Internal politics affecting work productivity

Vincent Mo

Senior Engineering Manager at Google



"A few months ago, three teams of engineers, managed by different engineering managers and executives were working together on a project. Each team was reporting to a different executive, and it appeared that the three of them were trying to increase their influence on this project. These internal politics had bad repercussions on the technical work. Instead of a constructive collaboration, each team was trying to gain territory on the project. People were aware of the problem, but no one was bold enough to report it clearly to our executives. We ended up with pushing a very complex system to production, which contained several bugs that were very hard to track down and fix."

Actions taken

"Ultimately, we had to start all over again. This time, two of the three teams of engineers worked together as one team, and based their decisions on what was technically the best. Our team helped write code in the other team's server, and the other team help us design our team's new server. This second attempt turned out to be very positive. Not only was it technically much better, but the team also had a pleasant working atmosphere, and debugging was easier. Decisions are now more bottom-up, and we ended up working on projects with a larger scope."

Lessons learned

"The executives didn't realize that their politics were affecting the technical work. While each executive was trying to divide the project in a way that benefitted them, they didn't take the way engineers would work and collaborate into account.

If it was to happen again, as an engineering manager, I would make sure I had a good relationship with the other engineering teams. I would then design an alternative solution with the other teams, and would then finally go to talk to the executives to explain the problem to them, and to present them with an alternative option. I think that executive decisions shouldn't be seen as sacred. Engineering managers should be brave enough to challenge executives if they are too far from the engineers' everyday work to understand the impacts their decisions are having."

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Vincent Mo

Senior Engineering Manager at Google

CommunicationEngineering Management

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