APPOV: Disengagement Begins with Small Things

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Each week, I volunteer to count money for an organization. Since I have been doing it, it seems like there is a complaint every week about mistakes. The person who relays the information to the larger group never speaks to me or any of us individually about whether a specific person is accountable for the problems.


I don’t know the history of the group; thus, I don’t know whether they have always received chronically negative feedback or if it has started since I joined the team. I could be wrong, but I have a hard time believing it’s always been this way. Nevertheless, the person who relays the feedback won’t answer my very direct questions when I ask whether she thinks the problem is me. I suspect that she doesn’t like conflict, doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, and is concerned about how I might react. Ironically, her refusal to answer the question directly makes me angry! I don’t know what to fix, whether the mistakes speak to my inability to do this task, or if they really have no idea who is causing the problem.


In part, I don’t fully trust the word of the person who relays the error information to the team. This is why: the counting function is divided into an A team and a B team. I volunteer with the B team. A representative from the A team advises the leader of the B team about the problems. When my team leader learns about problems and errors from the A team, her response (body language and eye rolls), and the connotation of her statements regarding interacting with the person from Team A make it clear that she is frustrated. I think her frustration is two-fold. The person on Team A annoys her, and she likely feels frustrated or embarrassed that her team has made a mistake. 


The B team leader’s reactions (i.e., Heavy sigh followed by “I don’t want that phone call; I can hear her now) make me believe that she doesn’t have an honest relationship with the person from team A. In turn, I wonder if she deals with me honestly. Is she and the other members of the team speaking negatively of me when I’m not around? Do they feel like I’m hindering their progress with the mistakes? Or am I paranoid and simply insecure in my new function?


Not long ago, we got another complaint. On this particular day, I asked the group if they thought I should quit. The B team leader said that the feedback wasn’t directed at me, but quitting was my decision. In turn, I said, “I don’t think yall were getting this many complaints before I started.” They responded with, ‘We’ve been tweaking our process for years based on correcting our errors. You’re new; it takes time.” Well, if that isn’t the epitome of mixed messages! I just want somebody to say, “Yes, these problems started with you” or “No, this is just how it is.”


Since the immediate situation above, the B team has received more complaints. As in weeks past, the message was given to the entire group and no one was spoken to directly. Meanwhile, I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable because I feel like I’m being watched closely, which makes me more prone to make errors! I’m debating having a conversation with the person who asked me to work with Team B to ask whether things have always been this way. However, I’m concerned that such a conversation might be blown out of proportion and result in result in hard feelings and awkwardness. 

Now, I believe I have two options: quit now and reclaim my time or set some sort of timeline or benchmark to help me decide whether to quit or continue.


Questions for the reader:

If you and your team took the time to analyze the situation above, what are the problems and potential problems that they see?


Existing Problems:
● Challenges in the areas of transparency and communication
● Destructive fear of conflict and disagreement

  • Leadership that undermines itself


Potential Problems:

  • What happens if the B team loses a volunteer?
  • What happens if the frustrated volunteer does talk to someone within the organization about her frustration?
  • Although the frustrated volunteer only volunteers in this one capacity, how might this experience impact her opinion of the entire organization?



  • What if the volunteer’s perception of the situation is wrong?
    ● Assuming that the volunteer is the cause of the mistakes, is the issue one of capability, inadequate training, or something else?
  • Why was the volunteer asked to join the B team; is this need being met?


Parallels between this story and our team:
● How do we manage conflict?

  • Do we see similar miscommunication challenges on our team?
  • Do we trust one another to be honest (yes, tactfulness matters)?
    ● Do we see how refusal to be open about performance/work quality can actually hurt the employee, even if the goal is to save their feelings? 
  • If the leader of Team B was your team leader at your job (you’re not a volunteer), how might you address the situation to manage your sense of distrust?

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