It's time for consulting cliche corner: We're getting "thrown under the bus" today. To get thrown under the bus generally means that one was, at least to some degree, blamed—but also betrayed. The term is often used in other industries—politics is a particularly common example—but it's certainly present in business, and doubly so in consulting. Admittedly, it's a somewhat violent visualization of a metaphor, but it is fairly descriptive of how one might feel in such situations. It is basically a statement used when expected co-worker interactions fail, social work norms are violated, and someone is the victim of surprise blame reported to management.
Escalation of an issue, raising its awareness to those higher up on the totem pole, is important if one needs assistance from other areas, needs to clear administrative road blocks, or requires more time or resources. In those cases, this is absolutely what should be done. However, forced escalation of an issue over someone else should only be done if you are not getting the proper response or movement on an issue. Oftentimes, this occurs if you have not checked in with the relevant parties for an update first, or given enough time to respond—and then you find yourself with e-mails shooting all over the place, having cc'd next levels of management.
Raising the issue upwards usually affects both parties involved; the consultant who was "thrown under" is left with a stomach-sinking, stress-inducing moment (an avoidable, all-too-common part of a consultant's work life), while the one who reported the issue is revealing his/her lack of success in working together. One who does this too often becomes a boy who cried wolf—not a great reputation for performance reviews and career trajectory. Of course, elevating awareness of an issue to management is necessary sometimes, but giving advance notice to involved parties is a considerate step, and will go a long way toward better work relationships.
During an important meeting, for example, one team member brings up a serious issue that a colleague is directly responsible for, but without giving that person a heads-up to look into the issue beforehand. Again, the key is to be considerate and give co-workers a chance before shoving them in front of a large, yellow, fast moving vehicle.
--Taylor O'Neal is a supply chain consultant for a major consulting firm. He graduated from Miami University School of Business in 2005 and Indiana University's Kelley Masters of Information Systems program in 2006.