I will be contacting some colleagues at different locations and effectively requesting some of their time to greatly assist a project I am working on. Given their other responsibilities, I am not guaranteed of a positive response.

Because they are organizationally not obligated to help (ie I cannot necessarily 'appeal to the manager')

  • How can I approach these initial email communications in such a way to encourage a positive response?

I don't want to waste their time with a long email explaining who I am, etc, if this is only going to be more annoying.


2 Answers 2


Keep it short and sweet. More than a short paragraph or two and you will loose them. If that means you have to craft personal mail for each one, take the time (I need X from you... Y from you... Z from you...).


  • the huge impact they could have with as much motivational language as you can manage
  • the scope of their involvement as specifically and accurately as possible
  • Add a short one liner of why they are the perfect person and/or why this fits with their existing role


  • I'm writing you today to ask for your help. The information you can give me will be a key ingredient in making my project a success. I'll be glad to share (some product of our output) with you if you are interested.
  • If you can help, I'd need a 1 hour meeting, 4-5 hours of thoughtful contribution total over the next 2-3 weeks, and a follow up meeting to make sure we are on the same page. I want to wrap up the project by the end of next month.
  • Thank you so much - having your extensive expertise helps me make sure my project meets the needs of your organization or people like you.

It's hard to say no to that.

But one caveat - I picked the < 1 day of total time above as an example of when it's pretty easy to ask for and get help from people who don't have a managerial directive to help you. Most professionals are glad to help others on the pay-it-forward/good karma model, as long as they see that they can be helpful and have a profound impact with limited commitment.

However, if you are shaking your head and thinking "but bethlakshmi, I need more than that!!!" then what you have is a big enough project that you need managerial commitment first. Sorry, but that's how it is. You can try this, and see if it works - you certainly won't offend anyone with a nice email. But if you need more than a day (as a general rule of thumb for Western culture/knowledge work) then you probably exceed a point where people feel comfortable giving you time, and need to reconsider what you are asking for and whether it's reasonable.

Lastly, any time you can get closer to a trade, you can probably subtly request more time/help - if you can give them your research, a sample product, a favor later (I'll owe you one!), then it's more of a bargain and less of a donation - which shows you put value on their time, and offers the idea that they will benefit too.


If it is just one off questions then not going to the manager should be fine, and bethlakshmi's answer would be the best route.

But if you need any serious amount of time from the developer (>1 hour) then you risk damaging your work relationship with those teams if you do not deal with the Manager first (eg. Seen as a potential poacher).

The Manager controls the workload and costs involved with each developer/engineer. So any work done will be costed against their team unless you can show you are willing to give resources in return.

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