No, I'm just here because I like cubicles
March 1, 2011 8:35 AM   Subscribe

How do I work with a work situation where I came in to a newly created management position, and 9 months later, I'm still constantly hitting roadblocks, still having trouble asserting myself, and can't stop dreaming about quitting?

I took a job as a finance manager for a non-profit around the middle of the year last year. The position was newly created, as the organization had outgrown their management structure. A low level position was eliminated to create space for this position. Due to space constraints in the office, I'm in the same row of cubicles as my employees (and in the same cubicle as the low level position eliminated to make space for mine), and am the only manager who doesn't have an office. My manager expressed much regret that they don't have an office for me, and I feel like this is something no one thought of until it was far too late. I discussed this with HR, and he also expressed regret about the lack of private space, but was not able to come up with any resolution. My cubicle also happens to be in a pretty active area of the office. I'm finding this is having a serious impact on my ability to get one on one time to answer questions my employees have. The staff has been here for a very long time, and my employees previously reported directly to my boss. Because of the lack of privacy at my desk, and the fact that the nearest conference room is two floors away, it means that it's been even harder than it might have been to find my footing here. My boss has been really great about sending my employees on to me when they ask her questions that should have my involvement, but I know it's easier for her often to just answer questions and move on, and I know it's often more comfortable for my employees to have the privacy of an office to ask questions in. This position has a lot of really great things going for it (work life balance, the pay is decent, the opportunity to learn is fantastic), but I can feel myself getting more and more frustrated about the difficulty in asserting myself as both the manager to go to for my team, and as a peer to the other managers in my organization.

What should I be doing to make the best of this weird situation? I've been daydreaming about getting another job, but I am really worried about how it would look to leave a job after only 9 months, particularly when it was a big step up. Is there are set amount of time I should try to wait out it getting better?
posted by Zophi to Work & Money (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I honestly feel that this is a situation where you should not be too quick to give up. If the worst problem you have is that in order to have a private discussion you have to go to a conference room that is 2 floors away, that doesn't sound intolerable. It adds some travel time to your work schedule, a few extra minutes. Perhaps you need to reassure your subordinates that if they wish to have a private conversation with you, they should not hesitate to ask you to travel with them to the conference room. Many people have greater difficulties that they have to cope with. There are lots of things that I will not tolerate in a work situation. If other employees are actively hostile and trying to sabotage my work, that is not tolerable, for example. But your situation doesn't sound that bad to me.
posted by grizzled at 8:49 AM on March 1, 2011

Best answer: Ask yourself how people get promoted and how they get the respect of their new subordinates? Well they get promoted by taking on responsiblity beyond their grade so the people above them notice them stepping up. And they get accepted in that new role by their teams because they have grown into it and people have become used to them doing the things the manager does and because they support their teams as required but also lead the way. So, lead the way.

Be pro-active - check in with everybody regularly and field any questions they have at the time. Offer your support in general making sure you do help people who ask for it. And ask the boss to send anybody with any questions she does not have to answer straight back to you, without exception. Your team will soon stop bothering her.

If, having done all that, you find that the location of your cubicle really is an issue initiate a reshuffle of cubicles and perhaps general office space in some way. You may place yourself in the quietest cubicle, next to the least chatty and most discrete people you have in your team. If the lack of privacy really is an issue this should help. But more importantly it shows you as initiating that kind of thing, as being the person in charge of the team and of that part of the office.

But having spent years working in an organisation where nobody, and I mean nobody, not even the top top boss, has an office and where everybody is in a big open plan offices (in all our locations) I would be astonished if your team really regularly had to ask questions that are sensitive enough to require the privacy of closed door. At your current level you should find the trips to the conference room few and far in between.

Finally, if the atmosphere in the team is not currently open and mutually supportive you may have to work on creating that so people feel comfortable in this set up....refer above point about checking in with people and setting the tone.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:47 AM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you both so much for your comments. I felt a bit like this was a waste of a question, but I really wanted a reality check to remind myself that I was here for a reason.

I love the ideas you have given- I've been working on being really proactive, and I think it's making a difference. I just need to reframe it in my head. My last job was full of backstabbing and sabotage, so I've been trying to adjust to the idea that some jobs are just full of normal organizational growing pains.
posted by Zophi at 10:18 AM on March 1, 2011

I can feel myself getting more and more frustrated about the difficulty in asserting myself as both the manager to go to for my team, and as a peer to the other managers in my organization.

Neither of these things have to do with not having an office. You could have the biggest, corneriest office in the building, but if your employees are going to their previous manager instead of you, you need to find a way to solve that problem that does not involve having their previous manager send them to you. I would respectfully suggest that you are focusing on problems that are outside of your control (no office, loud cube) as a means of avoiding dealing with the problems that are within your control (being more assertive and pro-active about your employees and their issues). Even calling this "normal organizational growing pains" suggests that it is out of your hands, when really, after 9 months, your employees should be coming to you for help and not going over your head.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:39 AM on March 1, 2011

Response by poster: They are certainly getting better about coming to me- they were under my boss for 15+ years, so it's felt like a lot of work getting them to come to me for questions she normally answered for them. I feel like I'm making a lot of strides, I just feel like I might be my own worst enemy here.
posted by Zophi at 10:50 AM on March 1, 2011

Do you do one-to-one meetings with team members? I share an office with direct reports so we have regular, scheduled half-hour chats in whichever empty office is nearby. Sometimes we go to the cafe. It's a good opportunity to see if there's anything they need support with and helps me understand the day-to-day stuff they are dealing with so I can plan resources effectively.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:38 AM on March 1, 2011

One to one meetings (if done right) are a great management tool even if you are already secure in your position. They give the opportunity to give and receive feedback in both directions, discuss upcoming workflow, identify what's going well and what needs more input from them/you/someone else, as well as a confidential but informal opportunity to nip interpersonal problems in the bud before they get too serious. If you don't do these already, its an excellent habit to get into for many reasons.
posted by talitha_kumi at 4:02 AM on March 2, 2011

Response by poster: Just following up to say that I started scheduling meetings during hours when there was less traffic, and decided to just own the management, and it's been a million times better. Thanks to everyone for the perspective.
posted by Zophi at 12:11 PM on April 13, 2011

Excellent news :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:37 AM on April 16, 2011

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