kaizen moment where employees have found business efficiencies and the LW might want to officially restructure the roles accordingly.

      1. goducks*

        Exactly this. The LW really needs to set aside her own feelings for now and understand how and why they share/split the work the way they do. They may have developed a real improvement, and breaking it up because it’s not how she thinks it should work may harm both productivity and the morale of these two. Once she understands fully what’s happening and why she can then decide what should be done about it.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          This is a kind of silly example that recently happened to me. Two of our programs have a Tableau dashboard where we post info on our website. That program manager and I are responsible for our own dashboard, but over time we’ve realized she has a great eye for the end-user design and I’m really good at beating the data into an appropriate shape to make what she wants happen, so we have ended up splitting the task that way instead of by program. Now each program has a dashboard with the same look/feel and much more complicated data than initially planned. Had we not split our work this way we’d still have dashboards, but her’s would be user friendly but lacking in content and mine would be user hostile but oh my there is so much data. Wins all around!

          1. LW*

            This is a great example of how I think working together is great!
            But not at all what is happening here. You split the work, you didn’t both build one dashboard and then both build the other. That’s essentially what’s happening and I’d prefer to see more of a divide and conquer method.

            But as I said in my main comment, I’ve come realize after writing in, that it’s likely that West still feels like they can’t do some of this on their own, so that’s something I have to to address as a manager and make sure that they get there.

        2. quill*

          The LW may find that the two coworkers are a voltron of coverage and trying to separate them all to fight in their individual lions may weaken their performance.

  8. Sarita*

    I have a colleague and we have largely fallen into this pattern too. She is really strong in many areas, and I am really strong in very different areas. If we took our product portfolio and divided into 2, each would be managed ok-ish. But together we are managing the entire product portfolio at an exceedingly high level. Both of us is doing work we enjoy and are strong at, while not having to do as much of the work each of us dislikes. The only downside is it’s difficult to explain to folks outside our team who to go to for what piece as it changes week to week. It also requires a ton of communication and trust between the two of us. If it’s working though, I don’t see why it needs to change and I’m thankful our boss has given us the space find a way to work that fits us best.

    1. Just Another Zebra*

      This is my coworker and I. We’re a department of two, and are supposed to handle our own columns with our own tickets. This is fine in theory, but in reality we swap and share tickets constantly. The result is that things get done more quickly, and with a higher level of accuracy. While some tickets are firmly his, and some are firmly mine, there is a good deal of overlap. It works for us, and if a manager decided we shouldn’t do it anymore, I don’t think they’d like the results.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      The key with that is having your manager how things are divided. If one of you leaves, they need to know that they need to hire some that’s strong in the leaving employee’s areas, and if they’re looking at layoffs, they need to know that if they let one of you go, they’ll go from what looks like two really strong employees to one okay-ish employee, instead of one really strong employee.

    3. BasketcaseNZ*

      My team mate and I, when we started, had to split up the work among four of us. So each of the four had a specific couple of managers we worked with.
      Now, we’re down to two of us, the work has eased right off, and other than the one manager who freaks out if I’m not there and just does not understand that nothing they do is unique to their space, everyone else treats us as a single unit.
      We don’t necessarily collaborate on everything, but if anyone needs something done thats in our remit, they ask whoever they come across first. If that person can’t handle it, they pass it on. Simple.

  9. L-squared*

    So, what I’m curious about is whether there are any tangible problems. Aside from the committee thing, which to me can be addressed on its own, it seems that things are getting done fairly well, just now how you envisioned them getting done. Maybe I’m biased because I tend to look far more at results than process. But if you are getting the results that you want, I’m not clear where the problem lies.

    1. LW*

      Results are suffering some. A deadline was nearly missed because of the committee work and while that’s the only real miss or near miss I’ve seen, I’ve definitely still had to come in and do some clean-up on things, and we have backlogs from when we were short staffed that aren’t getting any better. And yes, they COULD get better. The person West replaced isn’t here anymore because they were drastically underperforming. We are not grossly understaffed.

  10. Just Another Zebra*

    I think Alison’s advice is, as per usual, good and LW should have conversations with both of them. I would handle them like a random check in, asking how things were going, what they think their strengths/ weaknesses are… and casually ask how they like working with East / West. LW may learn that they each have a different strength, and are helping the other grow in that area. It’s possible the workload is more uneven than LW is aware. Or, she may learn that they’re BFFLs and need to set some boundaries.

    FWIW, if they are producing great work together, it may be worth looking into a project that they can and should collaborate on. Because if they truly do make a good team, I don’t think the right strategy is to separate them just because.

  11. Kyla*

    This would basically be my dream. I think it’s great because there is built in error checking, “another brain” to help solve problems, etc. And in my experience way less time lost to boredom or loneliness or pulling together the activation energy to start the next task. Is there an actual problem? I know most people can’t stand working this way – a good friend left a job where pair coding was the norm – but if these two both like it I think it’s a win for them and you.

  12. Reader*

    I’m not sure what the problem is here. Was there a trigger that made OP think they needed to examine how East and West are doing work? If it’s not broke don’t micromanage it or East and West may decide to go elsewhere.

    1. hi hello*

      I agree — this is one of those rare times I disagree with the advice given to OP here. What is the actual problem? It sounds like they’re both doing their jobs and getting things done. The OP even states that they worry they’re only uncomfortable with the arrangement because of their own distaste for group work. But if they’re doing their jobs, why interfere?

    2. LaFramboise*

      I’m South to my colleague’s North, and this is how we do many things. And get collaboration from other peers on good initiatives. So I applaud East and West and don’t see an issue unless one or both jump ship.

    3. kiki*

      It sounds like the trigger was the morning both East and West spent planning a committee thing. Maybe there was something else that West didn’t get done that morning. I can also see how it might be hard for East and West to have any availability during the day if they’re both doing double the meetings and double the calls that are necessary for their regional role.

      1. DisgruntledPelican*

        But them working on nonsense staff committee stuff instead of actual work has nothing to do with whether or not they collaborate too much. If work needed to get done that morning, then OP needs to be clear with them about meeting deadlines and when spending time on jeans Friday faff is appropriate.

        1. LW*

          Kiki is exactly right about the committee morning being the trigger, it caused a near miss with a deadline, and in my frustration I wanted to scream at the world “Why are they like this?!?!”

          I did have a conversation with them when I realized what had happened, but despite being a long time reader of this site, it still blows my mind that someone thinks that helping a co-worker with something like the Jeans Friday committee is more important completing the task that you told your boss you would complete this week and that is actually in your job description.

          But beyond that, Kiki is right about the doubling up of tasks. If they have two tasks that should take an hour each, and they both do them, then the tasks have essentially taken four hours instead of two. That’s the issue that extends beyond the committee work.

          1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

            I would not be surprised if West had seized upon the ‘committee’ work which they can do, as an alternative to something they’re struggling with.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            This sort of sounds like they’re letting fun tasks fill up time and crowd out less-fun tasks.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      I understand where OP is coming from. It sounds like the way West was initially set to be trained was by doing shadowing with East. So they probably started off with a lot “both there”as part of that. OP probably envisioned that as only a training method, and that once West were comfortable in the role, they’d move on to working independently. Since OP has realized they’re still collaborating on everything, it’s unclear if this is an intentional choice the two made together, or if there was misunderstanding about the training aspect that it wasn’t intended to be a permanent shift in how things work, or if one of them might rather break off and the other isn’t really allowing it. That’s why OP needs to talk to them separately and see what’s up.

      1. LW*

        Yes, exactly!
        In my conversations with them both since, it seems like they are still in training mode past when I expected them to be. That’s fine! Sometimes things just take longer than expected. I’ve made changes to check-ins so I can pay better attention to their work in general, and will be closely monitoring over the next couple of months to see if this shadowing style of collaboration lessens or continues and checking in with them both to see how they feel about it if it does continue.

        I have concerns about efficiency, as covered, and Alison’s points about being able to truly evaluate them as individuals is important. But I also think a lot of readers have pointed out other possible resentments, miscommunications between the two of them are important things to consider too.

  13. TerraTenshi*

    I would say LW should also consider possible advantages before talking to East and West (if she does decide to talk to them). My initial thought is that this is a great system for if one of them is out unexpectedly because the other will already be up to speed on everything they’re doing and be able to keep things from falling through the cracks. If you decide to push them toward more individual work (for whatever reason) definitely consider how that will affect one needing to cover for the other.

  14. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Frankly, it sounds to me like there’s a superior division of labor to the East/West split that’s in place now.

  15. turquoisecow*

    I think my main question is, is this making them slower or less efficient at the job? I’m imagining a scenario in which there are, let’s say five tasks that are West specific, five tasks that are East specific, and five tasks that need to be done but it doesn’t matter who does them. In most cases, East would do her 5, West would do her 5, and they’d divide or rotate the remaining 5. But if East and West are both working on everything together, this naturally makes me conclude that they’re less efficient. Instead of East doing Task 1 and West doing Task 2, they’re both doing Task 1, which means Task 2 has to wait until Task 1 is finished, instead of Task 2 being done simultaneously.

    If the tasks are something that get done faster by having two people work on them, then you probably come out pretty even in terms of tasks completed in amount of time. If they involve let’s say putting items into boxes, having two people putting items into boxes would mean that the task was finished faster, so instead of 1 hour spent on Task 1 while 1 hour was spent on Task 2 (=1 task per hour) you get 30 minutes spent on Task 1 and 30 minutes on Task 2 (=2 tasks per hour). In this case, collaboration wins, obviously.

    But OP, you talk about calls with clients, and while there’s probably some benefit to having a second person on a call to back you up or corroborate what you say, the call still takes the time it takes, and maybe even longer if both East and West feel the need to put in their 2 cents or restate, or if the client gets mixed messages from 2 people. This means that now instead of East spending an hour on a client call while West spends an hour on a client call at the same time, they’re now both spending an hour on the same call and that second call hasn’t happened yet.

    I think what you’ll find is that some tasks are made easier or more efficient and some are made less efficient, but maybe they have other reasons for wanting to collaborate on them. I think the best thing to do is review what each of them are spending their time on, talk about why they’re collaborating, and decide whether they really need to collaborate on everything or if it’s slowing them down. Obviously there are benefits to cross-training but I don’t think you’re unreasonable to expect more independent work based on what you’ve written.

    1. Dinosaur*

      I may not be understanding/thinking through your task example correctly. Task 1 takes East one hour to complete and Task 2 takes West one hour to complete, each person spends 1 hour of their day on this task. If they work together, each task takes 30 minutes to complete. Each person is still spending one hour of their day on this task. It’s really not reducing the amount of time spent on Task 1 and 2. Each still takes an hour to complete.

      1. Kevin Sours*

        The point is not every task divides that way. If it takes an hour to go over project status with the client, it’s not going to take half an hour with both of them on the phone. And it’s possible that by not splitting the other tasks by client may mean that you do *need* both of them on the client calls because neither one has all of the information.

        While OP should keep an open mind when digging into it, it’s not that far fetched to think that there is a lot of duplication of effort going on.

        1. LW*

          Yes, exactly!
          For most of our tasks working together does not lessen the time involved and it usually doesn’t deliver a higher quality product like in some creative work.

          1. Maybe*

            I wonder if it’s also possible that one (East) feels imposed upon by the other (West) but is ‘too nice’ to say anything. If you can get East to talk frankly, without feeling she might be throwing West under the bus, you might find that a good worker is being slowed down, and not feeling happy about the situation.

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah – if East does their own client call and West does their own client call, then East and West get two calls done in an hour. If they both call East’s client for an hour and then both call West’s client for an hour, that’s only one call per hour.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        There are few things that become perfectly more efficient with two people and there is just literally no way that *all* of their tasks would be done twice as quickly (especially since the first example given was phone calls).

  16. Triplestep*

    I suspect when you speak to them, you’ll find out that East thinks of West as her assistant. East was there first, trained West, and now they are doing all work together. East has engaged West’s help with a special project, probably because East thinks of herself as senior to West. If she needs help, naturally she’ll turn to her “assistant”. West may not realize she does not need to do things this way – she may not be new anymore, but she’s never known things to be any other way in this job.

    1. rural academic*

      This is what I’d be most concerned with — is West genuinely okay with this arrangement, or have they gotten pulled into it because East directed them to work this way? Is West, as the newer person, getting any chance to show their own accomplishments and initiatives, or are they always following East’s lead and working on East’s pet projects?

    2. Heidi*

      I also think that there’s a possibility that having trained West, East realizes that West is not capable of doing the work independently and has created this system to keep things from falling through the cracks. On the face of it, everything is getting done, but it’s putting an unfair burden on East.

      1. Sasha*

        Yep – is the OP sure both East and West actually prefer this? Or does one of them “prefer it” to the shit show that would ensue if they left the other unsupervised?

        Or worse, is the more senior one micromanaging the other, who would appreciate a bit of space?

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Definitely witnessed that last one. In this case West was a new apprentice/intern and East was micromanaging her training, hovering over her and going over everything with her for quite a bit longer than West really needed, and I know West did say to North (her predecessor who had transferred to another team within the same department) that she was finding it a bit much. When East went on annual leave for a week I tried giving her more independence but with availability to help if she needed it, and she got on absolutely fine. East returned and started micromanaging West’s no longer needed training again, and it got to the point where it was impacting on my own work because I was then having to pick up stuff East should have been handling. That did get to the point where I did end up going to our manager and saying that from what I observed West no longer needed that level of help. East was then asked to ease off, go back to her own (disliked) tasks and let West get on with it.

      2. Calliope*

        It feels like a key here is having separate discussions with each of them and then continuing to have separate check-ins going forward (even if some check-ins might also be joint).

        1. LW*

          This thread brought up some interesting possibilities! None of which seem to be in play here, but interesting nonetheless.

  17. Middle Name Danger*

    One obvious positive to this: if East or West has a period of absence, there’s little need for catching someone up to speed. If something happens with a West client, it’s more easily visible if it comes up in East, because East saw it firsthand but it wouldn’t have been information relayed to them if things were more separated.

    Maybe clients prefer seeing a partnership on calls, feeling like they’re being very well taken care of with two dedicated representatives instead of one.

    I would be cautious in breaking this up. I would bring this to them with curiosity about what led them to realize this was how they wanted to approach the work, rather than entering with the mindset of wanting to change it.

  18. infopubs*

    Maybe the situation is revealing that dividing the jobs geographically by region, East and West, is the wrong way to separate the work. Perhaps one person should be doing all the ABC for both regions and the other all the XYZ for both regions. Since the 2 employees are currently locked into regional roles, this might be their way of working around the status quo. Maybe time to restructure?

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes – if this is East Coast clients vs West Coast clients, it may very well be that East’s phone and email are blowing up all morning, while West isn’t getting hit as hard until afternoon, when it’s morning on the West Coast (assuming OP is on Eastern time). Or it may have to do with the ebb and flow of their day – if the UPS pickup is at 3 pm, it might make sense to work together to get everything that needs to be shipped out by that deadline, and then collaborate on something different after that.


        This is exactly what I was thinking. If by East and West regions the LW is referring to time zones, you nailed it. Two people working in the same time zone covering clients in time zones up to 4 hours apart makes no sense and they might be teamworking as a workaround for how illogical it is.

        My other question is…do they know they’re not supposed to be a team? It’s entirely logical that they think they are on a team that shares tasks if LW has never talked to them about it.

        1. Resigned Manager*

          LW has made it really clear in their comments that it is inefficient having East and West collaborate on tasks. Meaning the issue is not with how the clients are divided up but with how East and West are doubling up on tasks.

  19. Dawn*

    I feel a little bit like we’ve just ignored the most relevant question here, which is: are they getting all of their assigned work done in a timely manner?

    Alison’s concerns are valid, but at the same time, you said, “I don’t feel like this is efficient.” That’s something that shows up in the data; assuming that they’re not leaving other work late or unfinished, what merit does “efficiency” carry other than making you feel better (and possibly making them less happy with their jobs)?

    1. BubbleTea*

      It depends on how the work, well, works. I am one of two people in my job role and if we were both on calls together, we would just do half as much work. Our job isn’t “make X widgets”, it is “make as many widgets as possible”.


        It depends if its literally all of their calls or if they have worked out a system where one talks and the other takes notes or something.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah, I used to have a job where people covered different regions, and we’d have, say, 8 slots for client meetings a week per person. Two people should = 16 client meetings. Any sharing inherently lowered the ability to handle clients, which would push scheduling out. We intended to have no more than X backlog, and hired accordingly. Two employees per meeting was necessary when training someone up, but very much not an intentional long-term plan. Not saying that’s definitely what’s happening in the letter, but it’s certainly plausible given what was described.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I’ve always held jobs where (1) the work is infinite, so there’s no getting “everything” done and (2) there’s no good measure of how much work is being done and no set time it should take. It’s all “optimize this” and “find a way to do that”. So efficiency is highly desireable, but not measurable.

      1. Calliope*

        That should still be measurable though. You can compare how much you’re expecting someone to get to vs. what they did and what previous people did to what the current ones are doing among other things. Lots of businesses don’t do this but it’s not really fair to tell employees “do everything forever but we don’t have a way to know if you’re doing enough.”

        1. Dawn*

          It’s a fantastic way to lose employees, though. “Just keep working harder and harder until you burn out or quit. Cease all inefficient workplace happiness immediately. Bleep blorp I am fleshy human supervisor.”

    3. Dawn*

      Like, sure, there are jobs where “the work is infinite” and I’ve worked in some of them, but generally, those are bad jobs which should not be operating that way anyway.

      There are too many reasons to get into in one comment, but largely speaking even in jobs where the work is never done, you have to set targets for people and continuously upping those targets and/or pushing them to exceed them inevitably leads to exceeding their burnout/tolerance thresholds and you will lose them.

      More to the point, though, those have almost exclusively been low-end jobs. In the “make widgets” example, you’re talking about a team of low-level widget makers, not the Eastern Widget Coordinator and the Western Widget Coordinator. I’ll grant you that there are “infinite production” jobs but this sure doesn’t sound like one of them, from the details given.

    4. rosyglasses*

      Maybe – maybe not. If a role isn’t truly taking the full 40 hours of work (assuming a full time workweek), then I as a manager would expect the employee to have time to work on other projects or innovations, research, or professional development. If the overlap that is occurring because they are spending time doing partnered work that isn’t necessary means they don’t have this extra bandwidth – then they are not being efficient.

      1. LW*

        We definitely work in an area where work is never done – however, there are plenty of measurements of success because there are some work that has to be done. Deadlines have to be met in regards to grant applications, renewals, reviews, etc. And yes, I do expect there to be sometimes when the day to day items are slower and they can pick up some of this backlog of projects in the “never ending work queue.”

  20. BBB*

    are either of them dropping the ball on their duties or do you just think you could maybe squeeze a bit more work out of them if they were working alone? because the opposite might be true… working together is fun and engaging and they’d both be less productive if forced to stay in their cubicles like good little worker bees.
    some people work better with others and simply enjoy that more. taking it away for no justifiable reason may just mean disengagement and ultimately replacing them both. with how heavily workplaces try to push collaboration, I’d be confused and annoyed if my boss tried to stop me from working with a coworker if they didn’t have actual productivity concerns attached to it. it would definitely feel micromanagey.
    that being said, you should definitely check in with both of them individually and make sure they really do prefer to work closely together. it may be that one of them loves it and the other merely tolerates it and would appreciate some intervention. you won’t know until you ask. but if they both prefer it and you’re happy with their output I say leave it alone.

    1. LW*

      I really do appreciate this take. There are some definite concerns about missed deadlines with specific working together that I’m concerned about. And after those specific conversations, I’m taking a bit of a wait and see approach for the next month or two. But if I do need to address it, this is important to keep in mind, because I don’t want them to NEVER work together, because there are times for collaboration, but I just don’t want them to think we have to do the same work every day together.

      Something I haven’t mentioned yet, and almost caused me to write in before this letter was that as our office came back to in person work, they had tried to schedule the exact same in office/WFH schedule, knowing that we couldn’t all do that without gaps in coverage and then tried to pushback when I essentially had them working one day in office without each other. I think that’s actually one of my first clues that something felt weird.

  21. Littorally*

    So, a concern I see falls into two possible related situation: either as Triplestep outlined above, East may think of West as her assistant and available to support her work. Alternatively, West may still be leaning on East for support and be acting like she’s in extended traineehood. What these have in common is that instead of having two evenly-statused employees each doing their work, you’ve got more like one-and-a-half employees. From the outside, it’s hard to determine if what’s going on is constructive mutualism in which they both help each other an even amount, or some form of uneven exchange of work covered by everything being a joint project.

    Now, if everything’s getting done to an acceptable standard of quality and they aren’t having interpersonal blowups that you need to manage, maybe that’s not the worst situation in the world; you aren’t their teacher or their parent, so there’s something to be said for not messing with what works. But it sets the stage for resentments down the line, or for problems when one or the other of them leaves. No employee is forever!

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      In a way it seems like having both of them at least passingly familiar with all the clients is a benefit, so even if the roles need to be more defined, this might be something the LW will want to preserve. That way if one is out of the office or changes jobs the other can more easily step in and they are a familiar face.

      1. Littorally*

        That’s true. My team handles our workstreams individually, but regularly share knowledge so that if someone is unexpectedly out, we can step in smoothly and take over. Knowledge-sharing is no bad thing!

        1. LW*

          I’m particularly sensitive to the possibility of having essentially 1 and 1/2 employees as that’s what we had prior to West joining the team.

          As I mentioned in my longer comment, it for now seems to mostly be that the training and shadowing is taking longer than I expected. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s something I’m keeping a closer eye on now, to make sure that it doesn’t drag on, or create this type of situation. Or make East feel like they are always helping West.

  22. CASH ASH*

    Here is when you can say something:
    If you cannot assign additional duties to be done in a timely manner because they are too busy working on projects dually.
    If the dual work becomes disruptive to the office or others in the office.
    If everyone’s work is done and it’s in a timely manner then be grateful you have two employees who are clearly doing their jobs, doing them well, and get along!

  23. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’d also be concerned that one of the employees is doing most of the work, and the other is drafting behind them.

    1. miss chevious*


      I had an employee who hid his significant incompetence at his job for more than TWO YEARS by “collaborating” with other team members, in particular the one who was too nice to say something about it. She almost burst into tears in a one-on-one with me where I was pushing her on why she had missed a deadline and it turned out that that her co-worker had been commandeering her time and laying guilt trips on her about how she needed to collaborate with him, and she was basically doing some of his work in addition to hers. He drafted along behind two other people as well, but not as much as he did with her.

      Not to say that has happened yet, in OPs situation, but especially in the case of a new employee, I want to know what that person is capable of and where their strengths and weaknesses are individually, before I would allow this level of collaboration. And that assumes both team members want this level of team work.

    2. Mademoiselle Sugarlump*

      Yes. LW needs to talk to each of them individually and may hear “Well… I’ve trained West on everything but she still wants to do everything together – I’m not sure she really understands the work the way she should.” Or “I’ve told East I’m ready to work on my own but she insists on going over everything together to make sure I did it right, which means her way.”

  24. Risha*

    I am failing to see what the issue is here. Is the work getting done accurately and on time? Are they working too closely where others are feeling left out? Are other things not getting done because they are working together and wasting time?

    Or is this just simply because the manager just doesn’t like it so it must stop? I’ve seen so many managers micromanage and force staff to do things the manager’s way….not because it’s policy, but because it’s something the manager personally doesn’t like. It’s not appropriate to manage with emotions in the workplace. It’s not appropriate to use your authority to make employees do things your way just because you have the power to do so. If these two people are messing up/leaving others out/violating privacy, then that would be something for the manager to address. Otherwise, I’m not sure why it really matters.

    If I were their boss, I would speak to them about the reasoning behind it. But unless there was an actual job performance issue, I would not use my authority to make them stop. Just let people work in a way that’s good for them as long as they stay within company rules.

    1. LW*

      Hi – There are some performance issues I’m concerned with, but my fear about letting my own personal bias lead me to micromanaging, was exactly why I wrote in.
      It’s pretty obvious I should address performance issues (and have since this letter was written) but I was really wondering if there were other reasons for asking them to do SOME work separately at least. I’m definitely managing workers who work very differently than me for the first time in my career, so I’m trying to adjust my management style without being a micromanager.

  25. El l*

    I’m not sure how you structure your client relationship, but if you’re billing by time and personnel (e.g. by the hour), I would imagine clients have noticed that they don’t get Tweedledee without Tweedledum.

    Because when I was the client in a situation like this, I didn’t like it. Because many have used extra people as a cheap trick to get extra billable hours and to cover knowledge deficiencies.

    1. top five???*

      We always explain to customers what role each person on the team plays. If the roles aren’t clearly defined, we designate one person as the main point of contact and explain that they may delegate to the other people, but they’ll be in charge. I’ve never had a customer complain about us having multiple people on a team.
      What you consider “knowledge deficiencies” I might consider “specialization”. And that should definitely be explained to a customer so they know which team member has which scope.

      1. El l*

        …Because you saw the problem coming and addressed it. You clarified who was doing what and why, probably picked your team accordingly, and made sure the client heard it too.

        That’s good. But my concern with this situation in particular is that it sounds like they work together as a matter of habit, rather than, “I need x and you have it, and you need y and I have it.”

        I’ve personally seen many consultants (from both sides of that particular table) where they field large teams for a call when 1-2 (coupled with who-does-what) meetings would make more sense. And the clients often notice.

        1. kathjnc*

          What you say can definitely be true. But sometimes, it actually is more efficient in the long run to have extra folks on the call: rather than trying to play telephone with the information that related specialties might need or when onboarding people to the project – being on a call gets you nuances that get missed from just the meeting notes, and too in building capacity in junior staff – they learn from being in those calls, and hence are able to contribute at a higher level to the project/ fill in for the senior point of contact/subject matter expert when needed and at shorter notice.

  26. kiki*

    Is it possible they’re working so closely together to help ensure that there’s consistency between regions? Working together on everything isn’t the only way to ensure consistency, but that may be part of where they’re coming from.

    I also encountered a situation kind of like this between two engineers at a former job. They insisted on working together on most things. Together, they did the job of three engineers. At some point, a manager thought it would be a good idea to separate them and put them on different teams, assuming they’d each individually accomplish the work of one and half engineers, or even just one solid engineer. They both really struggled and after a few months were moved back together. Interestingly enough, they both left and were able to get jobs at a new company at the same time. I haven’t looked into it for a few years, but I wonder if they’ll be coding buds for life.

    1. LW*

      I don’t see that as being the situation here. (I’m certainly not getting the workload of three people!) But it’s something good to think about in the future. I don’t want them not to collaborate and having a team that works well together is important.

  27. oranges*

    There’s a big difference between “whole is greater than sum of its parts” and “co-dependent BFFs who can’t do anything alone.”

    It’s up to you as a manager to determine which it is. Check in with them both separately, ask around to other teams, and observe things like their double calls and meetings carefully.

  28. SometimesIComment*

    Honestly I find this very tricky. Firstly, if their collaboration is producing good quality work – and LW is not complaining about quantity or quality – I am a fan of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

    But also – I have a role where there is an assigned “alternate” and the only way my alternate can function in that role is if she knows everything I know. Which would mean being in all my meetings, reading all my emails, etc. It is vastly inefficient to keep her up to speed, but if she isn’t up to speed, she cannot be effective. The amount of time and effort I have to take to prep her when I take off for a week is also hugely inefficient.

    1. SometimesIComment*

      I do agree with checking in with each individually. It is entirely possible that they are not both equally happy with the arrangement. But if they are both happy and the work is good, leave them alone.

  29. Frankie Bergstein*

    One thing that’s a huge plus about this collaboration is if East or West goes on vacation / parental leave / new job — the other will know what’s happening and how to do it. This is great for continuity.

  30. NervousNellie*

    I think Alison has missed the mark on this one. This sounds like “bagging on work styles I don’t like” or “being suspicious of results I don’t understand.” The LW says “this has to be addressed” but I’d challenge that assumption — does it? Nowhere in the letter does it say that the results are bad, only that the LW thinks this is inefficient. LW also cops to hating group projects. Anyway, I’d also say that these questions reek of new manager to me. They aren’t about if work is getting done, if deadlines are being met, if quality is being produced. They are asking if the results are being acquired in the right way, which…… honestly should usually only be asked if the results stink or someone is doing something sketchy.

    1. Littorally*

      The OP says that the specific thing that has to be addressed is West spending half a day on East’s project without informing OP. That’s a legitimate problem that does have to be addressed; if East and West are meant to be equal, East should not be unilaterally assigning West work.

        1. LW*

          No. The half day on work that isn’t in the job description was absolutely a problem because I had told West I wanted a certain project done and they instead did the Jean Friday work. I never questioned if THAT had to be addressed.

          My question was were there reasons beyond it measurably effecting outcomes that this sort of shadowing work should be addressed. I think Alison gave several good points, though I also appreciate the others who have weighed in about the positives of collaborative working scenarios.

  31. CharlieBrown*

    Pfffttt. Is the work getting done? Is it getting done on time and to the specifications required? If so, leave it alone, whatever your preference is. This is the question that I would have asked.

    If so, I think this is just a case of someone who didn’t plan on the work falling into a situation like this, feels little control over it, and wants to claw back some of that control.

    Of course, if the work isn’t getting done, it’s quite possible that is has nothing to do with their collaborating. It should be about getting down to the root cause, but OP didn’t say that was the issue.

  32. Endangered Gummies*

    Potential issues aside that still need to be ruled out, if OP “can’t decide” whether it’s a problem or not, to me, it means it’s not a problem.

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Literally everything that is not a problem now could be a problem at some point. Pick your battles carefully.

  33. Widget*

    One other thing I want to throw out there when having these discussions: it’s possible that collaborating this way is helping each of them keep each other on track. I have a big project that I collaborate on with a coworker every year. Either one of us could probably handle this on our own, but our check-ins & shared workload keep us both on track in terms of contacting outside partners, handling promotional work, and similar things. I might be able to disappoint myself, but I would never dream of letting down my planning partner, and that extra layer of accountability pushes me to get going when otherwise I would get in my own head about something, stall, and end up never getting it done.

  34. Kella*

    I think the most important part of Alison’s advice here is finding out *why* they are working this way, because the “why” completely changes whether this work set-up is an effective one or not.

    I know a lot of people are saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but part of the problem here is without knowing the details of the inner workings, it’s hard to tell whether there *is* a problem or not. Imagine West wrote in saying, “the person training me told me I need to always work with them on all their projects, but now I’m doing most of their work. I’m scared to rock the boat and tell my manager because I’m new and maybe this is how my job is supposed to be done?” From OP’s perspective, that scenario would look very similar to what they’re seeing right now.

    OP also will want to know if they are covering for each others’ weaknesses, because even if that’s working, it may mean that one of them will need extra support or a different kind of support if the other is out for vacation/illness/gets fired etc. That’s not to say that East and West should stop the arrangement, but just that knowing more details about what the arrangement is will better equip OP to effectively manage them going forward.

  35. Retired (but not really)*

    As someone who routinely prefers to work somewhat solo, there are also times when having a partner is really beneficial to getting the task done more quickly. However I want to be the one deciding which will work better for me at the time.
    I have coworkers who much prefer having a partner and it works beautifully for them even in situations where I might prefer to do it alone.
    My advice to the OP would be to confer with each of her people and perhaps discreetly with others who work with them before deciding it needs to be all one way or the other.

  36. LW*

    Hello all!

    I’m sorry today was a day that I couldn’t interact with comments as the day progressed. I will go back and answer a some specific questions, but I’ll just put a general update and some clarification here.

    For a little more background, we aren’t a Foundation, but our work is similar as if we were. So we have businesses interested in applying for grants, those with a current application that will be considered by a committee, and those who are already grantees, who need to file status reports or renewal applications. East and West both handle a portfolio containing all of the above.

    There are several ways to work collaboratively in this environment that make sense. For instance, one person running the mail merge and printing report reminders for all September status reports makes sense instead of each handling their own portfolio. Or booking a conference room to work simultaneously on your individual grant applications, so if there’s an odd question or strange documentation you have multiple heads right there who are already in that mindset. But some of the commenters pointed out the inefficiency issue I’m worried about. If both East and West have two hour long phone calls to make and four applications to review that take about an hour each, then that’s work that they can each get done in a day, and still visit with co-workers, answer emails, schedule meetings, etc. But if they have to sit on each others phone calls and review each application together (and I mean together, not just simultaneously like in the example above), then there isn’t enough time in the day for all the work to get done, because two people sitting in on a call or reading over the same document doesn’t make the work go faster.

    Kiki hit the nail on the head in one of their comments above. I’d been noticing some of this behavior, and finding it odd, but not too concerning. But then the committee work was indeed the trigger that had me sending the letter to Alison, because there was indeed a specific item of work that almost didn’t get done by deadline because they were working on the committee work together. When I realized what had been the hold up, I was really unhappy and frustrated.

    So where are we now? I had conversations with both of them about the committee work and prioritizing time. It turns out that East had asked West if they had time to help and West assured them that they did. That really wasn’t a true statement, but East didn’t know that. I’ve made some changes to the frequency and structure of our one on ones that I think will help me get a better picture how how much they are working together and in what way. For instance, I recently realized that some of the working together was just extended training, that I was assuming wasn’t needed any more.

    The changes will also let me stay abreast of training better than I have been. I think Alison’s advice illustrates that it’s important to understand what each of them is working on and I also want to make sure that West is able to work independently and that East isn’t hindered in their work by having to support West more than they should. I’ll admit I’ve let some of the crazy changes we are dealing with lately make me less attentive to exactly how they are working together. In my previous role I was managing individuals who were perhaps more skilled at independent work and self-management then this team is turning out to be. Figuring out how to be a more “hands-on” manager, without sliding over into micro-managing is a new skillset for me. Hopefully I can have an update in a few months where the new check-in changes have produced some benefits.

    1. Santiago*

      Best wishes. Fwiw, I work I small portion of processing grants for an institution (this of different compliance roles that intersect), and I do like it went I feel like my boss knows how quickly I turn things around. If your software logs or processes any elements of this, and if either of them work like me, then commenting on the turn around time and generally acting aware of it may be a very “warm” and positive way to also have your hands in that work more. Cheers!

  37. Legal girl*

    I do not see the issue with the limited information that we have been given. There was no mention that either employees work product has suffered. There was a comment of one joining the other on a committee meeting once – could she have had a personal issue that day, that the manager knew nothing about, and had needed a distraction? It appears it had only happened once. I have worked with many “partners” (someone assigned to the same department but with their own caseload) over the years. Some I have trusted highly and have able to work in tandem with. We have pulled on each other’s strengths and in doing so, we were a highly efficient and productive team. With other partners, I have worked alone. Each of us focusing on our own projects/cases. This was fine too however, I missed the partners that I could bounce ideas off of and could brainstorm with. I feel that there is always something to learn from another persons point of view/experience no matter how efficient/productive you are at your job. I think OP likes to work by him/herself and expects others to do the same. To split up a team, that has found their groove and is meeting or excelling all goals, is micro managing. If your employees are doing their jobs and doing it well, then allow them to continue to do it their way as long as it is ethical and not harmful to anyone. As a manager, you should count these two as a blessing.

  38. MDA*

    Quite frankly the negative response to this makes me question my appreciation of AMA in the first place. I’m an external processor and do *much* better at my job if I have a person I can bounce ideas off, learn from, and get deep in the weeds with, so we don’t have to start from scratch when asking each other for advice. This isn’t bad- these two folks may just be two external processors, so glad to have found a pair match, so they can work their most effectively. Sure, it’s worth a conversation with each on their own to make sure the business needs are being met, but the overreach in this column and many of the comments quite frankly makes me feel like I (and others like me) don’t belong. The only problem the letter writer expressed here was a feeling of “ick”– how about we encourage the letter writer, and AMA to revisit that feeling and see where it comes from, before persecuting the very effective employee team?

    1. Responder*

      I think you’re taking it quite personal as I see most commenters challenging the OP. Keep in mind we are also to take LW as their word. LW was clear in other responses there are concerns about near miss of deadlines and there is not a lot of creative/need to bounce ideas off of each other type of work and not type of work that if task A takes 1 hour and two people work on it, it takes 2 people 30 minutes. LW said it still would take 1 hour. It is not an overreach to 1. Make sure that one person isn’t carrying the other 2. Make sure that clients are having their needs met. It seems like it isn’t two people working collaboratively and accomplishing lots of things but more like 2 people are doing the work of 1 so things take twice as long as they should. OP has also responded that they were still in training mode.

  39. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    I’ve seen this dynamic a few times and it’s invariably been one of two scenarios:

    1. Romantic or friendship involvement between the 2 so they get to spend more time together (OP says this isn’t the case here)
    2. One person is “carrying” the other due to a skills or confidence gap.

    I would also think about whether ‘East’ being chair of the social committee is detrimental to work getting done in your team. It isn’t necessarily a fait accompli that East ‘has to’ spend a morning planning Jeans day etc instead of dealing with clients.

    1. Yellow Flotsam*

      In my work, this dynamic is usually because one is good at A and the other good at B, so working together, with a person they like working with, means they get to do well at both while playing to their strengths.

      It is important to make sure that nobody is having to carry their colleagues though.

  40. Overeducated*

    I’ve had this dynamic in a previous job. There were two reasons. First, there was a culture of “needing to be seen” – people felt they had to advocate for how much they were doing and be involved in everything, out of fear as we were going through major transitions. This got inefficient and annoying and we tried to separate out.

    Second, there was one coworker who could be told “ok do it on your own, just let me know if you need help/backup/info” and…really wasn’t good at seeing their own blind spots and asking first. They would be like “I’m an experienced professional!” and just do or say the wrong thing. My manager and I did think that person needed more “teamwork” because every time they were given a lot of autonomy, some problem would pop up at a later point.

    So…does East trust West? If not, why not?

  41. EmX*

    Could this be a cultural thing? I manage teams all over the world, and I can definitely see some of them working this way.

  42. Yellow Flotsam*

    LW do you have any concerns with the work? Or just how they do their work?

    If you have no concerns about the quality, or quantity of work done – then just let them do their job.

    Don’t break up a happy, productive team because you’d do things differently.

  43. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

    Just because people are collaborating on tasks does not mean they are duplicating each other’s work. Have you (OP) dived into how they’re handling the work itself to see what’s going on? It wasn’t entirely clear from the email.

    I do agree that special projects should require your approval before they go into them together, but otherwise, I’d wonder if there are valid reasons they’re working like this.

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