I’m afraid I’m going to be assigned to the wrong work team

A reader writes:

Just before the holidays at my workplace, a manager casually mentioned that sometime soon, staff members (of which I am one of the longer-term ones at my level but all of us have been there under a year) will be divided into two different “teams”: briefly put, “client/public-facing/informational” and “non-public-facing/long-term technical projects.” They did not have discussions with any of us as to our goals or preferences, and we have still not been told who they’ve decided will be on which team. I’m getting nervous.

From what I can tell from my experiences and interactions there, my particular preference and leanings —based on my skills, temperament and career path/goals/needs— should be abundantly clear, and my being on my preferred team would clearly be a good organizational fit for them. And, more selfishly, working on that team could be something I could more easily parlay into my future goals (within or outside the organization) with maximum respectability and “sellability.” Someone with the opposite bent and career track, though, would find more potential to excel in working on the other team. So it’s not a status difference based on actual fact, but it kind of IS a status difference relative to each employee’s particular career path. (This is the reason I’m not disclosing my preference in this question— because both have equal merit and I don’t want to suggest either is “beneath” the other in anything but personal preference.) I’m optimistically assuming my employer will recognize all this as obvious and assign me accordingly, but communication there isn’t always great and there’s a chance this won’t happen.

I’m afraid I’m going to be quite upset if I’ve been assigned to the other team, because to me that would indicate that they’ve made a poor management decision because they’ve not paid enough attention to obvious cues about the goals, strengths and aptitudes of their employees– which really goes beyond just bad management and into the realm of personally dismissive. Again— I have no idea if this will be my fate, but if it is, how can I best phrase that I’d like them to reconsider without coming off as petulant or inflexible? How could I make them recognize the benefit to themselves of making sure they’re getting “fit” right without insulting their judgement? Other than a continued paycheck and a decent reference, is it of any advantage to me to suck it up if I’m put on the other team?

Why, why, why would you wait for them to make decisions before you bring this up? Talk to them now.

People often assume that their career goals must be obvious to their employers, and then get upset when their employers seem to be ignoring those — for instance, passing them over for a promotion that they never told anyone they were interested in, or not assigning them to a project that they never mentioned wanting. Employers are not mind-readers, and what might seem obvious about you to you is not always obvious to managers who have dozens of other things to be thinking about and juggling.

You’re already envisioning getting upset if you’re assigned to the wrong team and wondering how to get them to reconsider, but the time to speak up is now, before assignments have been announced. If you don’t do that, you’re really forfeiting any moral high ground or rational claim to complain about them being “personally dismissive” or even poor managers. If you don’t tell them what you want, you’re setting them up to disappoint you.

I’d be pretty irked if I told employees in advance that these changes were coming and someone who hadn’t expressed any preference to me had this type of reaction once the teams were announced. And it would reflect on their communication skills and judgment, which could potentially factor into future decisions like this, which you really don’t want.

Go talk to them. And do it immediately, like Monday, because they could finalize or announce these decisions at any time, so you shouldn’t keep waiting.

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