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Blame rolls down hill pretty quickly here

Dear Office-Politics,

Any suggestions for dealing with multiple layers of upper management that are rarely on the same page? Blame rolls down hill pretty quickly here and disputes among them are often resolved by pinning the blame on people down the chain.

The 3 layers of upper management have been friends for many years and all have stubborn, difficult, and in some cases abusive tendencies towards the staff. I like the work, pay, projects we work on, people I manage directly but feel like the concerns I’ve raised in this area have been turned around and held against me. HR seems genuinely afraid of the owner, so I’m not sure there’s much help there and I get the sense that going that route might be held against me as well. It’s been suggested that reducing my role in management might help which I see as a disaster for the group.

I’m concerned that I should be looking for employment elsewhere despite throwing in tremendous effort / overtime to help build the organization.


franke james

Dear Caught-in-the-Middle,

It sounds like a real picnic at your workplace (Management with stubborn, difficult, and in some cases abusive tendencies)…

The primary question in your letter has to do with a blame trail, and who is the scapegoat. That type of problem can best be addressed by clarifying the roles, duties, deliverables and deadlines. It’s then much easier to see who isn’t pulling their weight, and who should be turfed.

Where’s the Blueprint?
Let’s go back to the basics. Your problems cannot be addressed until your company has a strong strategic vision. That way everyone in the company knows what the game-plan is — what the roles, duties, deliverables and deadlines are to achieve success. Think of it like building a house. You need the blueprint that shows you what you’re building — before you put a shovel in the ground. The blueprint can be created by the CEO and Management in ‘creative vision’ sessions designed to draw out the precise goals, the hurdles and a realistic action plan.

Thinking in the Same Direction
The big obstacle of course is that you’re not in a strong position of power to effect the direction of the company. So how can you have any influence? I suggest you do some reading on how strategic creative meetings are run — and propose to the CEO that they try the techniques. Dr. Edward de Bono is my favorite in this area. His book “Six Thinking Hats” (do a Google search to find it) lays out a simple and effective method for getting everyone to think in the same direction at once. We’ve used it in many meetings over the years and it is extremely helpful in drawing out ideas/complaints/solutions from everyone in the meeting (including the black hat naysayers). It gives everyone present the opportunity to contribute ideas in a surprisingly controlled and effective way. If your company used this process I think you’d see some very positive changes.

In light of all this — and the fact that you cannot really turn the ship around, or single-handedly change the corporate culture, it leads me to think that ‘looking for employment elsewhere’ is an excellent idea.

And if you can learn more about running strategic and creative problem-solving meetings, you will be a big asset to your next company. Good luck. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Let me know if this helps.


Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

  1. One Answer to “Blame rolls down hill pretty quickly here”

  2. Feedback from Caught-in-the-Middle

    I just placed an order on Amazon for “Six Thinking Hats”. I’ll definitely give it a read.

    I genuinely appreciate your advice, you’ve given me a fresh perspective on the issues I’m facing. I think you hit the nail on the head with clearly defined roles. Where the other upper managers are coming into conflict is in areas of control / vision / role of the mid level managers.

    Each of the upper layers of management has a “I’m not interested in your thoughts on this, I just want you execute on my solution I’m going to have to outline for you since you were unable to fix this on your own” type personality. Often these unsolicited solutions contradict marching orders from the other management layers, or in some cases is just plain not the right answer. Suggesting that they get in touch with the other manager to discuss the issue seems to call into question where my loyalty lies. In these cases I’ve suggested group meetings to discuss the issues – I’ve made some progress heading this route but getting all the veto level players in the same room is like pulling eye teeth. I spend a great deal of time documenting discussions to keep myself covered, but feel that there’s clearly an issue if I feel I need to.

    It’s not all doom and gloom but it’s something that definitely keeps me up at night wondering about the long term viability of my position in the organization.

    Thanks again for your input.

    By Letter-writer on May 23, 2007

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