Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Co-worker takes credit for team's ideas!

“Recently at work, the team had discussions on topics related to a current project. As part of the discussions, each team member was supposed to present their ideas on ways to resolve certain project related issues. Since it wasn’t a formal meeting, the manager wasn’t involved. Neither was the meeting documented. One of the team member’s however had written down notes and then put together a presentation. The team didn’t know of the presentation and she didn’t share with us either. However, she went on to share it with both our manager and senior manager, claiming that the ideas presented were her own!! She had blatantly plagiarized/stolen ideas from us. So you can imagine how shocked we must have been when the manager sent the presentation to the entire team praising the team member. My question is: How do we go about telling the manager that the team member has taken credit for our ideas? Or should we stay off it and guard our discussions in future”

I agree it’s a terrible situation to be in. At the face of it, your team member’s acted like a jerk. Taking credit for someone else’s work is a strict workplace no-no. But there’s too much involved in this situation to give you a quick reply. So let me try to answer it in parts.

First, you say it was an informal meeting and hence the manager wasn’t there. So I presume it was a general discussion within the team and more of a collaborative discussion. One where ideas flow freely and people end up forgetting who gave which idea! Really. Unless the idea had an earth shattering impact and one that could change the course of our planet, stick to it, otherwise it’s ok to let go. It shouldn’t look like you are obstructing free flow of ideas/thoughts towards improving business or work. Next time you may want to show some restraint while talking about your ideas and yes, please document it in a formal meeting. If it has to stay an informal one, watch what you have to say. You could talk to your team member directly and resolve it without the manager’s involvement. Tell her that you found her tactic to be grossly wrong and the team’s not taken it well. Hopefully she’ll realize her mistake and apologize. Else, read on.

Second, your team member pulled a fast one and thinks she can get away with it. She thinks that way because she knows that most of the team will stay quiet and not blow the whistle. Remember there’s no documentation to prove that the idea originated from you. Right? The moment to blow the whistle has passed and anything you say now will look like doing damage control. She’s fully aware of that. Now you have to decide if you want to stand up or back-off. If you choose to stand up for your ideas, then your manager’s involvement looks imminent.

So how to get your message across to the manager? Since the manager wasn’t involved in your team discussion, she could be totally unaware of the origins of the ideas. She’s seen it for the first time and naturally she is thrilled with the effort of her team member. So you’ll need to build your discussion carefully. You don’t want to make it sound like a complaining session. Set-up a discussion with the manager and outline the details of the team’s informal discussion. Give some context to the origin of the ideas. Don’t make it a meeting to accuse the team member. But you would do well to speak of the impact this negative approach has had on yourself and the team too. Trust is a vital part of teamwork and quite sure that’s taken the maximum impact. You may want to highlight that. Also such negative tactics will build mistrust between team members and eventually will discourage them from talking more freely about their ideas. The manager needs to know that too. Hopefully your manager is a fair person and will see clearly through this issue.

Direct confrontation is uncomfortable for a lot of people. It requires courage to stand up and talk. But I urge you have that discussion with the manager, because if it goes unreported then the team member could repeat it again and again. That will only increase the team’s frustration, leading to low team morale and productivity too. Also, a lot of companies have innovation as a key trait in performance reviews and if it’s the same with your review, then you don’t want your efforts to go wasted. Would you? Or even get it stolen by another team member.

This is not a unique situation, it’s happens quite frequently. You can’t rule out chances of it not happening again. Maybe someone should just put their hand up and speak.

Any thoughts from the reader’s?