Wednesday, 3 October 2012

How NOT to work with your colleagues

I recently attended the Australian Young Lawyers Conference in Adelaide, and one of the discussions was a panel discussion about workplace relationships.

A scenario was proposed:
"You and another person of similar experience to you have been given a task to do. Although you are of a similar level and position to the other person, you have been given the lead on this task. What's more, you know exactly why you have been given the lead. How do you make it work without too much awkwardness?"


One of the panelists indicated that this was a scenario that had actually occurred to her. 

Ok, so I read this and make the following assumptions. 
  1. For whatever reason, you are better than your colleague at this task. Either you are just less shit than them, or they have issues with this type of task. 
  2. Because of the above, your supervisor has given you the lead, hoping that you can make something of it, or at least preventing the other person from ruining it.
  3. For this to be an issue, then there has to be some form of tension between you and the other person already. Otherwise you would just sit down and get the job done. 
  4. The task is relatively major, otherwise it wouldn't be assigned to two people.
The following suggestions were canvassed from the floor.
  1. Team meeting where you both sit down and work out what is going to happen and what needs doing.
  2. Tentative approaches canvassing what your colleague feels.
  3. "Wants and needs" meeting to work out the working relationship.
  4. Ask your supervisor to assign the task to a different grouping.
One idea was suggested, but dismissed almost out of hand, amidst much derision. "Just sit down and crack the whip."

The first suggestion seems obvious, and I would certainly feel that something similar to that should always be the first port-of-call. You have to work with this person, the job has to be done, there should be no reason why you can't work out how to do it. 

The panelist then gave some more information about this matter. She was given the lead on this task, and the other person was a much older but no more senior male. He flat out refused to take directions from a woman, and the matters ended up taking months of acrimonious argument and... discussion. For whatever reason, her supervisor refused to re-assign the task. 

Ok, so this brings us back to the much-ridiculed suggestion that you just sit down and 'crack the whip.' 

Why is this an issue? Even if the person can't work with you civilly, the job still needs doing. At the end of the day, you are both working as professionals in a business, and you have a duty of obedience to your employer. 

If all else fails, then dictating the terms of the working relationship may be all that is possible. If the person has refused to cooperate, then they have lost the opportunity to converse about the terms. 

The reason I bring this up is that the idea seemed to be dismissed out of hand. In this politically correct environment, we wouldn't want anyone to be seen to be giving ORDERS to their colleagues, because that would be 'dis-harmonious' and wouldn't be using 'team-thinking' or 'positivity.' 

What tripe. You are in a work-place to get a job done. Sure, you can expect a measure of civility, but if you can't play ball, you should expect to be treated poorly. If you can't deal with it, get another job. 

I want to stress that I am not advocating bludgeoning your colleagues with every bit of power you are given. That will lead to poor performance, stress and unemployment. But otherwise, suck it up. 

This message is brought to you by three days without coffee and a bitter grudge against civil society. 

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