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Here's what has happened so far:

  • Team X is supposed to do something for us, and the timing was kind of vague but it's been a long time now.
  • The boss said he was going to send an email to them cc'ing their boss and their boss and demand a commitment date
  • As team X will need some information from us to do the thing, I emailed them with some details they'll need to do it, without any mention of dates or anything.
  • Team X cordially gets back with a TLDR, and they'll get to it eventually.

Now I'm afraid my boss is going to send that email and they'll think I set them up for an ambush or something.

How do I warn them they're probably going to get hit by a torpedo without them thinking I'm in on it?

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    I am not sure I understand. Team X needs to do something for you but to be able to do so they need some info which you only recently provided? Doesn't that mean they were unable to do this task before? – user180146 Jan 20 at 15:48
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    Others may disagree, but I'm impressed and welcome this extremely concise question, devoid of irrelevant wall-of-text details. – msanford Jan 20 at 16:07
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    How did it get to the point where your boss is upset with them? Did you ask them for a commitment date before this? What did they say? – DJClayworth Jan 20 at 17:28
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    Does Team X actually know they are "late"? Has there been any previous discussion around time lines and dates ? – Hilmar Jan 20 at 17:57
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    @user180146 Presumably OP had been waiting for Team X to ask for the info, since only they know exactly what they’ll need. – Ernest Friedman-Hill Jan 20 at 18:25
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Actually, nothing is preventing you from sending an email saying:

Hey Bob, this project is becoming more urgent for our team.

Could you guys please commit to a date for us?

And maybe you could give the other team a quick phone call as well in addition to the email.

Then, if they send a date back, you quickly forward it to your boss, and you tell him as well in case he doesn't see the message in time.

Of course, it's possible that you'll be too late, or that the other team responds too slowly. Sometimes, there are just too many variables out of your control.

PS: Thanks to ObscureOwl for finding the better turn of phrase.

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    Except that the suggested email is dragging in OP's boss authority without him allowing OP to do so. Leave the boss to do his thing on it own, not via unauthorized proxy. – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 20 at 16:38
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    +1 -- have a conversation, in which you say "as you probably know my boss is on my case about this project; is there anything I can do to help expedite it?" – O. Jones Jan 20 at 16:40
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    I would avoid sending an email suggesting that the boss is "losing patience". – Gregory Currie Jan 21 at 0:47
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    I think I'd do this but without mentioning the boss. "Hey Bob this project is becoming more urgent for our team. Could you guys please commit to a date for us?" That gives them a chance to do so. If they don't do it then your boss escalates. But it won't come like a blast out of nowhere. (And you'll impress them as a colleague who plays fair.) – ObscureOwl Jan 21 at 8:25
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    @ObscureOwl, I like that phrase! I just amended my answer. Thanks. – Stephan Branczyk Jan 21 at 8:33
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Don't tell them. Tell your boss.

It's not your place to warn them about your boss, and it could tend to undercut him, so don't do it.

Instead, explain to your boss your concerns. Tell them what you just told us-- that you only recently sent them an email, and that you're concerned that your boss's actions will be tied back to you and that they will feel ambushed. He may take a slightly different approach, or at the very least should be able to word the email in such a way that you will not be accountable for your boss' actions.

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    I don't see why this can't be combined with the other top answer's suggestion of making it clear to the team how urgent the project has become. A two-pronged approach of cooling your boss' jets, with a suggestive prod to the other team, could be best. It may help to bring everybody on the same page. – Dan Jan 22 at 11:14
  • This is absolutely the right answer. Your boss needs to know, and should handle the situation with your interests in mind. If he's a good boss. In the end it's very simple: Pick your ally: Your boss or the other team. – Tom Jan 22 at 13:45
  • I would word it something like, "Hey, boss! After you mentioned needing $foo from Team X, I went ahead and sent them the details they needed from us. They replied back with $response, and said they'd get to it eventually. Do you still want to send out that email, or would you prefer that I try to get them to commit to a date first?" or something to that effect. Might want to re-phrase or even leave out the last sentence depending on your relationship with your boss and their sensitivity. – John T Jan 22 at 21:57
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How do I warn them they're probably going to get hit by a torpedo without them thinking I'm in on it?

By not getting involved in the first place. It doesn't seem like it is in your place to manage the other team, or that you are responsible for their (lack of) delivery, and as such, you should've stayed away from it in the first place. If you know someone personally on team X then you could mention the tension in private, but for sure not send them an unsolicited mass email.

As it is I would just leave it alone. I don't think there is anything you can say to change the mind of those who will think you caused the call-out, and right now, at least, they cannot be sure that you knew about the upcoming bomb. Once you start apologizing/retracting/whatever, there will be no denying that you knew about it and some people may resent it for not warning them, for example (I know, it's ironic). While you cannot undo your previous actions, now it's time to just stay quiet and not get involved more than that.

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  • "you should've stayed away from it in the first place", well from the description in the question, it sounds like OP was doing their job by sending the information. Staying away from it would have meant doing their job poorly. – hyde Jan 22 at 7:48
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My suggestion: Don't do anything at this stage.

Your boss has already intervened, and decided to send the email. Let them figure it out - do not try to do anything now.

If you wanted to do something, you could have asked your boss at the time when they were expressing their dissatisfaction and announcing to send the email, that, you can try to check with the other team before direct escalation, as you had interaction with them previously. However, now once the discussion is over (and maybe your boss has already sent the email as we're discussing here), there is nothing you can or should do. If you try to intervene in a parallel communication, there are two risks:

  • To your manager / team: You may come off as someone trying to belittle or stepping on the toes of your manager. They may not take this in a very good way.
  • To the other team: You risk of being seen as someone who has created the trouble and now making an attempt to be in the good books trying to appear as friendly.

Take this as a learning, and next time, whether you are on the sender side or receiver side, insist on agreeing on exact dates for any requirement and delivery. The problem started with the fact that you did not have an agreed upon date for completion / delivery. Even if the timeline cannot be met (which is not very uncommon, specially in the software industry for example), the timeline will help to decided how much deviation is there and the amount of work still needed to get the target achieved.

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TLDR: DO NOTHING

Longer answer:

You didn't give them any solid dates, so you do have some responsibility in this, but do not compound that responsibility by getting further involved. Take a step back and let the higher-ups duke it out. This battle is going to go on way above your pay grade.

IN THE FUTURE

Don't leave timelines open ended. Even an unreasonable goal is better than no goal at all. Anything that is not given a specific date will have no delivery date at all.

If you have any dependencies, come up with an expected date, run it by your manager, and then include it in any emails. CLEAR COMMUNICATION IS THE WAY TO AVOID THIS IN THE FUTURE

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  • Isn’t it the job of the two bosses to set deadlines? (I realize that in many fields, they tend to set unrealistic ones.) – WGroleau Jan 21 at 15:53
  • @WGroleau that's why I said run it past your boss first – Old_Lamplighter Jan 21 at 15:56
  • @WGroleau - I agree with this answer. Nothing needs to be done. It's up to the Boss of Team X to manage the timing of projects. Nothing to do with Team X's performance but more a case of poor communication between two managers. – Matt Jan 22 at 20:40

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