Undermined by my own team

I work at a startup and we're a lean team. Last year I was given a team to manage. My male peers were clearly uncomfortable and one of them has at many times asked me to talk to the founders and get the team reporting to him beca I'm not agg enough. I believe in treating the team like the adults that they are and he operates using fear and insecurity to get them delivering. The thing is, we were a flat structure reporting to one of the founders before they brought another layer (me) for the team to report to. Until the reorganisation they had multiple seniors giving them work (said male peer, me, the founders). So even the people reporting to me seem to have an issue taking instructions from me. However, if these instructions come from the said male peer, they take it willingly.

I feel like workplaces are about the people and it is not just my job as a manager to maintain a good environment for my reports, they should observe workplace etiquette and not make my job harder than it needs to be. I have 1:1s with them, and they agree to do better but after that it's like those 1:1s never happened.

The founders are weirdly non confrontational and don't discourage problematic behavior from the team (I have a male peer who constantly bypasses my reviews and blatantly refuses to). I feel like this further emboldens my team to trivialise me. My boss says I'm "complaining" and wants solutions. Which I have offered - asking him to back me up and reiterate the order of command and processes to the team. I really think I should quit.

Oof. This sounds like a heavy burden to bear. When you say male peers, do you mean a fellow manager or someone on your team? Either way, that is frustrating. During my days as a manager, I can 100% say preying upon people's fear and insecurity is not the way to go. Studies show building trust and security helps with productivity and innovation. But. You know this :) It sounds like you're at a crossroads. You've offered solutions and your boss (who absolutely should stick up for you - reiterating the order of command is the bare minimum!) is not cooperative. Do you feel like any of your proposed solutions will be helpful? Is there anyone else besides your boss that can help advocate for you? On your end, I'd encourage you to speak up when you see situations where you aren't being respected. When people don't take instructions from you, call this out. It doesn't need to be in an emotional way, but, more matter-of-fact. It can be on-the-spot in-person or a quick written follow-up. I recognize this is a lot of effort on your part and I would say this job is working against you, rather than, like you said, making things easier (where you feel supported!)Happy to talk about this more but wanted to say, I'm sorry this is happening! This sounds hard.Sarah
Thank you ❤️ and the male peer is a fellow manager who was under the impression (I’m assuming based on his insistence on asking me to transfer my team to him) that he’d eventually manage all our juniors. Would you have tips on how to not approach this emotionally when I want to call them out? Thanks again
Yes! How do you usually de-escalate when you're feeling emotionally charged?I'd suggest 1. writing things out first for just yourself (don't hold back! let the venting out there) 2. talking to a friend3. taking deep breaths4. keeping it factual "when you did X behavior, it made me feel Y"
Thank you so much 💜
Of course! With all of the helpful replies you've gotten has there been any clarity on what your next steps are (even teeny steps!)
Yes.1. Talk to founders one last time, create plan of action they agree on and get them to back me up2. If that doesn’t work at any point, quit
This is actually the founders’ fault, not your team’s fault. When they go above your head to get feedback from the founders and the founders give it, that enforces the idea that your role doesn’t matter.It’s also bad for the founders because it doesn’t allow them to benefit from your expertise/experience OR reduce their workload, which was presumably part of why they hired you in the first place.You need to talk to the founders and let them know that when the people you are managing go straight to them, they need to reinforce the new structure and become a broken record that says, “Has Shae213 signed off on this yet?”
I’ve asked them to do it, there seems to be some reluctance to do it. I’ll give it another shot
If that’s the case though, you have to question what your role is. Why did they hire you? Is the fact that they won’t enforce your role a sign that they are considering firing you?
I don’t think they’re considering firing me; this has been happening for long enough that I see it as some sort of leadership issue on their part.
This is so ugh. You need to find another job. They are disrespecting you and the boss says it's fine. It's going to get worse when/if the company grows. This story reminds me of the woman who was hired at Pinterest as the COO and sued them for discrimination. I remember listening to her interview and she said the CEO was passive and undermined her/let others treat her badly.
Yess, I have passively started looking for jobs. Has also lit a fire in me - I hope to run my own company some time. I sometimes feel like the founders are worried I’d cry gender discrimination? It’s funny how they try to reinforce/validate bro culture in front of me
Have been in your situation when I took over an engineering team that was distrusting and all over the place. They had some toxic team members who just undermined others and would do it to me as well, and the C-level execs would just let them bc they didn't want to deal with them. What worked for me:- Staying calm and strong. Not getting baited into their arguments, etc. People will literally try to get you worked up and "be aggressive" to prove you are unfit to lead. Try to find a place of calm within you to go to whatever they say - because their behaviour is about them not you. The angrier they get, the more it means that you are probably doing the right thing and they are just amping up the pressure to get you to budge.- Make a written report to founders/HR or whoever can help here. A clear summary of what is happening and why. Have them confirm in writing (even on Slack) that they are aware and they are fine with you to proceed with solutions. Then, propose your solutions also in writing. For instance you can propose to have performance evaluations and score down people who are actively using fear or intimidation and not following appropriate processes. - Implement the solutions in a calm, dispassionate way. Basically do it as if you're performing surgery. No emotion, no need to prove people wrong or right, etc. Just do it because it's the right thing to do and your role. If you do go the performance evaluation route and score people down, especially if there's a bonus tied to their score, all of a sudden the tune will change. People have opinions and an attitude until it starts to cost them. Also, by this point if you did everything, then you have everything in writing, clear, documented, etc. So if anyone questions you, you can just go - look, founder approved plan, I am doing the plan, I understand you are upset but this is the agreed solution and we will proceed with it. The hardest thing here is taking your emotion out of it because you will get angry, upset, frustrated, despondent inside. But managing to stay cool and collected will demonstrate that you are not shaken and they cannot throw you for a loop just with bad behaviour. It will be a way for you to show your strength and to prove the weakness of their methods. Eventually they will give up. Or you will become exhausted and leave.I would say, what I'm describing is extremely hard so unless you really, really want this job... just change it. This is month of emotional labour and borderline emotional abuse at work, when you'd be somewhere that is extremely psychologically unsafe. So... make sure this job is worth it because this will affect your mental health, physical health, etc.
"Make a written report to founders/HR or whoever can help here."If that's already the culture there though, would HR even care? Aren't they just there to protect the company?
Yes, of course. But typically HR is more sensitive to “one of the few women we have is noticing these obvious issues, we need to get this at least somewhat in check so we don’t one day end up with a lawsuit or labour complaint”My perspective is more UK-centric though where there is a service you can complain to and claim employer compensation in case you are let go or pushed out, if you’ve been discriminated or treated unfairly such as been bullied etc. So HR does protect the company but that also means they take these risks reports and complaints seriously bc employees do have some power. Not sure if same at all in US on this particular topic.
I’m from Southeast Asia so it’s bad. 🫤
Thank you so much for such actionable advice. I’ll try this. I once wrote to the founders about how out of line and sexist 2 male team members were, and while they stepped in and sort of sorted it out, they also excessively socialised at work with the two post my complaint - it felt like they were trying to convey their preference. Can male bias and bro-ship be *this* stupidly strong? I definitely was looking forward to an exciting project on this role, but of late I’ve lost any motivation to stay.
Unfortunately if they see this "bro culture" as a strength rather than a problem then you will be the problem for trying to change it. Also, if no one is challenging these founders like a board, and they can keep doing this, then... it may take years before they experience real consequences for their behaviour. I'm sure they will eventually though. So it's really worth considering if you want to be the person teaching basic human decency to other adults. This being said... a lot of male-driven startups are like this, so... most startups are like this when they start with a core bro team that treats the business like their own little power fantasy of living the founder dream. Do these people all need therapy and a reality check? Definitely. Will they get it? Probably not soon enough.
Is it like an "every man for themself" kind of culture?
Definitely feels like that for me.
This is a tough one, and as someone who worked at an early stage startup that grew rapidly, I can absolutely understand where you are coming from. Question for you, do you have performance reviews at your company? If so, then you should be recording instances of your team not following direction, undermining you etc. that you can incorporate into their performance reviews as facts. At the end of the day you are their manager, and they need to respect that if they'd like to move up in their careers. This isn't meant to be a scare tactic, but if part of a job is being able to take direction, they clearly aren't fulfilling the basic duties outlined in their job descriptions. If this continues and is recorded, then that should be grounds for going on a PIP or eventually termination. As for your male peers, you have to take a different approach. Yes, you can go to the founders to see if they'll back you up, but it doesn't sound like that has worked in the past. One method is to create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for assigning your team work to create a clearer "chain of command". Once that is created, if you can get the blessing from the founders, you can unemotionally go to your peer and say that this has been approved and he needs to follow it moving forward. If he doesn't, then have a direct conversation with him about your boundaries with your team and your expectations of him and see if he's willing to work together to find ways to collaborate better as peers.If he is unwilling to do that, and the founders continue to not have your back and respect you as a manager, then you should leave. Hope this helps!
Sounds like a great idea! Thank you 💜
Good luck, and don't sell yourself short! If they can't see your value and advocate for you, they don't deserve you!
Thank you 💜
If you stay you do bear the burden of educating those male peers you speak of. Are you up to it? Don't take on the project if you don't see change could be possible. I would definitely sit down the top of the leadership chain let them know you are not being taken seriously and ask for their backup to assure you have what you need from them for success. If it continues then leave and when you do you should definitely let them know the why. If it were me, I personally would educate. It will be tough but you got this sister and it will make you a better manager. The worst that could happen is you fail and then move one. Show them how kindness and respect make people better. Now for the underlings that are not following their info in 1-1's document and create written plans to measure them against and track. That should fix that.
Yes. I’ll have a talk with the founders again. My problem is I guess I get emotional. And it’s not helping things. But this is great actionable advice. Thank you 💜
Practice the conversation and talking points. Get a friend to play the role and pushing back. Emotion is a sign of frustration but in male dominated environments it’s stops people listening.
IMO you should quit. I've come across this too and it seems to me it is the opposite of micromanaging - there are people out there who like being micromanaged, who like being bossed around and who do not respect any other kind of leadership. I think it is because they don't want to be held accountable and they don't want to think, just mindlessly execute someone else's thinking.My idea of leadership is to provide a nurturing environment where people can do their best work and ask for their input. Some people translate asking for their input into "she doesn't know what she wants" aka she doesn't tell me how to do my job and then hovers to make sure I don't step a toe out of line.I don't see how you can change or improve the situation, especially given the response from "leadership". The smartest thing to do is accept the hand you're dealt and decide if the current situation is for you.
Hey, @shae213, I understand you're facing a difficult workplace situation with your male peers and team. Being a manager can be challenging, especially when your authority is not being respected. It seems like there may be differences in leadership and communication styles between you and your male peer. Understanding these differences can help you tailor your approach and work better with your team.It can be frustrating when your authority as a manager is not being respected, especially when you're trying to create a positive work environment.As you've mentioned, team dynamics can be tricky; it's also important to consider the five stages of team building - forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. It's possible that your team is currently in the storming stage, where there may be some conflict and resistance to your authority. However, with time and effort, the team can progress to the norming and performing stages, where they have a clearer understanding of their roles and responsibilities and work together more effectively. And the storming stage can be especially tough. To achieve this, focus on self-care and building relationships with your team to understand their communication styles and needs.It may also be helpful to establish clear processes and procedures for work assignments and reviews. Talking to your male peer to understand his perspective and leadership style can help you collaborate more effectively. It's important that your boss and founders support you in your role. It may be worth conversing with them to express your concerns and explore possible solutions.Ultimately, remember that prioritizing your well-being and career goals is important. If you feel the situation is not improving or impacting your mental health, take a step back and enjoy some YOU time. I don't typically suggest leaving when faced with pressure, but I don't know how toxic your workplace is, so exploring other job opportunities may be necessary. Best of luck!
Thank you for the advice. I don’t want to feel like I’m giving up too soon too, so I want to give it a last try
Just a reminder to folks that power is exercised, not acquired. Taken, not given.They didn't set you up for success. But asking the boss to remind people you're in control means you're not in control. What are you going to do about it? Might want to read: also worth taking Strengthsfinder or Enneagram to help you uncover what you're bringing to the table and how those strengths might help you in this situation.
It's hard to say without specifics what can be done. Remember relationships are about connecting, seeing things from people's perspectives and being able to communicate what is in their best interests and how you can work with them to meet their goals. We can want co-workers to be emotionally supportive, but they are not always able to meet us there, so having a coach, mentor, or therapist talk you through how you're feeling to separate this feeling from your plan of action is sometimes helpful. Keep in mind, that sometimes we have to learn new skills to execute on what we want, or sometimes new perspectives, but also part of being a manager is about meeting people where they are at and helping them get to the next step. If there is a disconnect, it is good to consider how you can bridge that gap or what the steps are for that gap to be closed. Feel free to let me know if you would like more assistance or perspective.