A Seagull in the Workplace
If you’re like me you’re probably wondering what the heck a seagull in the workplace is! (I just learned about this term last week.) But, I definitely thought it was blog-worthy and funny enough to share.
Seagull Manager/Business Partner: Who comes in at the last minute, swoops into a meeting, and poops on whatever you’ve been working on. Then flies away leaving your project completely derailed.
I haven’t experienced a lot of seagull managers in my tenure, but I’ve had more than enough business partners commit this crime. It all starts the same way. You’re in a meeting for a final review of a project, and they decide they want to change one of the things you agreed to upon in the beginning.
And guess what? This means you get to start looking at redoing the entire project from the beginning. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
Yes, this ugly duckling is the master of creating an enormous mess that should be illegul. 🤣 (Yes, expect more bad bird puns and idioms to follow!)
Seagulls are Jerks
Now, not to say that everyone who commits this is a jerk (I’m sure they have their reasons), but a little bird told me they are. So let’s think about this for a moment. Sometimes the true depth of the term takes a minute to fully understand.
Most project work can be like steering the Titanic. To tell me one day let’s head North, and then two months later let’s go South is devastating. You’ve got a very big ship to turn 180 degrees overnight. No matter the size of the project, this situation can be extremely problematic.
First of all, we’ve wasted two months heading in the opposite direction. So not only do you have to turn the ship around, you now have to make up for all the distance you covered moving in the wrong direction.
If that’s not frustrating enough, you must all realize that you can’t turn a ship or project for that manner around, without lots of additional work. Even if you’re only asking me to take a 90 degree right turn, it’s still going to take some time. But the wasted time that these bird-brain ideas are just one of the issues that a seagull causes.
A Seagull Swoop and Poop
There are two other problems a seagull who performs the swoop and poop causes. If you’ve ever seen a seagull attack a bag of chips at the beach, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
When swooping in, the ideas and changes tend not to be as well thought out as they should. The aftermath is messy and takes a while to clean up. On top of that, the seagull is long gone when you have to figure out how to move forward. Providing no help to figure out the fixes you must have to implement.
So not only do you have a mess to clean up, you’ve then got to do it without any guidance. Which normally would be okay if it’s not too disruptive. That said, if you do it wrong, you can just prepare yourself for another round of poop coming your way.
Getting the Seagull Under Control
You may or may not be aware of it, seagulls are protected by Federal laws here in the US and other countries like the UK and Australia. (Although, I think they made a bit of a mistake trying to keep certain species of this bird off the endangered list).
That’s right, if you throw a rock at one, you could be jailed up or face huge fines in dealing with these annoying creatures. And similarly, in the business world, you can’t just kick someone at work without some type of repercussions.
Therefore, you’ll need to be a bit more thoughtful when you try to get the seagull and its actions under control. Killing two birds with one stone so to speak! Here are my recommendations:
1. Most of the time seagull managers are unprepared. Use this to your advantage. I would suggest putting them on the spot, asking questions about documents, timelines, etc. that they clearly haven’t looked at before. (Just make sure you know the answers).
2. Consistent email communication. In a few different projects, I’ve been forced to email a business partner stating “if you don’t respond by end of the day, I will take this as confirmation of X.” This gives you grounds to push back on knowing you’ve already communicated the agreement to these choices; and, if they typically don’t respond to email an easy out.
3. Provide feedback. I won’t venture to say that this type of management doesn’t realize what they are doing, but it’s always a possibility. Even if they do, the feedback to them of the chaos that is created by delivering swoop and poop is of value. Not only could this eventually be escalated above their heads, but it also can serve as a reminder. And hopefully one day they will become a bit more self-aware of their style.
4. Silence the seagull. As much as I’d love to suggest the use of duct tape, it might be hard with everyone working from home (and I’m sure HR would have something to say about it). That said, one of the best ways I’ve seen of managing too much chatter, side-talk, or derailment during a meeting, is to set ground rules. With these in place, hopefully, you can keep the bird at bay!
5. Don’t feed the birds. Try not to feed into what they are doing or this style of management. Don’t get upset, mad, or take revenge. As you can guess, this would only exasperate the issue. Stay calm. Quiet. And take a breath. Sometimes the best response is no response!
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