I was told every week that I had no value. I was told I was a liar and a fraud. My colleagues were depressed. I was yelled at.
Welcome to the last of a series of posts that are about the worst job in my career. This article will describe my second project at this company. A project that lasted six short weeks. How bad could it be in six weeks right?
If you are trying to find the rest in the series, here are some links:
I was sent to a new client project. I was told that I’d be staffed for a skillset I did not possess. I asked if they were sure that was a good idea, but that I’d go because I needed out of where I was previously.
Everyone assured me that my skillset wasn’t an issue and that people were fine with that. When I interviewed with my colleagues they said they were excited to have me because of my coaching background. I dug into the question.
I saw the beginnings of a team that was beaten down. They didn’t have the motivation to continue. They felt hopeless.
By my third day, I was told that I have no value.
It turned out that I was brought in to the project without one of the leader’s knowledge. The desire for my coaching was not something they wanted. They wanted someone to go build the software that they demanded. When I said quite plainly I don’t have those skills they said I have no value.
When I offered ways I could help right now I was told that wasn’t my job.
I muddled through the next 6 weeks. I began coaching my colleagues and clients. They told me their lives were changed. They told me that next to their spouses I was the person they trusted most. They told me that they could see their future and a path towards it.
Meanwhile, some admitted that they were so depressed they could barely get out of bed every morning. I was prohibited from facilitating retrospectives as they didn’t rely on a 3-column format, and asked for more personal insight. This was deemed unprofessional.
I was called a fraud and a liar.
At some point, I was pulled into a room and yelled at.
During a retrospective, the leader was telling the group how to improve. The room was silent. Nobody was participating. She took control and declared the improvement plan. The plan was to prohibit meetings for the team for spans of the day. I had a standing meeting with the team that we were contractually required to have. I brought the contradiction forward and the team said this was a meeting they wanted to have anyway.
The sight of me going into a room with the team was interpreted as deliberately undermining and disobeying what was decided. An argument ensued. In one moment I remember being yelled at for not sharing an opinion. During a previous conversation, I was told to keep my opinions in check, as they would be infectious and that wasn’t welcome. This encounter there is a lot I could say, but the point was that this was the only time in my career I was literally yelled at.
Six weeks later, the project ended and the team left. I stayed behind to build a new team. I went from a project where I was told that I was a fraud. A project where every week I was told I brought no value. A project where my colleagues were too depressed to get out of bed, and where I was taken aside and yelled at.
I started a new team. I was told it would be impossible. Three months later the team surpassed the teams that had been coached for 8 months. The team members told me it was life-changing. The said they’d never go back to the way they were before.
After that six-week project, I made a complaint saying that I thought I was bullied during that engagement. I was told that using that language would trigger an official complaint and HR process. I said I don’t have a different word. I was told later that the person I complained against wouldn’t be investigated as they had been at the company for six years.
If somehow you’ve survived all of this writing you may be surprised to find out that I stayed an entire year past that first one.
I have to take my own responsibility for every day I stayed in a company that caused me so much pain. I also know that when these are the experiences every day it doesn’t feel so simple or straightforward to, “Just quit.”
The tweet that prompted this woke back up a flood of memories that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. There is a lot more I can write and say. I submitted a talk for Agile 2019 where stories like these and others I’ve seen from the other decade of my career can be shared.
I think the tech industry and numerous companies have become blind to the institutional harm they cause their employees. Even while I may be able to significantly improve the lives around me. It would be a mistake to believe that everything must be fine for me.
The way our industry is now, I assume by default that every day someone is living with a pain that is bound to their job. I was told I was too sensitive at one point at this job I wrote about. That was feedback I maintain that I was right to ignore.