how to tell an overstepping employee to stay in their lane

A reader writes:

I manage a large team. Their job descriptions and roles are pretty clear and specific, but one of our subject matter expects, “Jane,” is constantly questioning the work of other team members on projects she doesn’t have a stake in (and by default, my support for that work and the decisions being made). I want to encourage feedback and discussion, but I also need to let Jane know she has to trust her coworkers and their expertise, and the boundaries of who “owns” what.

I think one of the issues is the company and my team has grown from a small one to a larger one with new leadership (including me!). So we’ve gone from a place where a lot of decisions were made by committee to one where some people are stakeholders and others are not. Jane has been at the company for a while but is not in a leadership or management position, so is often not a stakeholder in key decisions/projects.

I’ve tried to put better guardrails around feedback or limit involvement in some projects but then she says she doesn’t feel heard. How do I respectfully communicate that she should focus more on her role, without stifling creative collaboration and discussion?

For example, in meetings she’ll announce that something feels off-brand to her, or she doesn’t like the colors used in a design or the language chosen to describe something, or she doesn’t think sufficient progress has been made on a campaign — all for projects that she’s not involved with. This is all addressed to me — she’s not in any meetings with the other stakeholders and decision-makers so when these questions come up, especially in all-team meetings, it feels like things get derailed since I have to try and defend things and walk her through hours of discussion or context she wasn’t present for (and make it clear I support the decisions of the people who run those areas).

She is great at her job. But she doesn’t have experience in any of the areas where she questions decisions and wants input.

Am I being a grinch when I want to grit my teeth and want to flat out say “You don’t have to worry about that because it has nothing to do with your job — plus trust your team to make good decisions based on their expertise”?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. Rick Tq*

    If Jane frequently comments about specific areas you might split your meetings, one for topics in Jane’s area of expertise and one that doesn’t include her.

    This may be a sign that your meetings cover so many topics some (and perhaps many) of the participants don’t need to be there, they only need 5 minutes of the content of an hour-long meeting.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is a good point. I’m more senior so my perspective is not necessarily the same as Jane’s, but I expect that if I’ve been invited to a meeting I’m supposed to participate and comment on what’s being presented.

      1. Antilles*

        Not necessarily. These sorts of “all teams” meetings are extremely common in some industries. Everybody on the project is invited because there are some updates that everybody needs to hear. Near-misses on safety, the overall project deadline getting extended, things of that nature. It really is important to make sure everybody gets these updates and it’s best to do it in a group (rather than in smaller groups) because there’s often follow-up where an attendee asks a question that is good for everybody to hear.

        Then each department has a few minutes of discussion on where they stand. The architecture team gives their 5 minutes, the engineer gives his 5 minutes, environmental compliance gives their 5 minutes, etc. By and large, other departments will stay silent during these and it’s mostly an FYI, though there’s also usually at least once or twice a meeting where one of the updates directly interacts with another department and “oh that change requires me to redesign X, so we might need another week on our end”.

        So it does really need to be an all-team meeting, but it’s expected that participants have the discernment to recognize the difference between “this doesn’t affect me, just nod and keep my mouth shut” versus “I need to interject here because it affects me”. The problem isn’t the meeting setup, it’s Jane not being able to draw that line.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Exactly. I’m on our ELT and as a rule, we’re invited to update, progress, general team meetings. We don’t weigh in unless we’re asked, or because we need to address a significant issue or error.

          Otherwise, we sit and nod at the right moments, and listen instead of hold court.

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

      I’m wondering if its just a broad meeting where everyone talks about new projects or whatever and so Jane is commenting during that time.

      1. Snow Globe*

        I work for a pretty large company, and we have quarterly all-team meetings where employees are given brief updates about projects going on in other areas of the company. It’s important that people feel like they know what’s happening in the larger picture, but clearly the people on those projects are informing, not looking for input.

    3. Beth*

      This was my question too–why is Jane in so many meetings about projects that she’s not a stakeholder in and has no experience with? While all-hands meetings are a thing (especially in small companies), they shouldn’t be frequent. Most team meetings should be with a smaller team who actually work together on similar projects, not with the entire company and covering all projects that are ongoing.

      But also, if someone is derailing a meeting asking for a lot of context and background, there’s a simple fix. “We’re running out of time for this topic. Jane, let’s take this discussion offline–for now, does anyone else have thoughts before we move on to [next topic]?” goes a long way towards avoiding meeting derails.

      1. Jelly*

        LW clarifies that the meetings Jane are in are “all team,” and nothing in the letter indicates frequency of those.

    4. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      It felt to me from the letter that Jane wasn’t derailing meetings, but finding out about the decisions and then spending considerable time bending LW’s ear about her disgruntlement.

      If that’s the case, I think the answer is simple. “Here’s your lane, you can stay in it. And I’ll listen to a few minutes of griping, just in case there’s something useful to pass along, but I won’t be rehashing meeting content about projects that are not on your caseload.”

  2. Same But Different*

    Do you have any advice for a similar situation when you’re the peer, not the manager? Dealing with something similar with someone on another team within my department. She’s overstepping – speaking on our behalf in meetings with stakeholders, dictating instead of collaborating (especially on nitty gritty things she openly admits she does not understand), and telling *how* to run our own processes but not the justification behind it or the *why*. She has been spoken to by my director, and both the VP and CXO are aware of her behavior – VP is not happy with her but I’m unsure about CXO’s opinion.

    1. Tio*

      If it’s already been escalated to those people and she’s been spoken to, there’s not much you can do as a peer. Technically, you could probably try to change the subject, but that should really be on your manager or someone above her in the food chain fixing these problems

    2. Emily*

      It sounds like it’s time to go back to your Director and let her know that your co-worker is still displaying the same behavior and ask her where to go from here.

    3. She of Many Hats*

      For you, a lot of cheerful “Hey, Jean, we’ve got this.” “Hey Jean, we’ve already updated Boss on this & too much info mucks up the water.” Tendency is to start with Thanks Jean but that subtly tells her she’s being helpful. Then, as others have said, keep both your boss (and if he agrees), her boss in the loop when her interference impacts the work.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        This is the way.

        We got this covered.
        We’re beyond the brainstorming stage.
        That piece of it is already decided, so I don’t want to derail.
        Today we’re looking for a solution for X, so let’s focus on that.
        There’s a lot of other nuances to this, and ultimately the best course of action is X.
        We certainly considered all sides before deciding on X.
        I won’t rehash the whole process, but this is the direction Fergus decided on.
        There’s too much context to get into, but we’re fully committed to X.

        1. Lisa*

          When applicable, “That’s already been approved by senior management” can stop this in its tracks.

      2. Web of Pies*

        Yep, completely agree. I have one of those “has to be the smartest in the room and knows a few very basic aspects of my highly technical job and thus feels free to explain simple concepts and direct me” coworkers.

        I usually just continue on unruffled after they’ve explained a very basic part of my job to me, and when I’m feeling sassy I’ll inject more technical comments about things I know they don’t know about to watch them squirm. It’s the absolute best when those comments involve something they created.

    4. Web of Pies*

      Do you know that part in the Schitt’s Creek wine commercial episode where Johnny is annoying the film crew by spouting his (extremely limited) knowledge about the technical aspects of filming and they’re all just rolling their eyes at it? Just picture that when she’s going off. :)

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      It sounds like Jane was right to want to be involved with those other things though – her function was days away from being eliminated

      1. ClaireW*

        Yeah to be honest, if I was Jane I would feel justified in my behaviour. If my previous role was vanishing and my manager was seemingly pigeon-holing me into that role so I wouldn’t even get the opportunity to find another role within the company that would be rough. And then if I got to a new role, had a project with my old team and had to go out of my way to set up conversations before said manager decided they’d include me in conversations… look I’m not saying Jane wasn’t overstepping but I really think the manager had already decided they didn’t like her approach and is now at the point of rejecting dealing with her at all even when her behaviour is entirely appropriate (e.g. “I need to talk to the team I’m doing work for”)

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          I don’t consider doing the job she’s got the skills for and not doing the job that she doesn’t have the expertise in to be “pigeonholing.”

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I disagree. She turned around and overstepped in her NEXT role too.

        I think she wants to be managing the project. Unfortunately her role is that of an individual contributor. Whether or not she’s ready to be project manager, she needs to be hired as one before assuming the authority.

          1. Observer*

            Because she tried to set up a meeting?

            Sometimes that by itself is an over-step. If you are not the manager, or a peer of the manager of the project, it’s not your place to set up team meetings, especially kick off meetings. Asking people to explain their work to her? Major over-step.

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              I think who sets up meetings is very much case by case . Where I work now anyone can set up a meeting with anyone else – it’s not a big deal at all.

              I’m sure Jane isn’t perfect, but it sounds like due to no fault of her own a “great” worker was moved off of things she’d been working on previously, then laid off, then back part time and still trying to contribute.

              I’d just cut her some slack, that’s all

              1. Observer*

                but it sounds like due to no fault of her own a “great” worker was moved off of things she’d been working on previously, then laid off, then back part time and still trying to contribute

                No, these were not things she had been working on. And you don’t need to act as though you are in charge in order to contribute.

              2. Michelle Smith*

                As a project manager, I’m sorry but no. Her setting up a kickoff meeting was wildly inappropriate given the facts we have.

                Should she have been invited to the actual manager’s kickoff meeting from the jump? Possibly. But she still shouldn’t have set up her own without checking in with the actual project manager first.

            2. Samwise*

              Agreed — setting up a kickoff meeting for a project she was NOT leading, but where she was making some contributions. Kickoff is for the person whose project it is. I’d be royally peeved if a peer did that for one of my projects or functions, especially where they were only contributing pieces.

              BTDT. It is not fun to have to 1. Discuss with your own manager asap what is going on and how you will respond 2. Communicating with the overstepper that, no, you will not have a kickoff on my project and 3. communicating to the overstepper that, in this case, they were not even invited to the kickoff (= why they thought they needed to set up a kickoff, because they were so sure I had not set one up). It’s a waste of time and energy and generates irritation or anger when I have waaaay better things to be doing.

            1. kalli*

              That she wasn’t invited to or informed of until she set up her own to get information for her part of the process.

            2. JustMyImagination*

              Since Jane wasn’t invited to that meeting, though, she likely couldn’t have known about it. If Jane was part of the project and contributing assets to it, it sounds like she should have been invited to the kick off from the get-go. Jane may have overstepped but the LW may still be keeping Jane out.

              1. Observer*

                it sounds like she should have been invited to the kick off from the get-go. Jane may have overstepped

                She should probably have been invoked. But she still over-stepped. Because *she* did not need a kickoff meeting where everyone else explains their roles to her.

              2. Samwise*

                Not at all. Just because you will be contributing some pieces does not mean you need to be at the kickoff or any meeting really related to the project. Your pieces may be small. Your pieces may not be related to the issues that are discussed in the meeting. Your pieces may be assigned to you by your manager, who IS at the kickoff. You may not have any standing whatsoever to comment on or be privy to the discussion in the meeting.

                1. JustMyImagination*

                  That’s why I said “may”. She may have need to have been invited. We don’t know the answer but it’s a possibility. If she’s molding the teapot handle then she should be made aware of who is providing the clay, and who is attaching it to the pot so she knows the timing of her piece and hits the deadlines. Or it could be like you said, only managers are invited and they’re expected to cascade the information down.

                2. Lydia*

                  @JustMyImagination I’m going to go with if she needed to be there, she would have been invited. The person in charge of the project will most likely know best who needs to be at the kickoff and who doesn’t. Possibly sometimes you realize later the person’s contribution will be bigger, but no matter what, Jane shouldn’t have set up her own kickoff meeting for everyone on a project she wasn’t in charge of.

              3. Silver Robin*

                Funnily, I read the update as Jane showing up after the meeting had already been set up, so maybe OP assumed the manager would have forwarded it to her or OP just forgot because of everything else going on. I know I have forgotten to forward invites to weekly team meetings when new folks join because it was one of a million other things I had to handle that day; nothing malicious.

                My question is, why did Jane jump to setting up a meeting rather than asking OP if a kick-off was happening, and could they please forward her the invite? I feel like Jane overstepped because she seemed to assume OP was not doing their job.

            3. Velociraptor Attack*

              A meeting the LW already set up but didn’t invite her to. She had no way of knowing there was already a meeting. I can’t tell from the update how integral Jane’s role is on the new project so how much of an overstep her trying to set up the meeting was (though I do think it was probably an overstep), but excluding her from the kickoff meeting isn’t a great look for OP.

              1. Samwise*

                Nope, OP is in charge and we need to trust that she knows who needs to be at the meeting and who does not. Sounds like OP invited Jane after the overstep to smooth things over; if Jane wasn’t invited initially, I trust there was a reason.

              2. Lydia*

                You can’t tell, but you should trust the OP knows whether or not Jane needed to be there. What’s not a great look is deciding for yourself to set up another meeting so you can make the determination on what you do and don’t need to know.

              3. Katie*

                I am in accounting where projects magically forget to include us until much later in the process and then get pissy when we do insert ourselves or say this isn’t going to work because of XYZ. Many people are saying to give OP the benefit of the doubt but alas I have been on the incorrectly excluded end to at least raise my eyebrows. Hell my entire job isn’t supposed to be here but they didn’t think about accounting when they implemented a new tool.

                1. Michelle Smith*

                  That’s understandable that you have this perspective. But the correct thing for Jane to have done in that situation is not to set up her own project kickoff meeting for a project she is not in charge of! The correct thing to do would be to contact her manager and/or the LW to ask her questions and/or ask if a kickoff meeting had been/would be set up that she could be invited to.

                  I seriously doubt you in the accounting department would take it upon yourself to set up a kickoff meeting about the new widget project being run and managed by the product development team, even if you have been incorrectly excluded from meetings on other projects in the past.

              4. ClaireW*

                This is where I think personal bias/experience always comes into these things. I have had a manager that has deliberately ‘forgot’ to include me on meetings because they didn’t like me, didn’t like that I had more experience than them in my area so I would ask questions they couldn’t answer etc… I’m not saying the LW is like this but my experience obviously leads me to be on Jane’s side (being deliberately ‘forgotten’ from tings she needed to know because the manager had a personal grudge), managers with difficult employees are going to be on the LW’s side I guess.

              5. I Have RBF*

                I would not have invited a known derailer to a kickoff meeting unless her role was point or lead on an area. Her manager can hand her work. She does not need to come to my meeting and tell people how to do their jobs.

            4. AngryOctopus*

              And seemed to go well beyond the scope of what she should be asking. It’s not part of Jane’s job to set up these meetings or set the agenda, and doing it herself, then asking everyone in the meeting to explain their roles to her, is a huge overstep. If she’s confused about what people do after the initial kickoff, she can speak to people individually.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            If Jane wasn’t considered critical enough for the larger meeting’s original guestlist, she probably really did overstep in setting up her own kickoff meeting.

          3. umami*

            Since she was setting up a kickoff meeting for a project that wasn’t hers, I would consider that a big overreach. The project manager or designee is the one who will kick off their project, not a contributor from another team. That would seem very odd and inappropriate to me.

          4. I Have RBF*

            Yes. Because she tried to set up a kickoff meeting on a project she was not leading.

            Project meetings are set up by a) the project manager, or b) the project lead, or c) the management sponsor, or d) an assistant at the request of one of those three.

        1. Lily Potter*

          Ah yes. The one who wants the “glamour” (ha!) of being a project manager without the responsibility or having to do the unpleasant parts of it.

      3. Beth*

        Honestly, truth. The update makes me think that OP really was pushing Jane out to an extent. The parts about her trying to get involved in projects that she’s not on read differently when we know her focus area was being eliminated. Being a busybody when you have your own projects is one thing; trying to get involved, connect, and help where you can when your own role is getting deprioritized is another, that’s just reading the writing on the wall and trying to position yourself for a transfer.

        And now that she’s in a role that collaborates with OP’s team, OP badmouths her to her current manager for trying to initiate communication? If anything, OP was in the wrong for not inviting her to their scheduled project kick-off–that’s supposed to be a time for the whole project team to come together, get aligned on goals and timelines and who’s doing what, etc. What was Jane supposed to do? Mind-read that OP had a kickoff meeting, chose to exclude her, and would get upset when she reached out to get the context she needed to do her piece of the project?

        1. Observer*

          OP badmouths her to her current manager for trying to initiate communication?

          That’s not what Jane did, though. She set up a kick off meeting, which is not her place and which she doesn’t have the background for, and asking team members to take time to essentially report to her, although she doesn’t have the standing to do so. Talking to her manager was exactly the right thing to do.

          Also, the OP *did* invite her to the kickoff meeting, once they organized it.

          1. Beth*

            It sounded to me like OP scheduled a kickoff meeting and didn’t invite Jane to it, Jane then scheduled one, OP replied asking her to cancel it, and only then did OP add her to the existing one.

            I am a project manager. I would be really surprised if someone on one of my project teams made a move like this–because the first thing I do when I’m assigned to a new project is 1) identify who’s on the project team and 2) schedule a kick-off meeting with all stakeholders (including people who are just contributing a small piece) invited. It would be really weird and out of line for someone else to then schedule their own kick-off meeting, because that’s my job.

            But if I wasn’t doing my job? If I didn’t set up a project team meeting (or didn’t invite everyone to it–which to the people who aren’t invited looks like I didn’t set one up)? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if someone else reached out to kick things off. I’d be embarrassed that they felt like they had to, but not surprised.

            1. Silver Robin*

              I too am a PM and I am really surprised Jane did not just…ask OP if there was a kickoff meeting before setting her own up. Like that seems a bit insulting, since she is assuming that OP is not doing their job.

              There are non-malicious reasons Jane was not invited initially, maybe she got added to the team later and forwarding it fell through the cracks. Maybe OP initially thought Jane did not actually need to be there and was mistaken. Maybe there was a miscommunication from Jane’s manager over who needed to be included. Or, maybe OP just wanted to avoid dealing with Jane (not very professional). But regardless of why, were I in Jane’s shoes, I would be asking my manager or OP if I needed to attend the kickoff meeting that I *assume* already exists, rather than setting up my own!

            2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

              But if she felt that way, she should have reached out to the ‘project manager’ to ask about it, not just create her own kick-off meeting.

            3. umami*

              I am wondering how Jane could be better positioned to know just who to invite to the kickoff meeting than the actual project lead?

          2. I am Emily's failing memory*

            This is one of those letters where the description is so brief that there’s more than one possible interpretation, and how much of a problem it is could vary dramatically depending on which interpretation you go with.

            On one hand, “kickoff meeting” by that name is something I’d normally consider to be led by the project manager, not an individual contributor.

            On the other hand, at my company it’s very normal for new employees to set up meetings with teams they’ll be working with to learn what each person on the team does and how their roles typically or likely will interact.

            It’s also not uncommon for a not-new employee to request a meeting with a person or three from a team they work with to just kind of get back in alignment when you sense the knowledge gap between your teams has gotten too wide and people are starting to not be looped in on things they should have been consulted on, because Team A had no idea Team B had set up a new process, and Team B had no idea their new process would impact Team A’s new process that they didn’t know. As long as the volume is requests isn’t excessive and they’re not being used as a fig leaf to horn in on someone else’s work, we’re expected to take these kinds of meetings when they’re requested by colleagues.

            So by the title of the meeting Jane seems like she’s clearly overstepping, but by the description of the content of the meeting it seems possible that her meeting request was reasonable. To really know which is which I’d want to hear more about what the LW described as “explain their work to her.” Did that mean walk her through all the work done to date on this project and explain why every decision was made? Or did it mean outline for her what role everyone on the other team will be playing on this project so she understands how the pieces fit together and who needs to know about what things that might come up? Both of those could be described as “explain their work to her.”

            So did Jane actually want something unreasonable or she just title her meeting inappropriately? Heck, did she even title it that, or was LW paraphrasing from a similar term? Anything that’s not in quotes in a letter may not be intended as a verbatim description.

            In some cases you really have to reach to find an interpretation that changes the advice, or you have to do a lot of “what is X unmentioned thing is also happening?” speculation to come up with another way to interpret it. But this one seems much more ambiguous to me, where I’m not saying Jane wasn’t a problem, just that I don’t think LW’s description of Jane’s behavior in her new role is clear enough to rule out the possibility that she was actually operating normally but LW is still primed to see her as overstepping even when she’s not because of past experience managing her.

        2. 2E*

          Agreeing with Beth here.

          I’d add that the “not my problem child” language in the update made me bristle. It’s not a figure of speech I’d use to describe anyone in a professional context (and I taught a lot of teenagers in my previous career…).

        3. MCMonkeyBean*

          It’s hard to say for sure without really knowing the specifics but it sounds like a bit of a mess on both sides to me. If Jane literally called her meeting a “kickoff meeting” that’s really not appropriate for her to set up on someone else’s project. But if she just wanted some context for a project she was preparing to contribute to that makes sense, and it does seem like she was left out of the actual kickoff meeting. (Which a lot of people are suggesting she maybe didn’t need to be in, but in my experience a kickoff meeting generally includes literally everyone who might ever be expected to be involved in the project.)

          I think Jane probably was a bit of a pain with a tendency to overstep, but that OP probably got a bit BEC about her and was excluding her too much. It’s a bit hard to take OP totally at face value when they say in the update they they think they weren’t pushing Jane out like one paragraph after telling us Jane was very literally completely pushed out.

      4. Observer*

        It sounds like Jane was right to want to be involved with those other things though – her function was days away from being eliminated

        Not really. It’s not just that she pulled the same kind of thing in her new position. It’s also that you don’t make yourself more likely to be kept on by over-stepping.

        I’ve seen this play out. The organzation needs make some cuts in department X. If the person being cut is someone well liked with transferable skills, someone tries to find them another place. People who over-step or act in ways that legitimately annoy others (and criticizing things you don’t have the expertise to weigh in on qualifies), not so much.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          But it says they eliminated her whole group (two people). Plus they brought her back, so someone did think enough of Jane to find her another place.

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Sort of, but LW learned to take a deep breath and draw a boundary (no we aren’t going to have a meeting to discuss this, manager please rein her in) which will continue to be useful more generally.

    3. Artemesia*

      Wow — she set up a ‘kickoff meeting’ for a project she was not in charge of. Too bad they hired her back.

      1. WellRed*

        Agreed! I’m surprised by all the comments both times about all the ways in which Jane might be right.

  3. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I’m really curious how this turn out. Did the employee receive it well? Did she change?

  4. Emily*

    I guarantee you that Jane is really frustrating her co-workers. LW’s goal should not be “making sure Jane feels heard”, but rather “get Jane to stop her behavior.” As Alison said, this role may not be a good fit for Jane anymore.

  5. Beboots*

    Oh man, I feel like I could have written parts of this letter, except that my employee in question often comments on other projects but neglects elements of their own… so I really just needed them to refocus on their own core work and do that well enough before trying to get involved in the minutiae of other projects.

  6. Jelly*

    It’s difficult to work with people like this. Just no concept of boundaries or trust in others, convinced that their way is the only way. It is the height of insecurity, and she is obligating everyone else to relieve her of it.

    She needs to learn boundaries. She is questioning other people’s professionalism and that is bound to foster resentment – toward you, LW, for not stopping it.

    Lather, rinse, and repeat until she understands she has her own lane to manage, her co-workers’ have theirs, and you, not she, manages all.

    I see there is an update but still wanted to share my thoughts, as this kind of situation has plagued every job I have ever had.

  7. Czhorat*

    SO MANY of these issues come down to the idea of having an honest, clear discussion about expectations and failure to meet them. So many offices devolve into what I think of as sitcom logic in which everyone makes assumptions about what the rest of the office knows, and hilarity ensues.

    Only rather than “hilarity” it’s “a miserable workplace in which everyone is angry but nobody has bothered to articulate why”.

  8. not nice, don't care*

    I’ve seen crappy leadership reward lane-swerving employees who butt into conversations, invite themselves to meetings etc. then present themselves to management as experts or somehow more engaged than folks actually doing the work.
    Super frustrating when calling it out just gets one labelled as the complainer or not a team player.

  9. Heta-uma*

    Jane might well be being heard, but that doesn’t mean that anyone in obliged to act on what they’re hearing from her.

  10. Hope*

    I think some of this could come from the experience some have where being visible is a proxy for having influence, and questioning decisions or providing input is one way to insert oneself. Maybe Jane is feeling stagnant in her role and looking for ways to grow. In addition to the “stay in your lane” conversation I think it might be helpful to look at the root cause for the behavior and if it’s driven by a desire to grow. Not saying reward the annoying person with a promotion – just see if there’s a stretch project in her scope that can have a special impact and the opportunity to get her some relevant visibility.

  11. SaladBowl*

    It’s frustrating to have to stay in your lane when you work in sales, though, because that’s the point where so much hits the fan.

    I used to have to work events that were held at restaurants–appetizers, mingling, and a presentation. Our events team would often book semi-private rooms. When it was time for the presentation, the presenters would have to shout over restaurant noise. It really interfered with the presentation, and sucked to see the same problem happen time and again.

    Same with a lot of other departments–marketing producing brochures that don’t address what the customers are asking…planning campaigns and not telling us about them or what the timing is of the outreach…customer service not alerting us of issues that our clients called in about, etc.

    1. Cyndi*

      Not sales, but I used to work in a different job where our bit of the pipeline seemed to become the metaphorical hair catcher for all the systemic mistakes happening ahead of us. I really liked that job, for the most part, but I always found it frustrating that whenever there was a recurring issue at the teapot designing or molding or painting stages, the answer was always “oh, the teapot glazing department has to make this procedural change to fix it” instead of changing things upstream to stop it happening to begin with. So yeah, I griped sometimes, but I knew perfectly well it was never going to help anything.

      1. Merrie*

        A certain amount of this is always going to be part of my department’s job, but it sure does get tedious when there are functions that other groups consistently screw up despite the fact that they deal with them on a daily basis. (I’m a pharmacist. Nurses on mother-infant and OB residents should not have as much trouble with the post-C-section pain med orders as they do. They deal with this on a pretty much daily basis, it’s not like it’s some esoteric thing they rarely encounter, but nevertheless they mess it up quite frequently. You’d think there would be some solution to this issue other than pharmacy has to just keep fixing it.)

        1. ABC123*

          Just curious but shouldn’t risk management or clinical quality also be catching things like that? Are you, or your boss able to call the nurses or residents bosses and let them know about the continued near-miss med errors?

  12. Jane Bingley*

    I’ve worked with a Jane before, who took the growth of the company as a demotion. She wanted be involved in small decisions all across the organization when it had grow far too large for that to be feasible. The irony is that small/new organizations desperately need these Janes of all trades, people who like working in an unstructured environment and enjoy doing a little bit of a lot of different kinds of work. But it requires the self-awareness to realize the organization you loved is now bigger, more stable, and more specialized, and to look for a new job somewhere else that’s just getting off the ground. My office’s Jane also didn’t seem to get it, and didn’t move on despite being openly miserable.

    1. Funbud*

      You really put this well! Another scenario that can happen with “Jane” is as the company grows & specializes, Jane gets pushed into a completely inappropriate role. I worked at one company where Jane had been the right hand person for the start-up’s founder. She ending up heading HR, a role she had no training or inclination for. Her poor fit on the role was obvious. Worse, the company’s founder had since died and no one quite knew how to get rid of Jane.

  13. ADHDEmployee*

    We were getting a bit out of our lane the other day and my boss just said “the purpose of this time is not to criticize X and so we’re moving on”

    it was super effective and brought us back to what we were supposed to be doing

  14. AMT*

    My wife’s company has dozens of Janes. The larger issue is that a lot of people have seemingly nothing to do. Also, their meetings are enormous and everyone seems to be invited to everything, which apparently makes the Janes think they “should” be giving input at steps of a given project that don’t include them at all (e.g. the llama washers are nosing into llama drying tasks and expecting their ill-informed feedback to be taken seriously and responded to promptly, which is both annoying and takes away time from real work). Plus, the Janes’ managers don’t seem to be giving them any pushback on their lane-drifting, so it falls on the employees who are actually responsible for that step of the project to tell them, “No, your department’s job is 100% done and this doesn’t affect you in the least.” Which they do, but even doing that is a time suck/stress inducer.

  15. Lacey*

    I always seem to work in companies that cultivate Janes. One would even solicit opinions from people with no knowledge about the subject and then our department would be forced to defend our choices and give a brief education to everyone in order for them to understand the problem.

    Which, I guess is a thing that can be necessary sometimes… but why MAKE it be necessary?

  16. Mmm.*

    It sounds a bit to me like the changed expectations may not have been communicated. It’s VERY hard to go from a collaborative environment to a “stay in your lane” type (and vice versa). I wouldn’t start with a bunch of “you” statements and instead talk about how the company has changed and what you’ve noticed about how she communicated vs. the new norms. It may seem intuitive, but that isn’t necessarily the case, especially for long-timers. And even more for someone who loved their job as it was.

  17. Marcella*

    In marketing, I’ve worked with many Janes. They work in HR, product development, accounting, payroll, or IT but consider themselves marketing geniuses and are constantly trying to control or change creative and strategy. It goes beyond useful feedback to trying to control every project. Some have scheduled New Product Marketing Rollout meetings without…. inviting anyone from marketing.

    Being direct is the only thing that works. Some people really believe that their opinion supercedes everyone else’s. Others just want to look engaged and knowledgeable so coworkers perceive them as natural leaders.

    Jane sounds like someone who really wants to be in control. She might be one of those people where if you don’t let them control something, they’ll try to control everything.

  18. McS*

    I’m actually not sure it’s time for a big conversation yet. I’m concerned that you are derailing meetings to answer her questions and letting her set a tone of criticism with a simple first reaction to new information. If you haven’t worn out the phrase “Let’s take that question offline. There’s a lot of work behind this decision and I can send you a document after the meeting to help you understand it” do that first. If she is asking follow up questions to that phrasing in the meeting or if she is pushing a criticism without fully reviewing the documentation, that’s a bigger problem. But even if the decision is outside her scope as a stakeholder, it’s good for cohesion and morale for her to have access to the reasoning behind it unless there’s a good reason for that to be secret.

    1. Non non non all the way home*

      I think it’s terrible for many workers’ morale to have their work constantly questioned publicly and inappropriately. I manage creatives and allowing this to happen can drive away creative talent.

      1. AMT*

        This is so common in creative fields! My wife does a specific, hard-to-master kind of writing and the amount of unnecessary, time-consuming feedback from non-involved departments is morale-draining. Everyone seems to think they’re great writers and couldn’t possibly have a single bad idea–so why not voice those ideas to someone who barely has enough time to get the writing itself done, much less fend off unhelpful/blatantly wrong commentary?

        I get that people want to look proactive, but…can’t they volunteer for a committee? Make coffee? Vacuum?

  19. Corelle*

    I had to handle this recently —- my case was another manager freaking out that a separate group was going to cause problems if they were “allowed” to do X. Her concerns had already been raised and the group responded with an action plan to address her concerns. She didn’t have agency to really raise the concerns in the first place and continuing to push would have been way over the top. I stifled it by reminding her that if the other group did cause issues, it would be apparent in specific KPIs, so she could follow up with them later after X was done and hound them about the KPIs if they went off the rails.

  20. Raida*

    If she’s doing it in meetings and it’s simply a case of “Jane has no background information on this to really form a useful opinion and her opinion doesn’t matter”
    Then you say “No problem Jane, the project/campaign is on track, I’m happy to run through your questions after this workshop/meeting/session and answer any questions you have.”
    and if then she doesn’t let it go, you can be more firm to say “I hear you Jane, and I’ve already said that I can answer any questions at another time. This meeting’s purpose is X, and we’re going to keep on track with the agenda.”

    Also – make sure there’s an agenda, it’s far easier to stop side tracking when you all have a shared understanding of the purpose of a meeting.

  21. Bo Peep*

    She “doesn’t feel heard” because she’s wasting time talking about things that aren’t her business!

  22. Jo*

    Jane needs to be managed quickly. I left my last job because of two ladies just like Jane who constantly questioned everything I did and was assigned… by my boss.

    They would cry in her office about it. it really impacted my professional advancement, held me back, and made me scared to share success…. and I couldn’t see a way past it if my boss was unable to handle them.

  23. Non non non all the way home*

    Aah, the Janes of the world, existing to question how the rest of us can possibly do our jobs without the input of random people with no expertise who nevertheless consider themselves to be experts on everything creative? “Of course I’m an expert on writing because I know how to read!” “Of course I’m an expert on design because I see it!” “Of course I’m an expert on the web because I’ve used it!” etc.

  24. blood orange*

    OP – I went through a transition from small company with a really flat structure, to a larger company with a lot more moving parts. We experienced this quite a bit, and not just from one person. We had all gotten used to group discussions, so when that started to become more siloed we had team members feeling left out when they heard about things when they were already in the final stages. For that reason, probably, our President decided to address the issue and the changes as a group, and it got much better after that discussion.

    I’d say today we’re pretty good about delivering feedback similarly to how Alison has recommended you ask Jane to deliver her input. On occasion any input in the final stages might be received and actually implemented (for instance, a few months ago I expressed a concern with the naming of a new product, and it was changed), but we’re mostly seeing presentations from groups and celebrating their hard work.

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