The Business Coach with Laura Murphy: Our authority is being undermined

QUESTION: My colleague and I manage two separate teams in an open plan office. Inevitably when one of us is away, we pick up the problems of the other team. It’s got to the point though where the teams are now playing one of us off against the other and causing friction between us. What do we do? Martha.

ANSWER: The teams have got you wrapped around their little fingers haven’t they? They’re playing you just as children play their parents so if they’re going to act like children; you need to act like the parent.

First of all you and your colleague need to agree a strategy. Talk to each other about what you expect from your own teams. Consider things such as any targets you’ve set them for the next week or month, any agreements over leave, overtime, flexible working. Know where they are in relation to any projects or planned meetings. What your colleague’s response might be if they were presented with a problem from their own team – you can use past requests as a basis to start.

When the other team come to you, firstly ask whether they’ve already spoken to their own manager and judge from their response whether they’re trying to pull a fast one. If this is a genuine request then assess whether it can wait until your colleague’s return. Wherever possible, let them wait. If it can’t then knowing what is expected from the team, and your colleague’s likely response to this request if they had been around, you will be able to give an answer more attuned to your colleague than before. This way you’ll reduce the friction between the two of you and the teams will begin to see that they cannot play the game anymore and start acting like adults.


Laura Murphy is the founder of mtc2 ltd, a management consultancy, training and coaching company.  Laura is an organisation development specialist and business coach.  If you have a problem then contact her at

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Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.