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Posted on: Friday, 10 September 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Back in the days at Multiplitaxion Inc, Fred tends to throw random ad-hoc work on our plates every time he sees us passing by the corridors of the office.

More often than once we find ourselves gathered in the cafeteria discussing what it is that Fred himself does.

Michael Lopp explains this rather articulately in his book, Managing Humans. He explains:

“What, exactly, do you do?”

Slack.
Jawed.
Amazement.

This question is coming from someone I trust. A trusted employee who has been working in my group at the startup for years. This guy always tells me the straight dope and now he’s asking me what I do with my day because he honestly does not know.

My first reaction to this question is the wrong one. I want to leap over the table, grab my friend by the shoulders, shake him, and yell, “While you were uselessly staring at that one bug this morning, I was keeping this organization moving, pal.” My second reaction is to take a deep breath, so I do.

This basic what-do-you-do disconnect between employees and managers is at the heart of why folks don’t trust their managers or find them to be evil.

But the real problem here isn't the fact that Fred is incapable of answering the what it is that you do here question.

The most evil of managers are not the ones who cannot answer that question. In fact, the stupidest of managers are also not the ones who do not have much work on any given day. Most developers are used to both these kinds. Add a little bit of empathy to their characters and these two kinds are not really all that dangerous after all.

In fact, they might be adding secret ingredients to your project and your organization, quietly and subtly.

These are not the kinds that typically do the most damage.

The ones who do the most damage to your project, work and your team are the ones who don't have any work and to add to that, don't have a life either.

This is the breed that goes around the office with a printout of a project plan, the breed that buzzes the development team three times a day, the breed that organizes meetings that run hours and the breed that pulls out the stupidest of ideas or features straight out of their ass and then insist that they get implemented even when no one really needs them.

So, if you are a manager, the next time you walk up to someone's desk with a project plan in your hand and ask him the status of his module for the third time in that day because you don't have any other meetings to attend, remember that while you might not have anything to do, others in your team might be busy doing some real work.

Don't have work?

The least you can do is stop inventing random work for others and get a life.

Find a video game, play Farmville, take your son out, spend some quality time with your family, go home and stop bothering your team. Consider working less, even if you think you are supposed to 'drive and manage' the team. Seriously.