my company has no reporting structure and no training — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I work for a professional services company that currently has no real reporting structure and it’s driving me insane. The company is relatively new and for the first few years, it was about five people who all functioned as one team: my boss, Malcolm; his second-in-command, Wash; and several junior staff working under them.

The company grew very fast and in about two-three years went from five people to 15. Malcolm is still the director, Wash and I are managers, there are three people with the “team lead” title, and then about eight junior staff.

The problem is that Malcolm still treats the company as one whole team. Neither Wash nor I have any direct reports, the team leads don’t have an actual team that they lead, and the junior staff work with a mix of supervisors. For example, Junior A might work with all three team leads on different projects, but Junior B only works with one team lead. Some of the juniors work directly with Wash or myself on a regular basis, and some don’t work with either of us at all.

New projects are assigned by Malcolm to all levels more or less at random, based on either who last said they could take on more work or who Malcolm thinks is best able to handle more work. Wash and I usually get no input, though we don’t know most of the staff well enough to offer an opinion, anyway.

This system makes it impossible to effectively manage any of the staff or provide any coaching, because nobody has a whole picture of the work anybody is doing. It’s so bad that I once had to conduct a performance appraisal for a junior who I had never spoken to. You can imagine how helpful that meeting was for her.

To top it all off, our company has an absolutely horrendous onboarding/training system and new staff get minimal support and even less proper training on how to do the work. “Trial by fire” is an apt phrase to describe it, as the new juniors are given a task, shown the basics of how to use the software we work in, and then pretty much left to figure it out themselves and ask questions if they can’t. I went through a similar “training” when I started and it’s incredibly intimidating and demoralizing to be forced to interrupt a superior multiple times a day with questions.

This has created a situation where I end up doing a lot of team lead or even junior work because I have so many tight deadlines each month that I just don’t have the time to properly train the juniors I do work with so that they can do it instead. I hate this, because I know that I’m failing them as a manager and I would love to sit down and train them properly, but then we’d miss deadlines or I’d have to work a ton of overtime that I just can’t as the mother of a two-year-old.

I’ve tried multiple times to bring all these issues to Malcolm’s attention. I’ve told him that I can’t do my job effectively. I’ve explained why our lack of training/support is causing juniors to work so slowly and with so many errors. I’ve prepared a whole proposal for how a proper reporting structure would benefit the company and make us more efficient, even putting it in terms of improved profit margins to see if tying the changes to the bottom line would have an impact. Malcolm just says things like, “I’d like to do an analysis of the pros and cons” or “there are some interesting ideas here” and then nothing happens. Wash is a peacekeeper in this regard and tries to bolster both sides, saying things like, “I agree with everything you’ve said about improvements but I haven’t really experienced the problems you’re talking about.”

I’ve been trying to change things for months and I’m at my wits’ end. I like the people I work with and the work that I do, but I also feel like I’m constantly failing the junior staff and my output on client deliverables isn’t where I want it to be because I’m so rushed all the time.

Do you have any advice about changes that I could make to improve things for the juniors without a full organizational overhaul? Or maybe an approach to try with my boss that’s different from what I’ve already tried? Or do I just need to cut my losses and walk away?

Cut your losses and walk away.

You’ve already made the case to Malcolm for doing things differently, multiple times. He’s unmoved. Wash says he doesn’t even see the problems you’re talking about, so he’s not going to push for change.

This is the way they want to run their firm.

There actually are a lot of professional services firms that run on something similar to this model, where junior staff are regularly shuffled to different projects and don’t have a clear reporting relationship. Usually, though, there’s still someone assigned to review their work and give feedback, even if that person varies by project, and there’s still someone charged with evaluating their overall performance. In other words, there’s still a structure, even though it can mean that a person’s manager doesn’t have a ton of first-hand exposure to their day-to-day work. It’s a weird model, but it works for a lot of firms. The difference here is that your junior staff don’t seem to have any reporting relationships at all, compounded by the complete lack of training. Although frankly, you could probably get away with the lack of clear reporting structure if you had real training happening. The lack of either is a disaster.

Normally I would say that it’s possible that this is just growing pains. Often when an organization grows very quickly from a small size to something bigger, there’s a period where they’re still trying to use the systems that worked for them at the smaller size, and it can take a while to see and accept that those systems (or, more often, lack of systems) don’t work for them at the larger size. But at some point they generally realize, “Whatever it was that got us here, it’s not sufficient for where we are now” and they start to professionalize and put in systems more suited for the new, larger size. Your organization is just … not doing that.

And it’s not because it hasn’t been pointed out to them. You’ve tried to point it out, repeatedly. They’re not interested in changing the things they need to change.

That’s why it’s time to cut your losses and walk away. Not only is this going to be endlessly frustrating for you — as it’s already become — but it’s likely to hold you back in some pretty significant professional ways. You’re not going to be able to grow and develop when you’re constantly in this crush. You already feel like you can’t do your job effectively. That’s not a good situation to stay in long-term.

Take what you got from working there and find your next step somewhere else.

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