Why Should I Step Back After Doing The Work?

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about how to respond to being shut out on a project after doing all of the foundational work.

I’ve led the development of an application from project conception to many successful deployments in my department while also actively working as senior programmer. I’ve had the support and respect of the project leadership and sponsors from the beginning. However, over the years another team in another department attempted to develop the exact same application and failed many times. I have now been asked to collaborate with this team, and was told by my manager that the team will now take over the project going forward.

I am confused about why should I give up all of my priority codes and hand them over to a team for someone else to lead. I humbled myself many times to help them overcome challenges they faced. Every few months they ask the same questions again and again. I have shared documentation also, but in meetings with leadership they imply I have not shared the documentation.

I have asked on several occasions it they could share the work they have done thus far, so I could look at their code and help them through issues. They rudely refuse to allow me to see their code. My management team will not support me. What should I do? Should I give up my code to this team and be OK with it? I have asked to lead the new team, however I was not allowed to due to office politics. I’m confident I can lead this project but no-one listens me. What should I do?

Response: Thank you for sharing your concerns about giving your work results to what seems to be a less-effective group so they can take over a project. I can well understand that if your managers don’t seem to be supporting you it will make the situation feel even worse. Even your best communication efforts may not completely solve this problem, but perhaps you can work through it in a way that shows you in a positive light to your managers and coworkers, protects your future in your job, and gives you some peace and calm about it.

Based on what I hear from many employees and managers in every type of workplace, your type of situation happens often enough to be among the top reasons for frustration, irritation and at least temporary lowered morale. I have heard about it from both sides many times and have been involved in such situations myself–as an employee and as a manager.

One thing you can do is to try to understand the reasons behind your manager’s decisions, even if you do not agree with them. Here are a few of the reasons managers give for taking a project or assignment from one person or group and giving it to another:

*We need to make the best use of our resources now and in the future. Changes are coming up and we need to shift work around to adjust.
*Department A could be using their time better on something else.
*Higher levels want the team in charge of this project to report to a different person at the executive level, and he/she wants it to be handled by Department B not Department A. That’s just the way it is.
*The internal clients for this project don’t want to use Department A as a resource, they think Department B will understand their needs better. They use Department B for other things and those work out OK, so this should too.
*The team leader in Department B wants to do well, but is struggling in his/her role and the employees aren’t doing their best. Giving Department B this project will be a way to help all of them gain skills and be more successful. Department A can help in the coaching process by turning over the needed material and standing by to assist. That’s part of teamwork.
*It seems that Department A has gotten excessively attached to this project and I don’t think that’s healthy for the organization. I’m shaking things up a bit to remind everyone that we work for the company not ourselves.
*I’m tired of hearing about this project and who should be working on it. I don’t know where the truth is, but switching it to Department B will let me know if they can handle it or not. I don’t want to hear about what went on in the past, I want to get this over with and move forward.

Unspoken reasons might involve past working relationships, loyalty to friends, career path plans for someone in the other group, and other factors that may be purely personal on the part of a manager or higher-level person.

If you don’t know the reasons for the decision to move the project to the other group, perhaps you can talk about it with your manager and find out. You may have already talked to your managers many times and are aware of their thoughts. If not, ask in a way that sounds like you’re being cooperative rather than argumentative.

Whatever the reasons given by manager, most employees rightfully feel a sense of personal pride and ownership about their work and they resent and resist losing control over it, especially in a situation such as you describe. I don’t know anyone so team-spirited that they would gladly give up the results of their own hard work to a group that doesn’t fully understand it and doesn’t deserve to have it handed to them on a platter. Nevertheless, if you are told to do it, you will need to do it with an appearance of graciousness and goodwill.

It’s tough to accept at times like this, but the reality is that all of your excellent work was being done as part of employment for which you were paid. You invested a lot of time and effort into it, but it doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the company to do with as they will. I agree that It’s unjust that the other group doesn’t possess the same skills but are probably being paid the same salary and now will be aided by your hard work. It’s also unfortunate that you will not be working with the group, especially since you had requested the leadership role. (I think you are probably lucky to not be taking that role, if you have had conflict in the past with that group.) But if you want to stay employed with your company and if you want to be viewed positively, your have few options.

One option is to keep an eye on the future all of the time. How do you want to be viewed a month from now, six months from now or a year of more from now? This project, while important to you, is probably not worth drawing a line in the dirt and quitting over it. There will be other projects and other opportunities. Some of them may be transferred to another group too, but you’ll still have a job and you won’t be out looking for another one unless you want to—and all along you are building your reputation for good work.

This project is also not worth losing the overall support of your managers. They may have a different view than you but still feel supportive of you as a programmer and problem-solver. You may have noticed that managers often rely too much on effective employees, as you seem to be, and do not take enough corrective action about employees who are not effective. But there is a lot to be said for being in the category of the effective employee that managers automatically depend upon. It’s OK to express some frustration and to ask some questions, but once your managers have made a final decision, your actions should reflect a spirit of acceptance.

Another area where you  have options is how much you assist the group that will now be using your work. There is a tendency to either refuse to help or to refuse to completely let go. Take the middle approach by assisting as much as you are directed to do, but don’t interfere unless you are asked for input. If you are specifically told about something that is problem, you should let the appropriate person know, but don’t appear to be monitoring something you aren’t part of any longer. They apparently don’t think they need your help and your managers apparently agree, so let them do their work and you focus on your own. Things may change anyway, if the other group fails to deliver.  

The following example is lengthy, but I’ve heard about it regularly over the last few months, so will share it with you because it might be helpful. I am aware of a recent situation in which a HQ team was told to give their three-months-worth of work on a huge project to a completely different department. The reasoning of management was that field offices around the country would prefer to work with a field-level department rather than one from HQ.

Over the next two months the situation changed weekly. Sometimes the field team manager was put completely in charge, sometimes the field team was completely  out of it, sometimes the HQ team was assigned part-time to the field team manager, sometimes the HQ manager was told to coach the filed team manager, sometimes she was told to let him work on his own. It was a mess! The worst part was that the project was stalled during that time, because the field team manager was completely  off-course. He was working around the clock, sending emails all night long and on weekends, but not accomplishing anything. The HQ manager realized how desperate he was to show his leadership and she felt much more empathetic as a result. Nevertheless, she was having to deal with frustrated team members, the field team manager, and higher level executives who thought she was still in charge and wondered why the project wasn’t done yet.

I didn’t think the matter could ever be completely resolved in a way that would seem positive to the HQ manager, and I advised her to accept that potential and just focus on her future. She didn’t need my advice about it, because that was what she was doing. She said she and her team were intent on moving through this time and being ready for the next thing and the next. She resigned herself to helping the other manager succeed, while she was probably not going to be given much credit this time around. She said it was a gut-punch to see the field team manager’s name at the top of every document that was based on some of her work, but she knew she would have other times to shine.

Suddenly, a few weeks ago, the field team manager was removed from the project completely and directed to stop his involvement. The reason given was that the rest of his job required his skills and his attention could no longer be diverted. No one involved in the project believes that, but everyone is relieved—and the HQ manager is quickly bringing everyone together once again. They’re seeing some quick successes and she is streamlining everything she can, to free them from the load brought on by the errors of the last couple of months. The project is wrapping up nicely.

She called me just last week to tell me she had received a three paragraph email from the CEO saying he had been told of her unwavering support for the welfare of the company and the project. He said he had heard from several sources that she showed her professionalism and leadership by adapting to an unusual number of changes in a short amount of time. Her company is very large, so a personal note from the CEO is quite an accolade. Most likely her higher-level manager suggested it, but the fact is that the CEO took the time to do it. She was justifiably proud. She was also glad she had performed her work in a way that earned the compliments.

She could have griped about the changes, subtly sabotaged the field team leader, or shown her displeasure and upset in other ways. Instead she approached it as part of the challenges of her job. She knows similar things will probably happen again and other things will occur to frustrate her. But in her twenty-year career she has weathered many such storms and is still there, while others have come and gone. She told me that on her worst days she often ends the day by figuring how much money and benefits she made for those hours, so she at least can see the financial benefit of hanging on.

I realize that lengthy example does not fit all the aspects of your situation—and you may not have such a happy ending. But it is a reminder that things can change, then change again. You may have very little control over some of the things that happen, but you can have control over how you handle those things. In this current situation, you can find out more about the decisions made by your managers and perhaps you  can find out ways to make your cooperative spirit add to your reputation and your ultimate career success.

Best wishes to you with this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, please let us know how things work out.

Tina Lewis Rowe
Ask the Workplace Doctors

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.