Creatively Confined!

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about feeling her/his ideas are unwelcome.

I work in the field of higher education with 4 co-workers instructing a course entitled media and society. I’ve been with the company 3 months and my position is lowest on the totem pole, instructing labs. I’m a highly motivated, self-reliant, creative individual who is also capable of collaborating with others on team projects. Keeping that in mind, perhaps you could help me with the following issues. In the workplace, I’m always asking questions, whether it’s during training or about something that will benefit the team or my class in particular.

However, the team vision we’re all supposed to share has resulted in a monstrous competition and power struggle within our cubicle. There are two individuals who are constantly withholding information about the company, and even about specific tasks which I’m required to be proficient in as part of my job description. Every time I ask someone to show me how to perform a particular task, the response is: “How about next week?”‘ or “It’s too complicated.”

Also, my position doesn’t require me to attend as many events and meetings as the others, but I’m invited to most. Expressing interest in attending these events and meetings, I was accused by a coworker of sucking up and wanting to advance in a hurry. He even jokingly said, “and I’m going to hold you down.”

Recently, he told me his former boss said when they are in a bind, the solution was to cancel my portion of the class for the month. This month the part of the class I teach was cancelled, and the reasoning was “with the shortened month of December, I don’t want the students to end up hating the class, by giving them an overload.” I did not want class to be cancelled, but I did not have the final word. Also, canceling class when it could have been held diminishes my role and insults my intelligence.

I enjoy my job but feel like I’m not growing with the company because nobody wants to train me to do MY job properly, in fear of me being on their same level of proficiency. That, to me, is demented. Also, when I have an idea, they often claim it as their own and don’t acknowledge the research or contributions I have made. I do the research and they take credit. My creativity and motivation are being reduced immensely! Where do I go from here? I’ve not a clue. Thanks in advance for the response.

Signed, Creatively Confined

Dear Creatively Confined: I have to give you some compliments! You seem very articulate and perceptive! You sound like a great employee and fine addition to any high-functioning team and teamwork culture! Here are some thoughts and suggestions for concerns:1. You outlined a very good set of skills, and you have every right to feel proud and confident! The fact that you ask questions is a good thing. It shows motivation and enthusiasm. You seem curious and driven to learn. That’s excellent too!

1. I wonder, are you more educated and skilled then the other team members? Some people might feel intimidated by those that might have better skills and abilities.

2. I think you are right about the power struggle. That’s what I see as well. It sounds more competitive and less team oriented then it should be. What is the vision/mission of the team? Part of your strategy might be to focus on the longer term. If you are more educated skilled, or driven, some of the other team members might be fearful in some way, and want to control power for themselves. Their control of information gives them power, and puts you (and others) at a disadvantage. Sadly, this kind of petty politics is too common. It happens in all kinds of relationships, and only makes things worse. Can you hang in there and ignore some of the problems you are having now? Do they have other teams you could work on?

3. The canceling of the class is troubling. I’m sure you planned and prepared for it. Maybe their reasoning is honest, but did they say they were going to reschedule it? That would be a good indication that is was more of a holiday issue. You might want to ask if they will reschedule it, if that’s possible. Could there be a shorter version, like a workshop?

4. I can see and feel your frustration. There is a culture there, beyond the employee manuals and stated policies. Maybe they see you as the newbie, and perhaps somewhat of an outsider? I don’t think it’s appropriate, but there are some things you can do about that. If you are on good terms with the two that are withholding information, try inviting them out (lunch, coffee, drinks after work). Sometimes, connecting outside of the office is a better, more personal way to have a dialog. You could ask them some casual questions about office politics there, and how you could do a better job, how things can go more smoothly.

Focus on things you want to learn rather than criticize them. See what comes out of that. It might strengthen your relationship to the team, and hopefully you will learn some useful information. Are there other members on the team? I don’t know how many, but see if you can reach out to them too. Surprise them with pizza for lunch or pastries on Friday morning sometime. Test the waters a bit.

Is there a team manager? It doesn’t seem like there is a manager or leader of the team. That’s the person who would organize and manage the team, including sorting through the problems you’re having. If there is such a person, see if you can get to know them better. Follow the suggestions above (meet outside the office) if he or she is different from the members that are withholding the information.I hope these suggestions are helpful! Feel free to get back to us! WEGO is using creativity and communication to solve problems!

Guest Respondent, Author, The Teamwork Chronicles

Steven H. Carney,