BLUF: Are my team member and my boss skipping me, or am I just being too sensitive?

Hi all,

I'm a first-time manager of a team of two temporary unpaid staff. One of them is about to leave soon at the end of his contract, but the other staff member will be with us until at least January.

I am starting to get the sense that this longer-term team member has a tendency to bypass me in his communications, and that my manager is not opposing this. I am wondering whether this is accurate, or whether I'm just being too sensitive. Here are the facts below:

1. At the end of his first day on the job, I walked into my boss's office to discover them talking about the project he will be working on under my supervision, including providing him with guidance on the way to approach parts of it (I wasn't invited into the meeting)

2. Before my annual leave, I requested all team members to copy me on all "upward" correspondence (including anything that goes to my boss). When talking with my team member, I discovered he not only initiated a project without telling me about it, but went to speak to our labor union about it. While he did not know that the people he was dealing with were from the trade union, when he discovered that they are now using his work for political gain (rather than as he had intended), he went to my boss and informed her about it, without copying me (despite me explicitly requesting this). I only found out about it during a conference call with him a moment ago.

3. Last week, he had lunch with my boss to discuss the possibility of his applying for a position that was recently advertised and that will be reporting to my boss. He also disclosed certain confidential information regarding the circumstances of his departure from his previous job. I wasn't aware of the lunch meeting, and, again, I only discovered about it when we spoke in the conference call today.

4. Two weeks ago, while I was still on vacation, my boss met with my team member and a member of another team and introduced revisions to the scope of the project that my team member is working on under my supervision. I wasn't there and only learned about it when the team member shared with me the meeting note outcomes. I should note that earlier on that day, my boss asked me to quickly take care of something, as we both operating on the understanding that even though I'm on vacation, I'm still easily reachable (and she knew full well I was still in our home town at the time).

5. We have a regular performance review and feedback section coming up for the team member in question - as they are seconded to us from an external agency, the person from the agency will be there. For some reason, my boss insisted on being in that meeting as well.

The above are the facts - here are my expectations of how I think this should have happened:

1. On the first day on the new job, my boss should have bounced the team member back to me immediately without going into a discussion of the project.

2. The team member should have cleared the project initiation with me before going externally outside our unit. Moreover, my boss should have let me know about this issue immediately.

3. My boss should have refused a lunch invitation with someone reporting to me, particularly as I could not attend it. Any interest in applying for the job should have been expressed to me by my team member, instead of going over my head.

4. My boss shouldn't be meeting with my team members to begin with; if she does feel that urgent changes are necessary (and they were anything but urgent), she should speak to me beforehand.

5. My boss shouldn't be attending performance review meetings where I'm giving feedback to my team member, unless I actually ask her to because I need a witness for what I expect to be a contentious meeting (which it won't be, though I will make it a point to flag the team member's disregard of the chain of command).

Question: am I correct in thinking that my team member is skipping me, and that my boss isn't exactly doing much to stop it? Some have called me controlling (see my other post on whether I'm a micromanager - - but I strongly believe that skipping me undermines my authority and, in turn, makes it more difficult for me to ensure that the work gets done as instructed.

SuzanneB's picture

Are you doing weekly one on ones?  If you aren't, you need to start. Right away.   Use that time to get info on the projects Direct is working on.  Ask all the questions you need answered.


The 2nd piece is feedback.  It probably sounds something like this.  "When you go directly to Boss about Project X without including me it makes it difficult for me to provide you with the support you need and forces Boss to take time away from his top priorities. How can you change this going forward?"


Yes, Boss should be sending Direct back to you for guidance. But you cannot control Boss' actions.  You can ask that he include you when Direct comes to him but it may not make a difference. If it were me, I'd go the route of working on change with Direct.

nkvd's picture

 Hi Suzanne,

Thanks a bunch for replying and for suggesting the exact formula on feedback. I'll start the one-on-ones (my vacation and subsequent illness meant that I left three weeks after he started, so I didn't get the opportunity to institutionalize them - my approach up to that point was to structure the deadlines in such a way that every Monday provided us with an opportunity to both talk about the work and to touch on other topics).

I did try speaking to my boss about it today - particularly when I found out that she reassigned him to provide administrative support to another unit for the day, which also means that he won't be able to meet the deadline I set to him on Monday for a Wednesday afternoon deliverable - but the reaction was very negative and basically along the lines of "this is the way I do things - get used to it." She also told me point-blank that she thinks its unreasonable of me to expect that she will be redirecting my team members back to me when they come to her with anything, and that she does not need to consult me in reassigning the team member to other duties if that's called for.

I'll work on the team member and try to restrain my natural impulse to invoke role power (at this point, I'm tempted to ask him to forward any and all correspondence that he may have sent to my boss behind my back - I know it's a bad idea from the relationship-building perspective, though).

I guess what I'm worried about at this point is that when my team member receives clearly indications that going above my head gets him rewards (e.g., the ability to have lunch with the hiring manager of the position he is applying for), what incentive does he have to adjust to any feedback I give him? If anything, now that he's thrown his hat into the ring, he knows that the only person he really needs to keep happy is my boss, as she's the one who gets to pull the trigger on what could be an even more senior position for him than what I currently hold.

lar12's picture
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Your concerns appear to be warranted. I don't think that there is much that you can do to change things.  For one, telling your boss what you think they should be doing is a recipe for disaster.  There will be one loser - you.

I think this is a two step process, both focused on the relationship. First, O3s are a must, just like SuzanneB said.  Second, go back to your boss, and ask to be included in the conversations that she is having with your direct.  Lay it out that you are trying to ensure that the team is working together and on the same page.  Don't attempt to fight the "redirecting" of your team members.  Your goal is the relationship.  What do you do the first 90 days on the job?  Fit in, fit in, fit in...

I will warn you, your ego will be bruised and maybe even bloodied.  Accept it.  Embrace it.  You will come out as a better leader and manager.