Walking one of your direct reports through conflict resolution.

Chuck Sweet

Engineering manager at DocuSign



"One of my direct reports was asked to change teams due to the company going through a restructuring process. In the new team, he was required to work with a new Project Manager, who was very ambitious but had no real experience. The Project Manager would make bullet point lists of what to do, would take hardly any questions, and would not leave time for tech investigation. It was very frustrating for my engineer, and he would talk with me a lot about it. He was a very good asset for the team, and I could not afford to lose him. Moreover, he wanted to step up as a manager and felt he was in a losing situation."

Actions taken

"During our one-on-ones and other side conversations, we would discuss the issue and would talk about how to manage the situation. My advice was quite simple:

  • Set clear boundaries: do not let your workload be defined by someone else. Prioritize for yourself.
  • Communicate about your work. Make sure everyone knows about it.
  • Give continuous feedback."

This advice worked and the situation improved a bit, but not enough. If you have been proactive in solving a problem, with no visible results, I believe at some point you should invoke a hierarchical authority. I advised my engineer to request to have a three-person conversation with the team lead. It eventually led to moving the Project Manager to another team and to the reorganization of the teams.

Lessons learned

"As a manager having to handle a conflict between someone in your team and someone outside of your team, your role is to walk your direct report through what to do and to make sure the right conversations happen. I learned that while it is nice to resolve interpersonal relationship problems, it can be difficult and you may end up making tradeoffs with other things you should be paying attention to."

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Chuck Sweet

Engineering manager at DocuSign

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer Growth

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