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Get me out of this pointless weekly meeting, please

There are two obvious options: Suggest the meeting just be canceled, or be proactive and seek an agenda ahead of time. Engineering manager Leemay Nassery advises on both in this edition of The Lossless Leader.

Imagine this guy saying, "Can we not?" (Photo by William Fortunato via Pexels)

This is The Lossless Leader, an advice column written by engineering manager Leemay Nassery.

Why call it The Lossless Leader? An engineering leader is someone who inspires their team, communicates well, grows their people to become leaders themselves, removes blockers or painful aspects of their team’s day-to-day, delivers on product requests and so much more. In tech, lossless compression is a technique that does not lose any data in the compression process; it reduces the size of files without losing any information in the file so quality is maintained.

Combining the two: Leaders aren’t perfect. Sometimes they manage to not lose any data while leading their org, and other times it may seem like they’re losing it altogether. This column is called The Lossless Leader because we all admire those leaders who strive to stay true to who they are and the people they serve (their team). They admit fault when necessary, learn from their mistakes and sometimes flourish in difficult situations — all while not losing themself along the way.

Submit your question to The Lossless Leader

The question:

“There’s a recurring meeting, every Tuesday at 3 p.m., on my calendar. The intent of the meeting is to serve as a sync between the leads group. Rarely is there an agenda. Occasionally a good discussion will come out of it, but it’s rare. For the most part, every week we join the call, folks ask if there are any topics, then we say nope, and leave the call. How can I shift this meeting so it’s more productive?”

The answer: 

Yikes. Is there anything worse than a recurring WEEKLY meeting that isn’t very useful? Obviously there are many things worse than this, but it’s not great … not great at all.

Two ways to approach this:

  • Suggest the meeting should just be canceled.
  • Or be proactive with seeking an agenda ahead of time.

If you suggest the meeting should be canceled, be wary of the optics of this. The person who owns the meeting may find this suggestion off putting. They may even take offense to it. That sounds ridiculous, but humans are complex. You never know how someone will take canceling something they’ve historically owned.

Get consensus before you suggest canceling the meeting. Do you have allies that would support this change? Reach out to your peers to get a sense of how they’re feeling. If they do support it, create a poll in your Slack channel asking if the meeting should continue to exist or should you all opt for ad-hoc meetings when a topic worth discussing with the leads group is a more viable solution. If your team culture lends itself to appreciating the occasional joke, you could title the Slack poll: “Does this meeting bring you joy?”

Leemay Nassery. (Courtesy photo)

I may be over emphasizing the potential for someone to take this personally, but if this is even remotely possible, another strategy would be to simply ask the owner of the meeting what they think. What do they want to get out of the meeting? In a perfect world, what topics would they want to be discussed in this forum? Is there a template agenda they have in mind that could serve when there aren’t distinct topics each week? Or at least, give them a heads up that you plan on setting up a poll to get the team’s sentiment on the meeting. It’s a nice thing to do, and in general, some people want to be involved in process-oriented decisions such as this.

Now, if you decide to make the meeting better by proactively seeking an agenda ahead of time to at least avoid the awkward “Are there any topics?” at the onset of the meeting — or to know it if can be canceled ahead of time in the absence of any agenda items — then here are a few suggestions:

  • Create an agenda doc if there isn’t one. Attach the doc to the invite.
  • If you’re using Slack, leverage Slack reminders to automate asking folks if they have any items to add to the agenda the morning of the meeting.
  • Initially, you could be more proactive and ping individuals in case they ignore the automated message requesting they add topics to the agenda.
  • Be the example you want to see in the world by adding a topic yourself. Sounds cheesy but seriously, there’s nothing cooler than taking initiative and fixing broken processes.

Regardless of which approach you take, elevate this work you’re doing to make the experience of working in your org better by mentioning this work to your manager. Get credit for being the catalyst for change, or at least attempting to do some good.

As for a song recommendation, you might feel like you’re stuck in the middle, trying to make sense of it all. If so, enjoy the all-too-familiar lyrics of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You”:

Submit your question to The Lossless Leader
Series: The Lossless Leader

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