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To clarify, this situation isn't mine, but a friend of mine whom I'd like to help. This is what I understand of it so far.

About 6 months ago my friend started a new job in a junior/mid-level position. Part of that job involves working with a slightly more senior colleague, getting authorisation from them to do things, and having them check my friend's work.

From day one this colleague has been very unresponsive; even before COVID when they were in the office, the colleague wouldn't respond to emails. My friend approached them about it personally; the colleague apologised and said that they were busy, but then nothing changed as a result.

With everyone working at home now due to COVID, this has been exacerbated. The colleague is practically unreachable; not responding to emails or IMs, not answering the phone, etc. This is making my friend's job difficult, as it's necessary to e.g. get approval from the colleague before things can progress.

I suggested that my friend tell a manager about it if it's making things difficult, especially since the colleague has already been approached by my friend personally about it and has done nothing. My friend did mention it to a manager, but nothing came about as a result.

Now my friend doesn't feel confident in getting help with this issue, because this colleague appears to be quite popular and well-liked in the office, including by some senior management, who may turn a blind eye to it.

The work not getting done reflects badly on my friend because it causes blockages and subsequent delays in getting other things done. I hope that people higher up see the problem and don't just blame it all on my friend.

I suspect that it is deliberate, because when the colleague wants something from my friend, they will suddenly start communicating.

In such a situation, how would you recommend dealing with this colleague?

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  • "The work not getting done reflects badly on my friend because it causes delays in getting other things done." How so? Any specific examples of how this reflected badly on your friend? May 28 '20 at 7:41
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    @TymoteuszPaul e.g. one time a client complained to a manager because things were going too slowly, and it reflected badly on both my friend and the colleague - however, the colleague got off more lightly because of their popularity, whereas my friend didn't have as much of a safety net.
    – Touchdown
    May 28 '20 at 7:58
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    Are there regular stand-ups of any kind where work is shared or discussed? Is everyone working in their own silo? This is the kind of thing that should be mentioned regularly. It is also possible that a daily update to the manager may prove useful. A simple email indicating what was done during the day and a marker of what was blocked (and why). Then at the very worst, they'd have a running record of communications for the blockage. Better case, the manager would address it just to get the emails to stop. May 28 '20 at 20:23
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Tymoteusz Paul hast raised some valid points.

I would add: Try to solve it within the parameters given. Ask the colleague how you could organise work so that you can proceed and he can proceed with his work. Maybe one big handoff is better. Fewer reviews, a certain blocked slot of time per day, 2 meetings a week, something, something.

It's your job to raise impediments to your manager, but managers also appreciate it when you try to solve problems on your own. By asking the coworker how you could change this, you tried! If your coworker has so many tasks of higher priority, that's fine, now you have something to show management.

A positive and understanding attitude helps. When you address management, you could try something like: I understand that person X has many important things to do. However, this is impeding my current work, as I regularly find myself blocked. I'd like to discuss what we could change to improve the situation.

Having a list of how often you are blocked can help demonstrate the impact, depending on culture that can seem pedantic or diligent, so be aware of the office culture.

If management doesn't react, keep reminding them regularly. Something like: I'd still like to improve the situation, as I still find myself regularly blocked.

If they answer: "Deal with it", then you have your answer. Try to make the best out of the situation, and find as much meaningful work you can do yourself as possible.

(Note: I am aware you asked for a friend, but for style purposes I used a direct formulation, as imo that's better for readability.)

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    It's worth keeping in mind that not every company understands that supporting more junior developers takes time out of one's schedule. If that's not planned for, and one still gets all of the work assigned ( or even more ), at some point, something has to give. I'm not saying this has been optimally solved by that developer, but such things do, unfortunately, happen
    – bytepusher
    May 29 '20 at 0:23
  • the op didnt mention developers. Junior people need attention, in any job! But your core assesment is correct, this understanding needs to be more widespread.
    – Benjamin
    May 29 '20 at 6:13
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From day one this colleague has been very unresponsive; even before COVID when they were in the office, the colleague wouldn't respond to emails. My friend approached them about it personally; the colleague apologised and said that they were busy, but then nothing changed as a result.

If the colleague did not suddenly become less busy, I can't imagine why would you expect things to change. With some people when deadlines are days behind, and workload is too big, they shut off from teamwork and focus on just delivering what's needed instead. A complaint about them doing it is hardly solving the problem.

I suggested that my friend tell a manager about it if it's making things difficult, especially since the colleague has already been approached by my friend personally about it and has done nothing. My friend did mention it to a manager, but nothing came about as a result.

Keep reporting this every single time your friend is blocked due to the colleque ignoring the attempts to reach out. Literally send a short IM to the manager every few hours "Hey, I am still stuck because X hasn't approved my work, so I am just sitting here, twiddling my thumbs." and keep those messages documented. Now it's not your friends problem anymore, as he raised the problem with management, explained that he otherwise has nothing to work on, and is literally forced to do nothing.

Although that's a bit on the extreme (but based on how you phrase it), I personally would replace "twiddling my thumbs" with "So instead I've moved on to work on XYZ instead, as that's already approved." Or if there truly is nothing ready to be worked on, well, it is what it is and your friend's manager must know about it, and be regularly reminded as one of his employees is literally doing nothing. It will either get his attention, as it's now the manager's problem, not yours. Or, at very least, will give your friend all the paper trail you need just-in-case it becomes a problem.

I suspect that it is deliberate, because when the colleague wants something from my friend, they will suddenly start communicating.

I wouldn't recommend jumping to the conclusion that this is deliberate to set your friend to fail. The as, if not more, likely cause is that he is just busy, and when he needs someone then that is now fit into his schedule.

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  • I feel like passing it off as "I'm busy" isn't really a valid excuse. Everyone is busy; if you're too busy to do your whole job then something is wrong and needs addressing. But so far it hasn't been.
    – Touchdown
    May 28 '20 at 8:00
  • Re: Your second point about keeping managers updated and giving evidence, I agree and I've suggested that my friend do this. I hope that eventually it'll come in handy.
    – Touchdown
    May 28 '20 at 8:11
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    @Touchdown you may not like it but htat's the reality. All your friend can do is make clear of impact of letting that happen to your manger, and do his best to work around it until resolved. Your friend certainly doesn't have the power to discipline his senior colleague, and tell him to not ignore ims/phone calls etc. May 28 '20 at 8:11
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Do whatever you need to do without asking for permission. It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

  1. If you know you have some work that is blocking and need opinion from you senior and s/he doesn't respond, just go ahead with the approach you think is best. If they have a problem with it they can disapprove (which is fine) but that onus won't be on you. The hard lesson here is be prepared to perhaps rework your submission sometimes when they may end up disapproving or suggesting more change. Also don't take the disapproval personally if it ever happens.

  2. Apart from IM, also email your senior. Start CCing your manager or team in all email and send reminders and follow ups regularly. Since this person is popular, s/he likely cares about their reputation and emails will bring non responsiveness to the eyes of the crowd, forcing them to respond.

  3. Suggest and set a weekly or daily sync up call so that you can have chat face to face. Dont even ask for permission, just send a calendar invite with note: feel free to change timing if it doesnt suit you.

Good luck! Hopefully you will compel someone in your response.

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    Re: 1. It's not that my friend would like an opinion; it's explicitly required to get permission to proceed from this coworker since everything has to be tightly reviewed. Going ahead and submitting something without approval has gotten my friend into trouble in the past. 2. Agreed, I've suggested this. 3. I'm not sure about this one but I'll raise it and see what my friend thinks.
    – Touchdown
    May 28 '20 at 12:29
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It is quite possible that the person not responding may be dealing with other personal issues that they don’t feel the need to share with others. Or it could be something else work related that your friend is out of loop on (intentionally).

It’s best not to even speculate or play games to get a response.

The best option is to follow up with them in a friendly matter and CC their manager (and your friends manager if different).

If it’s personal reasons, their manager will be aware and handle it. If not, then your friends manager has a paper trail showing that they did due diligence.

At the very least they have a paper trail of senior people in the loop in case everyone claims they didn’t know about the situation if it explodes later.

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