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At my job we have fairly frequent meetings with either ill-defined agendas, or agendas that are a long list of subjects with no central theme - basically "the team should meet to talk about anything anyone feels should be brought up" meetings, with or without everyone emailing a list of what they want to talk about in advance. (I'm not in charge of organizing them, although I could suggest a different model if anyone has a good alternative.)

At some meetings, there turns out to be nothing that's relevant to my part of the job, or else we go over most of the points of the list quickly and then end up spending half an hour on something I can't contribute to. (Most of the team does hands-on science, I just do the data analysis). Is there any polite way for me to excuse myself from the meeting when it becomes clear there is no reason for me to be there? Or would it be a bad idea to try at all?

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I propose an expansion on this question...how do I stay awake during these meetings if they are unavoidable? –  John Straka Apr 11 '12 at 0:01
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I hate to say this but; either it should be known in advance that you won't benefit from the meeting, and therefore you shouldn't be invited, or you should be able to get something out of the meeting to do your job better. Step up, find out what that is. –  NickC Apr 11 '12 at 2:36
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@NickC, would that that were always so... but it requires a certain amount of planning and forethought on the part of the meeting organizers, and that's unfortunately not always the case. –  abby hairboat May 25 '12 at 14:38

7 Answers 7

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I would advise you to discuss it in private with your manager (or with whoever is organizing the meetings if it isn't your manager). Let them know how you feel, but try not to insult them. If they're worth their salt they should value your time and try to make a plan accordingly - either by altering the structure of the meetings or by arranging some way to let non-hands-on-science people leave the room when the meeting moves in that direction.

If your manager isn't receptive, you could try discussing it with your teammates. Who tends to derail the conversation into off-topic stuff? Would you feel comfortable asking them to try to wait until they're meeting only with the hands-on science people to bring up those topics?

In general, I simply recommend being honest (but constructively so) with anyone who could change the situation for you - and doing it in private, so nobody feels attacked in front of their peers.

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Otherwise, bring something to doodle on. –  abby hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 0:02
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@weronika It sounds like the way the meetings are organized may not be the best for anyone, not just you. I think any meeting should have at least some kind of predetermined agenda. So you might be able to spin it as a suggestion for the whole team, not just your own being bored (or unproductive). –  abby hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 1:16
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Or when you talk to your manager be honest and say that your time could be better spent on whatever task is at hand rather than attend the meeting. If you do this politely and objectively I'm sure you will be fine. You never know your manager might even agree that the meetings are not as eefective as they need to be. –  ssbrewster May 25 '12 at 11:42

**Be upfront and honest and ask:

Am I still needed here?

**

Then re-acknowledge the items that have been assigned to you during the meeting before leaving..

I'll have that report ready for you by the end of the day

Of course this is under the assumption that you KNOW you are not needed, and everyone else will agree. (IE your manager didn't ask you sit in and take notes)

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@AbbyT.Miller You have to use your judgment, obviously you can't do this in a kick off meeting, or a meeting with 25 people in the room. But a small meeting that you where pulled into last min. for a quick question, You absolutely can, –  Morons Apr 11 '12 at 0:29
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Absolutely. It can work if you use some finesse and common sense. –  abby hairboat Apr 11 '12 at 0:30
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I'd use the phraseology "I'm not sure I'm contributing/adding value here". This emphasises that your continued presence is of no benefit to anybody else as much as them being of no use to you;the latter being the impression you might seek to avoid. –  Tom W Mar 23 '13 at 9:28

Given that you really consider there's no gain in being there, here's my suggestion:

Try sitting next to your boss. When the meeting gets to its most pointless, quietly turn to your boss and say "hey, I have to deliver X today, I will make it, but I need the time. You think I can sneak out to get this done?". The boss will not say no if you do it in the perfect time.

Depending on the pointlessness of the meeting, he/she will probably wish to go with you.

Now, if YOUR BOSS called the meeting, you're out of luck. Attend and try not to fall asleep.

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In general, this is all going to depend on who's at the meeting and how easily they might be offended.

I would say a better solution would be to talk to the meeting organizers. Ask them to consider using an agenda noting that

  • It will likely make everyone more productive, knowing what needs to be covered ahead of time

  • You'll have a history of what was covered for future reference

At the same time, you can ask them to organize the meetings so that you do your part and let others do theirs. If you have an agenda that clearly states nothing of relevance to you, it doesn't seem rude to step out at that point.

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I've always hated this style of meeting. If there's no structure at all, someone will always hijack it to discuss something that serves their own purpose (usually a discussion of how important they are). At least in the "each person reports" kind of meeting, you can tell how far along you are in the process, though invariably someone whose contributions are minimal still uses "their time" to discuss their tasks in great depth to justify their continued employment.

So, I would discuss the meetings with your boss and suggest that, rather than waiting until the meeting happens to decide what to talk about, people submit topics. The easiest way to do it would be simply to have everyone write their topic title on a white board in the room when they arrive, but it would be better if someone was designated to manage the agenda and have everyone submit the ideas in advance. One of the major advantages of this is that if it's known in advance, then everyone can gather their thoughts about their own topic AND prepare to discuss everyone else's.

If no one accepts that, I would suggest using random phone calls or texts to allow you to depart from the meeting, or needing to run to your desk to "re-start a processor intensive computation". Or schedule dentist appointments that conflict....

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Since you seem to be in a different specialty than the others on your team, this is what I would suggest. Ask your boss to cover topics you need to know about first and then excuse you when those are done. As a specialist, I have done this in past and it worked very well. Of course you have to have a reasonable boss who would rather have you working than sitting in on a meeting discussing things you have no expertise or knowledge of. It is often best to start doing this when you have a deadline approaching to give you a good excuse for why you are asking. Its espcially good if you can work it so that you are two or three weeks from the dealine and thus we need to do this for several meetings in row. Once they get used to the idea, it is easier to make it a permanent thing.

I have also offered to be available by phone for meeting if something comes up where they might need me, but normally would not need my input. I've escaped many hours-long client meetings this way! It won't work for the regular team meeting, but it might for some other meetings.

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I would just say to stay in the meeting, You may not know why you were asked to be there in the first place. After all most meetings will only take an hour.

If you really feel that you need to not be in the meeting, and are in a good place in your job and company, you could always explain to the meeting organizer or the person who asked you to be there that it may not be the best use of your time. If you are already in the meeting before you realize this you could always wait for a good break point of the meeting and excuse yourself and just state that you feel that the meeting is not the best use of your time.

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"... most meetings will only take an hour." You don't work with scientists do you? –  GreenMatt Mar 21 '13 at 22:12

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