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My team is caught in the middle of a power struggle

THE QUESTION

I work for the sales division of a large international manufacturing company. The sales group is divided into large regions: Europe and the Americas, where I work. Each regional group has a manager, both of whom report to the president of the entire sales division.

In the past few months, the president has been encouraging group e-mails to the entire sales division, with the idea the we all need to know what is happening in the overall market. The European team has bought into this fully, but the Americas manager has expressly prohibited the people in my group from sending messages to the sales group as a whole.

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It is clear there is some sort of power struggle going on between my manager and the president (as well as the European manager, for that matter) and I'm worried that this is going to blow back on me and the rest of the Americas team. The president has now instructed us repeatedly to copy the entire sales team on our messages and I think we're getting to the point where he will ask outright why we are not doing what he has asked. How can I best manage this situation without selling out my boss?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Zuleika Sgro

Human resources partner, talent manager, Questrade.com, Toronto

Talk to your boss. Many times employees are caught in the middle of a bigger-picture struggle and you may not have all the information you need to fully understand why each party is acting the way they are; in turn you are faced with a struggle to question who you "really report to." My advice is to follow the chain of command and raise with your direct manager your concerns and the impact the situation is having on you and your team.

In the end, everyone should agree that sales, cohesiveness and productivity is more important than a power struggle. It seems this difference of opinion is causing more distraction than good – in short, your time is better spent on other things than trying to decode what this all means.

If you approach your boss forthrightly – saying that you and your colleagues are receiving conflicting messages from him and the president, and that obviously you want to please both – he should understand the struggle and give you more information about where this conflict is coming from, or resolve it with the president directly. As your manager, his job is to motivate your team and clear obstacles so you can get your job done, so make him accountable. Your success and the team's success is also his success and the president's.

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THE SECOND ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

The president issues mandates to your manager, your manager decides how they are to be carried out. My guess is that the president will admonish your manager for not group e-mailing, not the sales staff or you personally.

But, to be on the safe side, go to your manager, tell him you are concerned the president is going to ask you outright why the Americas team doesn't participate in group e-mails. Ask him to explain why your team isn't complying as it is important for you to understand the situation. Ask him how you are to handle a query should the president approach you. Follow up this conversation with an e-mail reiterating the conversation. You need documentation.

Chances are your boss will brush your concerns under the carpet and assure you that everything is under control. I realize you are concerned about your job and the reputation your team would be facing for not adhering to the president's order. But if anyone's job is in jeopardy, it would be your manager's.

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There is a hierarchy in organizations that dictates rank and authority. It is highly unlikely the president will bypass your manager and go straight to your team. If he does ask any of you personally about why you haven't been following orders, tell the president that he should speak to your manager. Period.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns at http://tgam.ca/DjTz

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