Tina is discouraged. With 13 years of engineering experience, she recently took a Front End engineer role with a clean-water startup.
She’d been sought out, courted, and accepted a great offer by this company.
After months of consideration, she’d joined the company six months ago.
She loves the company’s mission, and many of the people she worked with.
She is in the SF office, but unfortunately, the rest of her team is in Ohio.
Rob, her primary contact in Ohio, has been working there for two years. He graduated from a code school two years ago, and then immediately joined the company. He built most of the app that she works in.
Tina’s new to the application and infrastructure, so she has more questions than answers. Rob is the person she works with most often, so she asks him most of the questions, even beyond those related to the app.
He is, in her words, “just the nicest guy.” But she can tell that he doesn’t really enjoy being “tapped on the shoulder” via Slack.
She’s accustomed to collaborative environments, but everyone in Ohio is heads-down all day. Discussions and questions are considered a bother, something that gets in the way of real work.
And that’s precisely how she feels: like a bother.
Everyone has a place, except her. Everyone is contributing, except her.
Everyone else is changing the world, except her.
The time difference causes problems, too. When he needs something from her, he might wait a few hours for her to arrive at work. But if she needs something from him or anyone in the Ohio office, she often has to wait until the next day.
This leaves her with a frustrating amount of free time.
Tina hates this because she’s a Type-A, driven, high-energy person. She’s accustomed to having too much to do and misses that feeling.
Instead of paddling as hard as she can, she’s mentally drifting along, aimless.
She talked to her boss about it. He suggested that she continue to look for ways to add value, but mostly shrugged and rushed back to his other team. The other team he managed he also contributed to, and they had lots of important work to do. So, he was very, very busy.
Soon she wondered if she was bothering him, too.
She felt trapped.
On the one hand, she believes in the company’s mission and has developed friendships there.
On the other hand, she isn’t able to contribute.
Like anyone who feels trapped, she feels nervous, anxious, even… fearful.
She knows that when you’re not contributing, it won’t be long until you don’t have a job.
More than that, she wants to save the planet! She wants to make this happen!
When I spoke with Tina, it was clear how painful this situation was.
Toward the end of our chat, she sheepishly admitted that she felt she’d been “punching the clock” lately.
After all, if she couldn’t contribute value, at least she could contribute eight hours.
In a system that didn’t offer her other ways to contribute, she gained some feeling of accomplishment from putting in her time.
We both admitted harshly judging the “clock-punchers” at past jobs. But now, from this new perspective, we saw that we’d judged the wrong thing.
The problem wasn’t that clock-punchers don’t want to contribute, but that the system doesn’t allow them to.
The system is the problem, not the person.
I don’t know how long Tina will stay at this job.
Unless something changes, I suspect it won’t be very long.
Too bad, because she’s a skilled, articulate, driven, high-performing engineer who cares about the mission.
Which is exactly why she’ll probably leave.
Have you ever considered that your system isn’t allowing people to fully contribute?
If you suspect that’s happening, why not ask in your next 1:1 or team meeting?
You might be surprised — and you might still be able to save the “Tina’s” on your team.