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I work in a small team and recently we had to merge with another team (slightly larger) in a business vertical. Both teams are dealing with some satellite applications related to Business Intelligence.

While day to day work is not affected, our product owner suggested to have some regular meetings to share our knowledge. This is great because we are virtually working on the same data warehouse and we can find out a lot. These meeting should be highly technical (talk about tech stack, architectural choices, show some code examples etc.)

Each meeting is organized by one of the members, who invites all the members in the both teams.

Last session was organized by one of my colleagues and invited all the members. However, one the colleagues in the other team immediately forwarded the meeting to his manager. So, we had this extra person during the meeting.

The issue is that this manager has little technical knowledge, asks lots of trivial questions and usually eats up all the time and the meeting will take more than expected, usually not covering the agenda and reaching some conclusion. This is not an isolated case and many other colleagues complained about this behavior.

We (my team) are trying to learn from this experience and thought about/done the following:

  • approached our product owner: he agreed with us that the organizer should decide who participates, but did nothing
  • prevent meeting forwarding: we found out that we can deny forwarding of the meeting, but this can be easily circumvented since the colleague can just simply tell his manager about the meeting. This option also marks our intention to avoid other persons being invited
  • talk to the person forwarding the meetings - our relation with the guy is not really good and we are not sure about the reaction. He might tell his manager that we do not want him at these meetings and things might get complicated
  • talk to manager's boss - while this might also be a good opportunity to draw attention about other issue as well, the hierarchical distance is quite high (he is leading over hundreds of people and this issue seems really small)
  • try to make impossible for him to attend - we can find out about an important meeting the manager must attend and program the meeting in the same time interval. This should be more subtle, but have to deal with change proposals

Question: Are there any alternatives we should consider?

I know it sounds like a small issue, but our little team took these meetings really seriously and tried our best for the presentations and relevant discussions.

closed as too broad by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, scaaahu, Rory Alsop, JakeGould Apr 1 '18 at 5:39

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I notice that none of your options are to talk directly with the manager himself... Why not? – HorusKol Mar 30 '18 at 15:17
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    @HorusKol - yes, that's correct. I do not know how to put this, but he is a very difficult person. Several colleagues discussed with him about similar issues and never managed to obtain anything. So, I thought of discarding this option. Now, that you ask, I should really consider it. – Alexei Mar 30 '18 at 15:44
  • What is the value of that manager attending meetings? – Sandra K Mar 30 '18 at 15:45
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    @SandraK - mostly negative. He is a very conservative person, who will try to convince anyone that any change that requires he/his team to make some effort should not be performed, even if this incurs loss to other teams (e.g. some of their developments incur serious performance issues on the servers and some clients receive data with delay, yet they do not want to tackle them). Also, he likes to avoid reaching a conclusion (e.g. why use a majority vote to settle a debate about an offtopic subject to go back to the agenda). – Alexei Mar 30 '18 at 15:50
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    You may want to retitle this post and put a tl;dr at the top. – Lilienthal Mar 30 '18 at 16:06
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The first thing to remember is to focus on behaviours, not people. The problem is not that the other team's manager is attending your meeting - but their behaviour when they are there.

With that in mind, if a meeting is being disrupted by someone, it is equally the fault of the person chairing the meeting. The chair should politely but firmly keep the meeting on track and on topic - in this case, it means curtailing any questions which are not appropriate for the intended audience of the meeting (the technical teams). It may perhaps be helpful to offer to a separate less technical session with the other team's manager so they can also gain an understanding of what your team is doing.

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    I find it hard to attribute fault to the chair of the meeting without understanding the org structure and culture of the company. If the manager holds a clearly superior position, it may be the case that the chair would have no grounds to block their activity in the meeting. Hence I felt it was better to just suggest a separate meeting (as you did too) to draw the manager out of that meeting all together, vs trying to control their behavior in the meeting. – dwizum Mar 30 '18 at 18:12
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    @dwizum they're not really the chair of the meeting if they're not allowed to call members to order, though. Then it's just a fancy but meaningless title. – Erik Mar 30 '18 at 18:42
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    @Erik sure but it sounds like these are more adhoc cross-training things with a rotating lead, not some official where the 'chair' actually has some actual authority. – Zoredache Mar 30 '18 at 18:51
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    Just like a stack exchange chat room, you don't have to be a room owner to ask everybody to, hey let's keep it on topic. somebody's got to step up and say OK, yeah about that: go read this book, and ok we're moving on now... – Mazura Mar 30 '18 at 19:48
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    @dwizum it must depend heavily on corporate culture and the personalities of the people in the meeting. When I am running a meeting, I have zero problem telling my boss, any of his peers, or their boss that they are distracting the meeting agenda. Of course, if they have simple questions that are out of scope of the meeting, I'd invite them to sit down and talk through their questions at a separate time so they are better prepared to participate in the future – psubsee2003 Mar 30 '18 at 22:09
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Are there any alternatives we should consider?

I see one obvious alternative: Speak with the manager. Ask him if he'd like to have a separate meeting (with a smaller audience) to address the concerns he brings up in your team meeting, in order to allow you to keep your meeting focused on the agenda.

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    Something to impress upon the manager is that by asking questions that aren't helpful for the rest of the group, he's wasting a lot of man-hours. If 5 people attend a 30 minute meeting, that's 2.5 hours of time they've spent, and if they are technicians I doubt their time is cheap. – IllusiveBrian Mar 30 '18 at 19:37
  • You don't mention the experience level of the manager. When I was working such a person might come to the meeting, but would think about the cost of all the people attending and want to see questions answered and decisions made in a crisp manner. If s/he had questions like you mention, s/he would save them for after and ask somebody from the meeting to answer them. You should be glad to do this-having managers that understand the technical issues you are facing is a good thing. It is well worth the investment (and it can be one) to bring them up to speed. – Ross Millikan Mar 31 '18 at 4:37
  • Someone, maybe the person who forwarded the invitation, should get with the manager, point out the problem that was caused, and suggest a one-on-one to answer these questions. Been there, done that. One would hope the manager would see the improvement in efficiency this generates. It may change the behavior, it may not, but that is the first step. – Ross Millikan Mar 31 '18 at 4:37
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    Commenters seem to assume that the manager in question cares about productivity or costs or getting the answers to his questions. Judging by his behavior, I suggest that all he cares about is being seen to be in charge. – Beta Mar 31 '18 at 15:38
  • I agree it's hard to really know the intentions or experience level of the manager. I would approach the conversation in the right context. Some managers would probably love being told that a separate meeting would be more efficient, others might think you're insulting them by implying that their discussion doesn't add value to the team meeting. Just about every manager will probably like the idea of a separate meeting just for them as long as it's "sold" correctly. – dwizum Apr 2 '18 at 12:36
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Depending on how the organization is structured, this can be a difficult situation because the manager is in a position of power. In some companies (e.g. Google, from what I read) it's normal for people at lower levels in the organization to push back hard on management. If you are in a company with a more traditional stratified power structure, it's probably not the best option to directly challenge the manager.

If this is a concern and it seems like it is, you will probably need to get help for your manager. Explain the situation and convince them that it is leading to issues with their team's performance i.e. your ability to deliver. If your manager is a peer or senior to the manager in question, they can address this. If not, they will need to look up the chain of leadership for assistance.

Your manager may know what to do immediately. If not, suggest they attend the meeting and make sure the agenda is followed. This should prevent the other manager from monopolizing the meeting.

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I presume he is attending because he wants/needs something from that meeting? What about to make it a two-part meeting where the first 30 - 60 minutes is non-technical and the next 30 - 60 minutes (or however long it is) is purely technical and is communicated in no uncertain terms to the non-technical manager. Possibly announce it during the meeting, eg. "That concludes our general part, and now we'll continue with the technical part. Mr Manager is not required but can listen in if he wants."

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    His goal is not clear. My assumption is that he is somewhat a control-freak and always know what his direct reports are doing. There are also some other meetings (like those between scrum masters) where he comes and creates problems. Also, his team handles some business critical areas (some legacy code almost nobody knows about) and this might gain him extra power. – Alexei Mar 30 '18 at 18:57
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I would start by setting a proper purpose statement, agenda and audience for the meeting, in which you make it clear that this is a technical meeting to discuss technical details among the technical personnel that are doing these technical things.

That, hopefully, will make it clear to this non-technical manager that the meeting isn't intended for him, and that he won't get anything out of it, encouraging him to not attend. Less confrontational than directly approaching him and asking him not attend, and if he does anyway, it's easier to swat down his interruptions by pointing at the meeting agenda/purpose, and suggesting that he should schedule a less technical meeting with his team to go over his concerns and questions.

If that doesn't help the situation, you can move on to more direct or confrontational approaches, but I've gotten a lot of mileage out this softer approach - most of the time, the non-technical folks are happy not to attend highly technical meetings that are advertised as such.

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It's quite obvious that the colleague who forwarded the meeting request is a brown-noser, and his manager is a PHB political busybody who is merely interested in looking involved. You don't want either of them in a meeting you hope to be productive, so disinvite them both, then tell the brown-noser it's up to him to explain to his manager that their invites were revoked because you felt they were not contributing to the topic of the meeting.

The result will be that either the brown-noser grows a spine and tells his manager why they were disinvited (something the manager cannot argue with - it's your meeting and your rules); or he tries to make it your problem by claiming he doesn't know - in which case his manager comes to you, and you just deflect him back to his subordinate. Eventually the manager will (correctly) believe the brown-noser is not telling him the truth, so the trust between them will suffer and the brown-noser's nose should become less brown as a result.

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