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I'm sure a similar question to this has probably been asked, but I can't find it so here goes. How should one deal with a team lead who declines a request from a manager? Earlier a manager came by my work area and requested a report be run against our database. The report itself isn't directly related to my team's work, but myself and the team lead both work in the database that stores the information the manager was requesting. My team lead was away at the time the manager came by, so being the only other team member that works with this database, I said that we could probably perform the request, and the manager left.

After my team lead returned, I informed him of the request, and he said he would be more comfortable with a different team which is more directly related to the report handling it. Now, I know for a fact that I can generate the report the manager is looking for with minimal effort, and this has also put me in the awkward position of informing the manager we will not actually be completing this request after I have already told him we were capable of it. I'm fairly new to the business world, with this being my first corporate office job, and I don't want to be stepping on my team lead's toes, but I also don't want to be disappointing a manager.

How should one proceed in this situation?

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    "this has also put me in the awkward position of informing the manager we will not actually be completing this request after I have already told him we were capable of it." - No, it is your team lead's job to tell the manager to talk to the other team. – David K Jun 8 '17 at 19:07
  • @DavidK, after I told my team lead about this request he simply said "I would be more comfortable with [other department] taking care of that because we track [different, but related, thing]" and turned back to his computer. I later went to the manager who made the original request and informed him the other department may already have the information he's looking for, but the question stands as a general query about what to do when a team lead denies a request I know I am capable of completing. – Cameron Jun 8 '17 at 19:34
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    it doesn't matter what you are capable of, it matters what your supervisor thinks is important for you to work on. – David K Jun 8 '17 at 19:39
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Sounds like you shouldn't have accepted the work in the first place, and your team lead is trying to make sure that sticks with you.

Do what you're asked - tell the other manager:

Hi XYZ, I just talked to [Team Lead], and they let me know that this report is something that Team B has control over. If you need any help interfacing with Team B, or want me to pass this on for you, please let me know.

That's a positive-spin way to put this - you don't say no, you say yes in a different way - and it makes it clear you're happy to help out in the ways you are allowed to. It makes it clear whose call this was, but without looking like you're blaming your lead or passing the buck; just factually letting the manager know what is what.

Then, next time you're asked a similar thing:

Hi OP, can you please run Report B? It's urgent. Thanks.

Hi XYZ, would be happy to help however I can. Please pass me the information and let me check with [Team Lead] as to how to best accomplish your request.

The other manager should be familiar enough with your company's way of doing business - specifically, with the fact that team leads determine tasks. Either this manager really thought it was your job (unlikely) or they were trying to see if they could get you to do it even though it was inappropriate to do so (more likely); either way your answer above again is a positive spin (not saying no) but giving the proper details (that you need to check with team lead) and makes it clear you're going to help if you can but can't decide on your own to do it.

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    +1 for always, always answering "let me check with [Team Lead] and we will get back to you" if the final decision is not yours to make, even if you strongly believe that there will be no problem... (most)people like to keep their authority and decision-making power, even in trivial situations! – Kerkyra Jun 9 '17 at 13:12
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Tough spot for you but you kind of need to do what you are told.

I spoke with my team lead and as it turns out we are not going to be able to generate the report at this time. He suggested team X.

You kind of leave it for him to ask when and you can then tell him.

You will need to talk to my team lead .... This is out of my hands.

If he wants to speak to your team lead then that is his choice. If he tells you to tell your team lead ... then you are really in a tough spot.

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As someone new to the work world, you need to be aware that there are several things that are taken into consideration when responding to a request of this nature.

The first is capability. Can this group of people even perform this task. You took this into account and answered. Unfortunately it was the wrong answer because you failed to consider the other two things.

The second thing is priorities. How does it fit with the other work we are tasked to do. If you did not know the answer to this, you should have passed this on to the team lead and told the guy that you were not sure if the team would be able to take it on.

The final considerations is organizational politics. Perhaps he doesn't want to do it because it will make the team that should be doing it mad and he needs them on his side for other projects. Again if you do not know the political situation, you should have pushed the answer off until the team lead returned.

I bring up these things, so you know what to do in the future and what besides capability needs to be considered before you can say that the team can do something. Remember it is not your job to accept work projects but your boss's job. So don't feel bad in referring things to him (or his boss when he is out); you generally have to be fairly senior before having the authority to accept requests.

Should he have told the guys the bad news himself? Possibly, but most likely he wanted you to feel the pain so you don't do this again.

What to say to the other person. Let him know that your team lead returned and he feels the task should be handled by the other team. If he has further questions, refer him to the team lead. Make sure to apologize for promising what you could not deliver.

It is often helpful to say that you were not aware of the whole situation and made a mistake in committing to the task. Admitting a mistake on your part looks better to everyone involved than blaming your boss. Some people hate to admit they made mistakes, but mistakes are expected (especially from junior people) and so no one will think less of you for admitting you went beyond your authority by accepting the task.

If he pushes back instead of accepting that you have to do what your boss asked of you, again refer him to the team lead. Don't let him intimidate you into backing down, your lead is your boss and that is who you have to please not this guy.

And then in the future, do not let anyone push you into committing to a task you are not authorized to accept. This is especially the case with something like this where the requester might have known the team lead wouldn't take on the work and he tried to get you to take it on while the guy was away from his desk. People do things like this in the office world and naive people get caught in them.

You also need to have a long talk with you lead about priorities and tasks that can be accepted and those that can't be accepted when the lead is not present You need to know who to refer such things to if you don't have the authority to make such commitments. You need to understand what things, if anything, you can commit to in the lead's absence.

It is especially important not to commit to anything if the lead will be available shortly. If he was just at a meeting or lunch or in the rest room, you should have told the guy when he would be back. If he was gone for the day or a vacation, you should have known who to send the issue to for resolution. Make sure now, you know what to do if similar circumstances come up again.

It's good to want to be helpful and to be able to meet requests. But you need to understand the underlying reasons why something is or is not a good idea to take on. As you get more senior, you will find that by considering all three things, you will soon be trusted to make commitments.

It helps to start to learn what drives priorities in your organization. For instance, where I work, the highest priority is anything that is making our production applications unusable by a group of people, then anything making production unusable by one person, then anything with legal or regulatory considerations, then anything that a client wants immediately even if we don't think it is all that critical (especially if a client is unhappy for any reason about anything unrelated). When multiple clients are involved, the priorities shift to include how important an individual client is to the business. This is one reason why you need to start to pay attention to such things if you aspire to be the lead of a group of people. So when there are multiple tasks, ask why one is prioritized over another if you don't know.

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I'm fairly new to the business world, with this being my first corporate office job, and I don't want to be stepping on my team lead's toes, but I also don't want to be disappointing a manager.

The important lesson here is that just as you don't get to decide what you don't do (in the sense that you can't say 'no' to a particular piece of work you're instructed to do by {team lead}) - you also don't get to decide what you do do. You can't unilaterally say 'yes' to a particular piece of work, even if that means 'disappointing' a manager.

What you should have done, when a work request came from someone other than the person responsible for controlling what you work on, is to have said "I think we can do that / I'd love to do that / Yes of course {manager} but let me run that past {team lead}". This sets the manager's expectations appropriately. Although it might feel like you're saying no, you're in fact saying "yes but I'm not in charge". Which is absolutely fine.

What you do now is adequately covered by other answer.

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Your team lead really shouldn't put you in the position of being the messenger.

If you didn't/don't feel comfortable delivering that news, you should ask the team lead to inform the manager (assuming he doesn't immediately volunteer to).

Team Lead: "I would feel more comfortable with Team X performing this task for Manager"

You: "Ok."

Team Lead: turns back to computer (This should be where the lead says, "I'll let Manager know.")

You: "Will you be letting Manager know about your decision?"

If, at this point, the Team Lead still passes the buck to you, follow Paparazzi's advice for talking to the manager.


To me, this is the sign of an inexperienced or weak leader. If he's relatively young and/or new to the role, he probably just doesn't know better, and hopefully the manager follows up to correct him.

If he's more experienced, he's likely a weak leader, and hopefully the manager follows up to correct him.

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    It sounds like OP perhaps shouldn't have accepted the work, though, without asking the lead first, no? Hence it's not unreasonable for the lead to push back on OP to do the informing themselves (since OP caused this by agreeing to the work). – Joe Jun 8 '17 at 20:54
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    @Joe Maybe. However, if the lead wants to make that point, they should make the point and their expectations for how to handle it in the future clearly as opposed to passive aggressively trying to get you to modify your behavior by putting you in an uncomfortable position. – Chris G Jun 8 '17 at 21:06
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    I think we're missing enough detail here that it's entirely unclear if that's actually what happened, though (even with the comment on the OP). I agree the lead should be more proactive with communication, but it's very possible the missing details in OP's discussion with the team lead are relevant. You're really jumping on the team lead here without much to go on. – Joe Jun 8 '17 at 21:54

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