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    My manager split our team.

    One half of the team worked with all the shiny new things that the manager was interested in.

    One half held down the fort, kept the on-call rotation going (with three people now on-call instead of six), and did the bulk of our team’s original responsibilities - without any further direction or communication with from our now AWOL manager.

    Close to being the worst two years of my working professional life.

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      Todd said, “But that’s all in their heads!” and I agreed. Overwhelmed is a feeling, not a physical problem.

      This. One thing I’ve learned from dealing with neurodivergent people, including myself, is that just because something only exists in your head doesn’t mean it’s not real. This applies to neurotypical people too! It’s just less noticeable because people are used to dealing with it a certain way. Once you accept this as a fact, no matter how silly or trivial something might look from the outside of someone’s head, then you can start actually addressing the problem.

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        It’s just less noticeable

        Is this even true? “it’s all in your head” is massively dismissive, no matter who you are. In fact, everything is “in your head” since we can’t even prove the physical world exists! What is in a person’s head is arguably the most real and the most noticeable to them

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          is that just because something only exists in your head doesn’t mean it’s not real.

          This line of thinking as written I believe to be wrong and to be a large part of the issues we have as a civilization (arguably, species).

          An amended version I’m 100% fine with would be:

          is that just because something only exists in your head doesn’t mean it’s not real to you.

          It’s incredibly important to have empathy and a theory of mind that allows for interacting with irrational and insane people. It’s incredibly problematic to let others essentially dictate reality on their own whims, especially when there are more than one persons involved.

          Sometimes, there is objectively a problem. Sometimes, there is a misinterpretation of an objective reality. Sometimes, the problem is rooted in an interpretation of nonreality. The techniques for addressing problems in these different categories are severely limited if we must take everything as actual reality–if you’ve ever dealt with a narcissist, schizophrenic, or borderline person, this should be obvious. For example, many of the successful techniques for dealing with anxiety require that you do not assume the brain/self has a correct view of reality.

          If you’re ever in a management position, there are many cases where you’ll have to deal (as the author’s friend did) with folks who “feel” a certain way that is incongruous with facts on the ground. Burnout is one such circumstance, imposter syndrome another, plain old grudges and paranoia a third. You cannot effectively manage people if you automatically assume that what they’re telling you is the unvarnished truth–you can only assume that they believe those things to be true (and in pathological cases, you can’t even reliably assume that).

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          I’ve seen this go well and also seen it go poorly.

          A failure mode I’ve seen a couple times has been that the larger team has a key person with deep expertise in a few subject areas. Post-split, that person ends up officially assigned to one of the teams, but keeps getting roped into helping out the other team which has no hiring budget to bring on an expert of its own. And because the teams are split, there’s no good mechanism for prioritizing tasks across team boundaries so things get blocked unpredictably on both sides until the person gets fed up and quits. (On one occasion I was that person, and on another I observed it happening to someone else; neither was pleasant.)

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            Arguably that was already a problem pre-split as well. The team just had a bus factor of one for those certain subject areas. Reducing the bus factor is something that would have to be worked on either pre-split or post-split, but it has to happen anyway.

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              Definitely true. The challenge is that splitting an overwhelmed team usually goes hand in hand with “no budget available to hire more people to share the load.” Once you’re in that position, it’s sometimes too late to make the decisions that would have avoided the situation.

              When I was the person in question, I tried to mitigate it by writing lots of documentation and encouraging people on both teams to learn about the things they were asking me to take care of. But they had their own tasks to do, and even under ideal circumstances, “Distill your decades of experience and perspective into a junior developer’s head so they can do your job” is a pretty tall order. Especially when it comes with an implied, “But you are still on the hook to deliver your own full-time job’s worth of individual work,” which is usually the case on an overwhelmed team.

              Like I said, not a pleasant situation for anyone involved.

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            This reminds me of a thing I read a few years ago about why health services were trying to consolidate elective surgery wards. Instead of having a small number of surgeons each doing a large number of procedures, the bigger consolidated wards could have each surgeon specialise in very few procedures or even just one, and then get really really good at them by sheer amount of practice. Apparently the improvement to patient health outcomes is significant.

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              +1. My team at work did this, and I consider it a success. Instead of a massive and constantly overwhelmed team we now have two thriving teams. (And the team left with the most services at that split are looking to split again.)

              We were allowed to hire before splitting though, and we did a soft spilt for a fee months before comitting to it.