≡ Menu
Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

10 Sure Shot Ways to Lose Your Team


I often talk about teams, team management and all that stuff which makes people happier. The problem is it takes oh so much time to keep people happy, motivated, empowered and whatnot. Wouldn’t it be better idea to forget about all that crap and focus on work, you know, the real work?

If that’s how you’re going to lead you people I have a few advices for you. Applying them will definitely ruin any relationship you might have had with the team and your people will definitely stop expecting from you anything besides the next edict with the updated task list.

  1. Forbid one-on-ones. People keep coming to you to discuss different issues. They want to share their problems or discuss raise or present an idea. You have enough of your problems, raise is impossible anyway and any idea which isn’t yours is definitely bad so why to waste your precious time?
  2. Don’t share information. Usually managers share information like what’s happening in the organization, what projects may come, why the hell you’re reorganizing whole company for the third time in a couple of years, etc. The more you tell the team the bigger chance is you may share information which is about to change which would make you losing your credibility. Also it makes people expecting more and more news. They may even request more transparency. No, information sharing is a bad idea.
  3. Cut discussions. You’re the boss, right? So you know better. Any discussion on your ideas is plain waste of time and should be cut as early as possible. If you let someone convince you in public discussion you lose credibility and glory of infallible. Talking about infeasible ideas, aka ideas authored by others, is a waste of time too.
  4. Blame others. If something goes wrong you can always find a team member who is responsible for failure. If they had done the right thing there wouldn’t have been any problem. After all, you’re so damn great, aren’t you?
  5. Usurp success ownership. If something goes surprisingly well it is your success. Even if you haven’t done much personally, it all happened thanks to your exceptional management skills. Don’t let anyone to say something else. After all it is you who present the success up there in front of senior management so it isn’t even difficult take over all the glory.
  6. Micromanage. Tell people what should be done. Tell them how they should do it. In details. Verify their progress as often as possible. If you don’t they would end up drinking coffee and surfing the internet and you don’t want to let it happen. After all someone has to work on your successes, right?
  7. Don’t praise, criticize instead. If someone does good job that’s what they are paid for. No need to praise them for that. On the other hand you can’t omit any chance to criticize people. When criticizing, don’t go into details; let them figure out what you expect from them. Well, they told you they were kind of intelligent so let them show that. Besides you already wasted enough time telling them they perform poorly.
  8. Squeeze. People are capable to achieve more than they typically do. Think about the last emergency situation when everyone gave something more – they stayed late, they showed incredible team work and they fixed the project. They proved they can do more, so you should expect that on a regular basis. If there is no external pressure on the team create some by yourself. Squeeze them until they work at higher possible pace. Forget about burnout, it’s overrated.
  9. Everyone can be replaced. No one is important enough to think that they’re irreplaceable. That is, except of you of course. There are queues of eager candidates willing to take over jobs of your team members. Say that. Tell them why they should feel uneasy about their jobs. This would make them work even harder to keep their jobs. Fear is great motivator.
  10. Be an asshole. That’s an easiest way to show them who’s the boss. You don’t have to be nice to everyone. They will listen to you anyway. If you are an asshole they will be scared of you so they will take seriously every word you will say. After all they pay you not for being nice, but for being successful. Besides, geniuses usually are assholes.

Being serious for a while, you can treat it as a test. If you regularly fit any of these criteria you score one point. If at the end you have at least a point there is something wrong with you as a manager. If you’d score a point or two on rare occasions only, well, I guess everyone can have a bad day, but I hope these occasions are really rare.

You can also make this test against your boss. If the score is anything above 3, I’d look for a chance to change team/organization very, very soon. It isn’t healthy to work under this kind of management.

in: communication, team management

12 comments… add one

  • Tomek Dabrowski August 2, 2010, 11:19 am

    Pawel, another great post! :) I like your fiddly way of writing here :) Waiting for more ;)

  • coldfusion August 3, 2010, 11:43 pm

    I have feeling I know some managers who fits many of these criteria. What’s more – they almost use your sarcastic criteria seriusly :)
    Great post!

  • Pawel Brodzinski August 4, 2010, 12:14 am

    I know few of them. I wouldn’t like to work for them… again.

    It is not impossible to manage a team this way. One can be even considered a decent manager by superiors (point 5), but working in such team sucks.

    The only people who are able to survive for a longer time in this kind of work environment either don’t give a damn or don’t know there are normal team out there too.

  • jfbauer August 4, 2010, 5:59 am

    Another great post … #2 is one I am consistently confronted with when interacting with managers. There seems to be a management thought process that if you control the information, absorb it but don’t share it, you accumulate power. It is as if one combats insecurity with this false notion that by accumulating knowledge, the very fact that you have this bit of knowledge somehow makes you a valuable manager. Thus, you time the releases of this accumulated knowledge when you gets sense of your value being diminished either with the team or your peers.

    The “wow, he/she must be important because they know this tid bit of knowledge that no one else in the meeting/room/conference call knows” factor gets old to me quickly.

  • Pawel Brodzinski August 4, 2010, 6:23 am

    You’re right, I haven’t really addressed this one: information as a token of power. It just doesn’t work that way.

    Pretty much the opposite – if you’re ready to share information you get the same in return. If you share information with your team, your team shares information with you. Otherwise you live in some kind of virtual reality where one thing is really happening and the other thing you think is happening since no one told you how it really is.

    If I’m able to tell more about teams I don’t work in than their managers there is something completely screwed. Odds are this is information exchange. Now, do these managers happen to be more powerful this way? I don’t think so.

  • Vicky Stamatopoulou August 11, 2010, 1:57 am

    Great post:-) I used to work in a place with people like this… the funny thing about it was, that people starting in the company were just ok, but after a while they either turn out to be pointing at least 5 out of 10, or leaving the company due to illness.

    Best regards

  • Pawel Brodzinski August 11, 2010, 2:19 am

    When in Rome do like Romans do. It always work to some point, especially when we aren’t experienced and know little about different work environments. That’s why I believe the first serious employer shapes us much as employees for long, long years.

    If you happen to land in a shit-hole you likely learn all the wrong things and then you copy them in next jobs. If you’re lucky to join great company chances are good you won’t find lists like this one addressed to you.

  • Stan Yanakiev August 16, 2010, 2:33 am

    Pawel, you capture correctly features of a bad manager but I doubt if there your post was necessary. After all so many managers will mark high on your test so that they will consider it passed and think they are all fine.


  • Pawel Brodzinski August 16, 2010, 3:16 am

    Well, if a manger aims to mark high on this test you wouldn’t like to work for them anyway. Even if they do think they’re all fine. Actually, especially if they do.

  • OracleDBA September 17, 2014, 8:53 am

    You left out #11

    Blow off your mouth on technical issues you are not qualified on. Managers often manage teams of people with varying expertise. The smart managers realize that their technical staff knows more than they do. The dumb ones blow off their mouths and act like know it all’s. This tends to happen to people who are more specialized (DBAs like myself). However, I have seen it happen to developers as well. The odd thing about this is that there is often a DBA/Developer divide. When you have an asshole boss like this, the tech staff tends to become buddies in mutual hatred of the idiot manager.

    As a DBA I generally carry a 24×7 pager and have to have a cell phone with me at all times subject to getting called. Getting woken up at 3 AM repeatedly due to an incompetent manager leads me to go into ‘passive aggressive’ mode and try to make as many things ‘not my fault’ (not my problem) as possible. To avoid getting woken up.

    If I go ‘your code sucks, when this gets to prod its going to be slow and won’t work’. Idiot manger does quick google search sites irrelevant, unrelated BS, then deploys to prod and stuff is really slow. Stunned. I then explain to developer why this is bad. Generally in 5-10 minutes he gets it , but he knows the manager is an idiot and then asks me not to wake him up when I’m paged.

  • foo September 17, 2014, 12:21 pm

    #1 My one on ones were just my boss bragging on and one to me about herself
    #2 Don’t share information was a team-wide strategy. Since we were stacked ranked, the less information others had the better off people thought they were. Also, giving out misleading information so that team members went down hopeless rabbit holes before realizing they wasted their time.
    #3 Undercut dissenters. My boss held grudges against anyone who disagreed with her, and wouldn’t hesitate to use negative adjectives about them when they were not in the room.
    #4 There was literally a plan for a blame dashboard.
    #5 Shameless – yes, loads of that.
    #6 check
    #7. She did give out minute bits of praise in a very sweet voice, but you soon began to see that it was all terribly phoney.
    #8, #9, #10 check check check.
    That’s why I left my last job after 8 weeks.

  • bar February 13, 2015, 5:44 pm

    I’ll just leave it here. A point of view of a manager who’s faced both false and true positives.

    #1. Forbid one-on-ones.
    Was it the lack of self confidence or inability to express yourself? I generally do not care. You have to be a speaker to defend your point of view. Alternatively, in case you are a kind of sociopath, you have fantastic ways to avoid face-to-face or team conversations, use e-mails and other written medias. If you have a point of view that is different, there are two outcomes – you are either right, or you are wrong. Both requires stepping over your comfort zone.

    #2. Don’t share information.
    I won’t comment on this as this is rather dumb management. Everyone should have an idea what is the direction this thing moves at, this is obvious.

    #3. Cut discussions.
    Your “discussion” has been just cut because it doesn’t make any sense. See #1. Time is important, and team catch ups full of noise anyway. Cutting out is rude but is needed to save other people’s time.

    #4. Blame others… you can always find a team member who is responsible for failure
    This in my opinion is simply not true. You may have a personal reason to see other people in this light, but usually in management chain nobody cares about the people behind the point of responsibility. In other words, your manager will be responsible on your fail or under-performance. This is how hierarchy works.

    #5. Usurp success ownership.
    It depends on person. If you nailed your own part, that for some reason was all badly formulated and completely unclear, then you are a good candidate for the management position or for a team lead. If you succeeded just because someone else pushed you to the point, there are many people around with similar capabilities and there’s really nothing special to appraise you for.

    #6. Micromanage
    If there is a blanket micro-management, do something about it as well (talk to your HR or to the senior management). If you have been micromanaged, and others don’t, please take it personally and do something about it. You are just bad and someone has to put some effort in gently touching your fragile personal edges to finally squeeze something out of your mind balance.

    #7. Don’t praise, criticize instead.
    Ask for impossible to get maximum. Works in sports, science, and most of the time in Fortune 50 IT.

    #8. Squeeze
    My favourite one. See #7. Find yourself in amateur Android game development, or in L1 IT support otherwise. “Working hard and partying hard” is a good mantra, keeps your brain functional after 30 (40 in US).

    #9. Everyone can be replaced
    True. Good teams never fall apart if team lead suddenly decided to relocate for a better view. Employment is a balance between your own targets, your employee targets, money paid by the employer and effort put into by the employee. No slavery and most of the times similar termination conditions for both of you (not in US of course :) )

    #10. Be an asshole
    After naming someone an asshole, everything becomes very easy – at least now you know who is the asshole between you too. Then why bother to meet every morning? See #9 or STFU.

Leave a Comment