Dealing with a Coup Attempt on Your Engineering Team

Being the boss is hard.

Being the boss when someone on your team is trying to undermine you can be paralyzing. If you don’t fix the situation –and fast!– you might not be the boss much longer.

First, don’t even think of confronting the insubordinate subordinate until you have a clear-eyed understanding of the power balance. Instead, you need to know what you’re up against. Why is this team member attempting a coup? Which of you has the better relationship and reputation with senior management? Has the insurgent recruited other engineers to his side?

Next, document any information you have about any poor performance, unethical or task shirking behavior on the insurgent engineer’s part. The paper trail will help you win support from upper management and the H.R. department, while helping your organization fend off any potential legal claims.

Unfortunately, confronting—and possibly firing—the insurgent won’t solve all your problems. Damage may already have been done to your engineering team, and you need to fix it. Without some changes to the dynamic, you’re likely to face another coup in the future.

  1. Be the boss. You may need to add some firmer phrases to your repertoire. At times, directives should be commands, not questions. “Please have this back to me by noon tomorrow,” is what a boss says, rather than, “Does noonish tomorrow work for you?” Occasionally remind the team that you’re the one in charge by saying “Let me be clear about this….” or other statements that show you’re the decision-maker.
  2. Be loyal to your bosses. Make sure subordinates know that not only are you the leader of their team, you’re a player on the larger team. Failing to defend the policies and procedures of the organization can lead to your subordinates thinking that you are not linked to senior management, and that will empower them to go behind your back.
  3. …But don’t be a jerk or dictator. You want your team to respect you, not fear you. People who fear their boss waste work hours trying to avoid blame. Instead, draw your teams’ attention to the challenges and invite them to offer their own solutions. Workers who feel empowered are less likely to attempt a coup.
  4. Give credit where it’s due. Give credit to team members who have made a noteworthy contribution. Employees are more likely to value a leader who values them.

For more ideas on how to develop your leadership, contact us today.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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