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I don't know if it is the norm or not -- I am thinking that if we need cooperation from other department, it is the manager's job to coordinate that, right? My new manager always ask us to do such things.

Me: I think we need help from department-A for this.
My Boss: Yeah, make sense. Go ask so-and-so (from department-A).

Me: This is something new, because it is beyond our control, we need help from other departments, but I don't know which department is responsible for it.
My Boss: Go ask around, start with so-and-so (who is clearly not the correct one).

Whenever I was force to reach out to other departments like this, there is always a voice is my mind, that I'm thinking the respond from the other end would be, "who the heck are you? who give you the right to assign tasks to me?". I.e., those helps that we need from other departments are not trivial ones. They need at least several hours of investigation, some might even take a day or two. I just feel I'm not in the position to go directly to another person in the other department asking him to do things for our department. However, after the "you go ahead", we are now completely on our own, the next question asked in the next day's scrum would be, "what's the outcome?".

I get these kind of offloading from my boss all the time, and can give many more examples. Is this the normal case that you guys are also getting all the times as well? How do you guys deal with it?

  • 2
    Note that asking someone in another department for help is not the same as assigning tasks to them. If resources in department A need to be reallocated in order to help your department out, then yes, management may eventually get involved, but it is in no way unreasonable to expect you to make some preliminary contact with people from the department in question to explain the issue, etc. As I side note, I believe you mean "not in a position" rather than "not in the disposition" and "I get this delegation" rather than "I get these kind of downloading." – Kyle Strand Jan 6 '16 at 18:19
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    Also, your title assumes too much; if you "don't know if [your experience in this matter] is the norm", then you need to consider the possibility that this is not "his [your manager's] part of the job." – Kyle Strand Jan 6 '16 at 18:21
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There are a number of things to consider from your managers perspective that he might be trying to do:

  1. Develop direct-team-to team relationships so that people can 'get things done' without having to always ask managers to intervene.
  2. Develop you as someone with the ability to build productive working relationships with various teams
  3. Improve your knowledge of the company or business by exposing you to other teams' work

A good manager must do the things you describe as they can't be the conduit for all communication (it gets worse if they have to pass this on to another manager who then passes it on to their team member).

A good manager should make it easy for you to do these things though. For example they could make an introduction if you've never spoken even if that's just a simple email.

"Hi so-and-so, just putting you in touch with grn who needs some information and it would be great if you could help them out..."

As you say, it's harder when these are non-trivial tasks and it absolutely is your Manager's job to align teams across departments around the same projects and objectives. You could approach your manager saying that these tasks are likely to take some time and you can't directly assign the work to them, perhaps even get more detail from the person in the department for their estimate (you aren't asking them to do the work, just how long it might take). Be open about why you are asking, this might land on their desk soon!

With this information you can approach your manager with more detail, but able to say that the person can't commit to the work until they are given the go-ahead. That puts the ball firmly in your Manager's hands.

  • That's a perfect answer in my view. Thanks and welcome abroad! – grn Jan 3 '16 at 4:10
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    I really like the suggestion about manager making the introduction for you. It relieves some of the social pressure and makes it obvious they you have higher authority backing you up. – Zikato Jan 4 '16 at 14:35
  • @grn welcome abroad ? – dyesdyes Jan 5 '16 at 6:42
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The boss is helping you - pointing you in the right direction.

You all work in the same company so what is the problem with asking person A in department B. Even if it is not the right person, they should be able to help.

I do not understand why you think that you are "forced". surely it is better to spend 20 minutes talking to somebody that a few days trying things yourself

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    Are you answering to my issue, "those helps that we need from other departments are not trivial ones. They need at least several hours of investigation, some might even take a day or two. I just feel I'm not in the disposition to go directly to another person in the other department asking him to do things for our department."? Again, it is department B's problem, and department B should be doing the work. Somebody has to do it, I don't think I'm the one to say who does it. – grn Jan 2 '16 at 19:48
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    Surely if you pose the question and they think it is a lot of effort, they will discuss it with their manager. But if you do not ask then you do ot get. Just ask! – Ed Heal Jan 2 '16 at 19:51
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If it's just an occasional request that might take a half-hour or so, then I would consider it normal to just talk to the appropriate person in another department. If you are new and don't know who that person is, then the chances are that someone you work with will know.

If it is going to take several days, then I would expect your boss to talk to the boss of the other department to check that it is acceptable to take up their time.

My point-of-view as a non-manager is that a good manager will organise things and get problems out of the way, so that the non-managers can just get on with their jobs.

1

I can empathise with this behaviour of bosses as I work under one such myself. I guess what you have to understand is how to like to help you as opposed to how you'd like to be helped. Your boss likes to help you by giving you instructions like "head north then some 50 meters and look around", whereas you expect to given "head north, then take right, then after 50 meters there is a signboard". Neither one is wrong. It's just a different way of helping. Some bosses expect a different level of self-sufficiency than you are currently able to provide.

How can you go about this? Ask the right questions and importantly ask early. When you want to get something done or a task is given to you:

  • ask questions that define/outline the problem
  • ask questions to figure out the problem's scope (what it affects, what it doesn't)
  • whether it will block something else that's critical if this were to be stalled.

These critical questions help you figure out decisions to get something done.

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It's a manager's job to make sure the team is able to get work done efficiently and in coordination with the rest of the organization. At the highest levels of the organization, it may be the manager's job to represent and speak for the team, but only when this makes the team more efficient. It may not appear so, but cross-department communication may very well be frequent enough and detailed enough that your manager is doing a disservice to the team by not delegating it. It could very well be just as dangerous as your manager trying to do detailed technical work, like taking hands on responsibility for major feature development.

Estimate it

A way to judge this is - when you do the work, figure out what percentage of your time this took. For example, if the various emails, meetings, phone calls etc takes 4 hours a week, then it's 10% of your time. Then multiply by the number of people on your team - if you have people then if 1 person (your manager) does this stuff, it will take 50% of his time. Is your manager doing this work the best use of your team's efficiency? What else should he/she be doing? Hopefully the manager's work also includes - helping people get better at their jobs, planning the next pieces of work, keeping annoying external people away from the team, developing ideas (hopefully with the team) of better ways to do work, being part of the biggest crises, watching the financial impact of how the team is working and what value is being delivered. If 50% is spent on external communication with other departments, is there enough time for the rest of this work?

Based on my experience 50% of manager time allocation is unacceptably high and a good sign that work like this should be delegated. 10% or less means that it is odd enough and happens rarely enough that the manager can afford to keep it as his responsibility. It's easy to see only one frame of reference - if you are only just starting to do it, it will seem rare, but it can be the case that:

  • some teams do this all the time - I had a team where 90% of my individual contributor's day was spent on the phone with other corporate entities or people in other major divisions of our organization around the country.
  • individual contributors growing in their careers must do more of this to succeed. Often the distinction is becoming senior level - the new folks aren't trusted yet to talk to bigger parts of the organization, so seniors take the responsibility.
  • the work is truly rare and really can be done by the manager, because it happens once per quarter across the entire team.

Times when it should not be delegated

I think of this as a litmus test for when NOT to delegate.... don't delegate, or support delegation very cautiously if:

  • There's a high risk of damage from poor technical decisions

  • There's a high risk of damage from poor communication resulting in damage to trust in relationships.

  • The person being assigned the work is seriously at risk of not being able to complete it successfully.

This is true in almost all kinds of delegation, but organizational collaboration assignments have the middle bullet more strongly - a team will remember the personality of another team, and it's particularly risky when it's first-contact situation, or when there are reasons for the organizations to be poorly aligned (for example, if both are competing for work in this area, or if they want opposite things).

Delegate but support

Managers should always support their people, but sometimes that support is not overly visible. A manager may do some or all of the following in a situation like this:

  • (visible) - Kick off Mail - an email to the assignee and the other parts of the collaboration introducing the assignee, the scope of the work, and the other parties, and then clearly handing off the work.

  • (not visible) - a sync up with counterparts in other organizations - a periodic meetup with peers in other parts of the company, usually with an agenda of incoming work and who will be doing it.

  • (visible) - Personal intros without specific tasks - taking the potential future assignee long before the work comes along and introducing them to counterparts. Ideally this should include some inkling that there will be future collaboration

  • (visible) - coaching on style - giving some specifics on exactly what communication format/key elements are in the work.

  • (invisible) - background follow up - syncing up with counterparts AFTER the delegate has started communicating to see how things went and if there is anything to resolve.

  • (invisible) - reviewing static work as it's being done - if there are tickets, design specs, other artifacts, reading the joint work and reviewing for quality.

There's probably as many ways as there are managers ... and different managers will take different approaches based on the organization, the nature of the collaboration, and their own personal style. For example, I work in a fairly informal structure that endorses collaboration informally between teams to the point where "tell your manager you did it later" is an acceptable approach in some cases. And... I'm a pretty big loud extrovert in an industry full of quiet introverts. Because of my big mouth and obvious presence, I tend to try to counterbalance that with 1 kick off mail, plus lots of the "invisible" items on the list above. That way, my less-outgoing individual contributor can take center stage, and I can stay in the background to back him or her up.

Get the Support you Need

If you've gotten to the end of this and you think "yeah, but I rather feel like my manager drop kicked me into awkward situations and then left me no safety net", then have a talk with your manager. Bring up the places where you feel the collaboration is at risk (ie, likely to mean the work will be slow, of poor quality, or take more effort than is reasonable), and then have thoughts in mind for how to be better supported, possibly drawing from the list of support ideas above.

Try for a compromise that takes a minimum of managerial effort - it seems like your manager ought to have time for it, but if you thought about the tradeoff between "spend the time it takes to manage the inter-org communication" vs. "spend the same time putting together a proposal for raises for everyone" - would you feel the same way?

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I disagree that this is automatically part of a boss's job. You're just the messenger. If other employees feel like you're telling them what to do, that's their misinterpretation or your approach sounds more like telling than asking. They can always rely on their boss to see if they should take the time to help. That isn't up to you either.

Part of this sounds like the task is being abdicated to you. The company should have some sort of policy or agreement about how one department should get the help from another.

Now if you're boss is asking you to "make" them help, that's another matter.

Take the opportunity to show your communication and inter-personal skills and learn how to get others to cooperate. You can get very far in the business world if you're able to do it, but it sounds like maybe this type of management duty isn't your thing.

  • Let's discuss within the content that, " those helps that we need from other departments are not trivial ones. They need at least several hours of investigation, some might even take a day or two.". If I ask them to do, they will sure do it. However, I just am feeling that I'm asking for a personal favor. Without our bosses' endorsement, each time we were just begging for help. – grn Jan 6 '16 at 22:16
  • @grn - So you're begging for help. It's not like you're asking for help so you can leave early and go to the pub. Who is going to blame you for being on a team that has more work than it can handle? Is it possible their department could suffer if yours fails? – user8365 Jan 8 '16 at 15:10
  • it is department-A's problem, and department-A should be one fixing it. However, if they refuse to accept that, or do not response at all, then the balls are still in our court. – grn Jan 8 '16 at 23:10

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