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By Darryl Stewart
How to not throw your teammates under the bus

Should you talk to your co-worker or your boss first?

note to readers:  I have changed the title of this blog from its original given recent tragic events.   Thank you for your feedback on this.   Darryl

What should you do if one of your peers at work is doing things that are tripping you up? I am not talking about something illegal, immoral, or dangerous. For those things you should go straight to the boss. I am talking about day-to-day behaviours and performance issues that have a negative material effect on you or your team. Basically, you think your peer needs to change what they are doing for the sake of the team or the organization.

What is the right thing for you to do?:

  1. Talk to the person directly about your concerns?
  2. Talk to your boss?
  3. Bring it up in a team meeting?

The answer is usually #1 – talk to the person directly. If the situation persists despite your best efforts to deal with it one-on-one, then you can go to your boss. In too many situations, though, people don’t say anything for too long and then jump to #2 out of frustration. Think about what you would prefer. Would you want to hear directly from your peer that something you are doing is really messing them up? Or would you rather hear from your boss because someone has ratted you out?

Great teams have high levels of trust, and the responsibility for building trust lies with the leader much of the time. In the case of addressing issues between you and your peers, however, the responsibility lies with you to make a first attempt at being direct, open, and honest with each other before the boss gets drawn in. Don’t throw each other under the bus by telling on each other as your default.  Use this as your backup when you can’t get anywhere with the person yourself.

Don’t even think about #3. Taking the matter up with the boss in private is gentle compared to bringing the issue up in front of the whole team, yet how many of us have seen this happen? I am embarrassed to say I have done it myself in the past, thinking this would get my peer’s attention and bring the issue to light. It certainly did! What I did not consider was the impact it would have on the level of trust between us. It was not good.

Saying things like this in a meeting is way off base:

“My report would have been much more complete if George had given me the figures on time.”

“The way Myrna treats the people we support is inappropriate.”

Like so many things that are important, telling a peer one-on-one that you take exception with their work is not easy, but it is what intelligent, caring, courageous people do to help build a trusting and productive workplace. Sometimes you get a sincere thank-you; sometimes you are rebuffed. Either way, you are taking the right first step.

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