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Suppose Alice is leading an activity and has organized a meeting with the technical staff that will be working on the activity. The purpose of the meeting is to parcel out tasks, determine schedules, and other technical stuff. Alice's coworker, Bob, gets wind of the meeting and wants to attend. Instead of asking Alice if he can attend the meeting, Bob goes to one of the other meeting attendees and asks them to forward the calendar appointment. Alice first learns of this when she gets an automated notice from the calendar program that another attendee has been added to the meeting.

Is Bob's behavior acceptable? Would any of the following additional circumstances make a difference to the answer?

  1. Bob is the lead on project that is funding the activity (but has delegated leadership of the activity to Alice and has not otherwise been working on the activity).

  2. Bob is Alice's line manager (but has explicitly appointed Alice the leader of the activity).

  3. Bob has been on leave since the activity started and is not up to date on the technical details. Therefore, he wants the agenda to be amended to include a catch-up briefing.

I'm interested in this question primarily from a business etiquette perspective. Obviously it's a manager's prerogative to attend any meeting in their department that they want to, and probably any coworker could get away with it unless the meeting deals in restricted information. What I'm wondering is, is it reasonable for Alice to feel aggrieved that Bob did not consult her about attending the meeting? In the cases where Bob is an authority figure, is it reasonable for Alice to feel that her stature as the leader of the activity is being undermined (i.e, that Bob might be seen by the rest of the team as revoking the authority that he previously delegated to Alice)?

Clarification: I'm trying to describe several variations on the same scenario. In the base scenario Bob and Alice are strictly peers. In the first variant Bob has some authority, but is not technically Alice's boss. In the second variant, Bob is Alice's boss. The third variant could be added to any of the variants already discussed. (One answer below jumped straight to assuming variants 2 & 3 were both in effect, which is one possibility, but not the only one.)

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    This is based on a scenario that I witnessed. In fact, I'm more sympathetic to one of the people than the other, but I have tried to present both sides in as balanced a way as possible. If people are interested in the details of the real scenario, I can provide them; however, I was trying to capture the essentials. – Nobody Jan 6 at 13:47
  • What kind of person is Bob if we doesn't communicate with Alice, and why should she, or anyone else want to work with/for him? – Mawg Jan 7 at 8:04
  • The problem with making a generic question out of a specific scenario is that, well, you lose the specifics. Why did Bob do this? Was Alice unavailable, so Bob went to the other employee to forward the meeting out of convenience? Was there some other factor at play that you're not even aware of (since you don't seem to be Alice or Bob?) You paint three different scenarios, and then you mention some-but-not-all specifics of the actual, real-life scenario in comments, it makes for a hard to answer question. – dwizum Jan 7 at 19:29
  • @dwizum Understood. On the other hand, I have found some of the other perspectives people have offered in the comments illuminating, so I would say the exchange has been valuable for me. Hopefully it was for some of the other participants too. – Nobody Jan 8 at 13:06
5

Is it reasonable for Alice to feel aggrieved that Bob did not consult her about attending the meeting?

When they are peers, assuming there was nothing preventing Bob from just asking Alice if they could attend, then it's slightly rude IMHO. Not worth doing or saying anything unless it's oft repeated or egregious (such as inviting himself to meetings he has no business reason to be in)

Bob is the lead on project that is funding the activity (but has delegated leadership of the activity to Alice and has not otherwise been working on the activity).

Bob is Alice's line manager (but has explicitly appointed Alice the leader of the activity).

In both these cases Bob is entitled to be there.. But depending on the difference between the two in seniority it may give the image of undermining Alice, it's poor management on Bob's part not respect the channels he put In place.

Bob has been on leave since the activity started and is not up to date on the technical details. Therefore, he wants the agenda to be amended to include a catch-up briefing.

Flat out rude. If you want to change the agenda of someone's meeting, you talk to them first. Don't care if you're their boss or have been on leave or whatever.

3

Bob should have gone through Alice. Even if he wanted to pull rank if she tried to exclude him he should have done it privately so Alice could save face that he gave her by appointing her.

This is undermining, although I would assume unintentionally.

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    And, this, my fiends, should be the accepted answer. By undercutting her authority, he is undercutting her motivation. By not showing common courtesy he is causing her to question whether she wants to continue working with/for him. – Mawg Jan 7 at 8:08
2

If Alice gets an attitude over this, she's out of line.

Bob's circus, Bob's monkeys.

  • He's providing the money
  • He's the boss
  • He's been out.

Alice is in the wrong from the word go.

In fact, it was wrong of Alice not to invite him to begin with.

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    To clarify, Bob isn't providing the money; he's just the technical lead on the project. There is a separate PM that is in ultimate charge, but he/she doesn't play any further role in the story as I described it. Does that change your answer? Also, are you really saying that a person assigned to lead a task can't talk tech with their team without inviting their supervisor? Should Bob have invited his supervisor, and so on up the line? Where does it stop? – Nobody Jan 6 at 13:45
  • @RPL Your use of lead and technical lead is confusing. If Bob has been out for a while and is just returning to the office, then yes, Alice was wrong not to invite him and include a status update for him. – Eric Jan 6 at 15:57
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    @Eric It seems my attempt to genericize the situation has obscured some important details. Sorry for that. In fact Alice and Bob had spoken at length about the project the day before, discussed the status, and agreed that Bob didn't need to be there. Bob later changed his mind. As for the confusing titles, I agree. We're a confusing shop. Most of us are PhDs in some science or engineering discipline, and the hierarchy is very flat, if not tangled. It's not uncommon for, say, Chris to lead Dave on one task while Dave is simultaneously leading Chris on a different task. – Nobody Jan 6 at 16:21
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    For what it's worth, I think that the other staff in our office would split roughly equally over whether Bob was rude not to approach Alice about the meeting, and everyone (including Alice) would agree that Bob should be able to attend the meeting if he wants to, but I doubt you'd find anybody who thinks that Alice was "wrong" not to invite him, or that every technical meeting must include background material for people who are not actively working on the project. But I'm sure different workplaces have different customs, and that's what I'm trying to find out here. Thanks for your input. – Nobody Jan 6 at 16:33
  • "Bob's monkeys" - that says it all. Why on earth would anyone want to work for him? – Mawg Jan 7 at 8:06
0

Alice's coworker, Bob, gets wind of the meeting and wants to attend. Instead of asking Alice if he can attend the meeting, Bob goes to one of the other meeting attendees and asks them to forward the calendar appointment. Alice first learns of this when she gets an automated notice from the calendar program that another attendee has been added to the meeting.

This is a miscommunication between Bob and Alice. For me the very interesting questions here are:

  • Why did Bob not ask Alice directly after he became aware of the meeting? Was it lack of time/did he just meet his co-worker at lunch, who to make sure not to forget did a forward on the phone?

  • And did he potentially ask Alice to be invited to such meetings before? Is it conceivable that he explicatively asked Alice to be invited, but she did not?

  • Is co-worker on a more informal basis with Bob and him/herself senior to Alice? E.g. is Alice a fresh project manager or technical lead for a project under Bobs supervision?

In the last year I observed several of such cases, and usually these don't end well for Alice. I would recommend her to swallow whatever she has to say and continue working.

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    To answer your questions: 1. Bob feels that it's no big deal to get the invitation from someone else and that he did Alice no discourtesy by going around her. 2. No. In fact, Alice claims that she and Bob talked about it and agreed that he didn't need to be at this particular meeting, but that Bob subsequently changed his mind. 3. The coworker is junior to both Bob and Alice. Bob and Alice are roughly peers (have been on the job for the same length of time), but this is Alice's first chance at leading a team; she was given the role explicitly to get some leadership experience. – Nobody Jan 6 at 13:54
  • When I have seen this, it generally ends up with Alice leaving for a better job (YMMV) – Mawg Jan 7 at 8:08
  • @Mawg That thought has crossed my mind too. That would be a shame, as Alice is a valuable contributor, and her services are always in high demand (including from Bob). – Nobody Jan 8 at 13:11
  • Sadly, at the end of the day, Alice has to think about Alice (and, at the end of the day, she normally goes home & polishes her CV) – Mawg Jan 8 at 13:40

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