Doing An End Run

May 6, 2015

Recently, I heard a story of someone doing an end run around their teammate to get the boss onside. An end run is when you choose to go around the person who legitimately should be responsible for something to a person who will give you the answer you want.

For example, your teammate is responsible for launching a new product but she keeps postponing the launch because she thinks it’s not yet positioned for success. Rather than deal with her directly, you go to the boss and get him to approve the launch, completely taking your teammate out of the equation.

This is a common practice: a common weasely, cowardly, crappy practice that destroys trust and detracts from proper accountability on teams.

So Why Would You Do It?

You probably know in your gut that it’s a terrible thing to do, so what makes you do it anyway?  Here are some of the stories you might be telling yourself to justify an end run.

  1. I need to go fast: I don’t have time to influence the person who should be making the decision. I need to get this decision made and implemented in a hurry.
  2. I don’t like confrontation: I could take on the proper decision maker, but that would be unpleasant and uncomfortable and I really don’t need that. The boss doesn’t have a vested interested, so I can get her onside without a fight.
  3. They don’t get it: Have you met him? He has no clue! I can’t believe anyone trusted him to make that decision. We can’t afford to leave something so important in the hands of such an amateur.
  4. It’s my chance to impress the powers that be: If I’m the one seen to be taking the bull by the horns, it’s going to look good on me.

The Consequences

Doing an end run is tempting for all those reasons. It’s faster, easier, and sometimes even better.  It’s still a lousy choice and one you should avoid.  That’s because the unintended consequences are much worse than the temporary inconvenience of having to wade through the proper channels.

  1. Your teammate stops trusting you and likely starts talking to the boss and others about your wily ways. Expect greater suspicion and a better defense next time you try the sneak.
  2. Proper decision making processes get compromised, which might work in your favor this time, but will probably come back to haunt you when someone tries an end run on you.
  3. Accountability is eroded, particularly if you compensated for someone who wasn’t up to their job. Rather than the capability gap being exposed, you just obscured it.

The High Road

Rather than avoiding the real issue by doing an end run, be open and transparent about what’s going on.

  1. If things aren’t moving fast enough, try a group email outlining the issues and requesting a meeting to get to a resolution. “I can’t move on my project until we get an answer on the launch plan, can we get a list of the issues and then meet to work through the list?”
  2. If you expect that the conversation could be confrontational, use a positive and constructive tone. “I know you’re considering postponing the launch of this product. What could we do to stay on track with the timelines?”
  3. If you’re concerned about the competence of the person who legitimately owns the issue, ask for a meeting where you can flesh out some of the risks or concerns. “I’m concerned that this plan doesn’t take into account our technology capabilities. Here are some of the factors we should also consider before we decide.”
  4. If you’re trying to impress the higher ups, try impressing them by being a good team player. Rather than cutting your teammate out of the process, offer to help. “I’m concerned that we haven’t made much progress on the plan. I have a couple of ideas I’d love to test with you and see if you think they would be valuable to share with Sally.”

In the short-term, going around someone you perceive as a barrier to get something done might feel good.  It won’t take long before you pay the price for undermining people and processes.  Don’t do it. Be candid about the issues and work constructively to solve for what is getting in the way.

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