Finger Pointing Co-Workers: How Do You Handle Them?

Dear Bob ... I work in the IT field and I am shocked at the level of gross negligence and incompetence exhibited by some of my co-workers. Now, I am truly a team player. How do I know? Because I spend my days fixing the screwups that those around me have caused and by picking up the pieces of projects that they let fall by the wayside. I am required to know everybody’s job but nobody knows my job. I’m tired of

Dear Bob ...

I work in the IT field and I am shocked at the level of gross negligence and incompetence exhibited by some of my co-workers. Now, I am truly a team player. How do I know? Because I spend my days fixing the screwups that those around me have caused and by picking up the pieces of projects that they let fall by the wayside. I am required to know everybody’s job but nobody knows my job. I’m tired of it. I have had it!

Please do not count the number of times that I have used the word "I" and then come up in here to inform me that there is no "I" in team! I already know that!

I’m tired of this but looking for work elsewhere isn’t going to solve the problem because I’ll just run into the same slackers no matter where I go.

What I need are techniques to use with people who aren’t performing with a basic level of competency and who don’t have offer a standard of care for the work they perform, but whom the manager feels is doing "the best that they can do." What I need to know is how to address people who are clearly the one at fault for the mess-up but who would rather point their finger at you (me) than offer a solution or fix it? Example: They’ll say, "You tested it and approved it."

I’ll say, "Yes, I did but I didn’t think I had to make sure the registry settings were correct. This thing is full of registry hacks!" Or, they’ll say, "All you have to do is uninstall the application and reinstall the new one." I’ll say, "It’s on the ghost image. That means I’ll have to do that hundreds of times! Why can’t we push this fix down and change the image?"

I’m perplexed. Why hack the registry when you don’t have to? Why not just install it correctly in the first place? Why don’t you know how to perform an in place re-imaging? Why is it that I now have to go to hundreds of PCs and fix a problem that should not exist?

Why are you telling me it’s a simple fix – then YOU fix it, YOU created the problem! Why is it that it is ME who has to be the one to spend all day fixing the problems you create?

Billy Joel defined the time we’re living in as "The Age Of Incompetence." He said, "We are surrounded with so much gross negligence and incompetence and with people who just don’t care that if you come along and do something with even the slightest bit of competence, you are considered extraordinary!" I tend to agree with him.

- On the receiving end

Dear Receiver ...

There's no "I" in "team," but of course, half of "IT" is "I."

It sounds like you're having a bad day, or, rather, a lot of bad days. And I do understand the problem - like most organizations, 10 percent of the employees do the real work while the rest figure out how to "hide behind the herd."

How do you handle this? You have several options. I suspect you'll hate all of them.

Option #1: Shrug your shoulders and start considering the situation to be job security. If a lot of your co-workers succeed through mediocrity and your manager either doesn't care enough to hold them to higher standards or just doesn't know how, you're dealing with a condition of the world rather than a problem to be solved. Viewed from this perspective, you're dealing with a problem similar to one I deal with every day: I don't happen to like gravity very much. But there it is. I'm not going to change gravity and you aren't going to change your co-workers.

You can, however, refuse to do their work for them. All you have to say is, "No, no, no. This is your job, not my job." This will work until it goes to your manager for a judgment call on whose job it is.

Option #2: Schmooze your manager. Start thinking of what you're experiencing as a process and systems problem rather than a competence and culture problem. Why? Because if you schmooze your manager you might persuade him/her to improve the internal systems and processes, assuming, that is, that you can develop a new and better way to do things that will build quality into what people build. Not only can't you persuade him/her that the people you work with are losers, but it really wouldn't be appropriate. Even if true, establishing the distinction between this and simple backstabbing is just too difficult to achieve, and you don't want your manager to think of you as a backstabber.

Option #3: Leave. No, wait! Really! This can help. Here's the key - don't go to another company just like the one you're leaving. Find a small company with either no IT staff or just one or two. It's awfully hard for incompetents to hide behind each other and you when there are just barely enough people to get the job done.

Option #4: Schooze your manager's manager. Lay the groundwork for a promotion into management, where you will be able to address the problem.

Best I can do. I hope one of them works for you.

- Bob

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