Thursday, October 8, 2009

Team member skips meetings regularly

Dear HR Store,

I’ve been recently promoted to lead an eight member team. As part of the team’s weekly activities we have a team meeting scheduled every Wednesday. It’s critical for all team members to attend the meeting. It helps us stay updated on the team’s goals/objectives. It’s also an interactive session where team members discuss a lot of things related to work. Stuff like challenges they faced during that week and their solutions are discussed. It’s a ground for learning too. My issue is with a particular team member who has been skipping these meetings regularly giving far too many excuses. At times it’s ok, since he is held up with other activities that are critical and needed immediate attention. But the occurrences are far too many to ignore. The other team members have begun to notice the pattern.

The team member doing this excels at his work. So I’m worried any hasty reactions from me could end up creating more problems. How do I go about resolving this issue?


Well, looks like this team member has been given too much leeway. Your case is a classic example for setting a ‘precedent’. It not only poses an immediate danger but also has long term repercussions.

Agreed that the team member excels at his work, but that’s no grounds for not complying with the rest of the team. Are you telling the others that they are good enough to be excused from the meeting? See. Setting precedents are bad. Period. You’ve just experienced the tough part of being a manager. Your ‘No’ should have enough logic and ‘Yes’ should make enough sense.

How do you go about dealing with this? First step would be to have a candid talk with him during your one—to—one meeting. Before you start with telling, “You should attend all team meetings starting this week”, give him a chance to explain his prior absence. There could a reason for missing them than just giving an excuse for attending to another activity during the same time. To start with, give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he is really overloaded with work. Maybe he doesn’t see enough value in attending the meeting. Or worse, he just feels he’s the best in the team and doesn’t need to attend meetings when he knows it all! If that’s the reason, you have more trouble than you think. Your response will depend on his reasons for not attending. Being supportive is fine, as long as it’s for the right reasons. If you’ve set up the meeting as a weekly recurrence, the team has been given enough notice. So getting caught up with other work at that time is a sign of bad time management. More than twice is never a coincidence. Set it right.

On the contrary, trying to enforce a rule like, “Everyone must participate in team meetings”, will backfire for sure. Team members will be present but they’ll never participate. So try and avoid taking that approach. If the agenda of the meeting is to figure out if the team is aligned to business goals/objectives and for sharing their challenges of the week, then your one-to-one meeting and email should suffice. Meeting every week to discuss the same things takes away the importance of the discussion. Sorry, I digress.

Back to your question. As a manager, you’ll have to play a dual-role in getting team members to adhere to team activities. One part of the role (the good part) is when you encourage team members to attend these meetings citing a chance to learn from others. The second part (the bad part) of the role is when you make it clear that all team members will be treated equally and any violations will have the same consequences. Being a manager is a lot tougher than you thought!

So first have a discussion with the team member. If it continues, write him a mail. I really doubt if it should get beyond this! If it does, you have to take a tough call. You don’t need a star performer with the wrong attitude who could end up hurting a well balanced team. That’s something you don’t want to deal with. Act fast. And have that discussion. It should sort things out. Make it clear that you are the authority on this issue and that shouldn't be taken for granted.

Next time. Be wary of setting precedents. You are the manager. And you should decide what works best for the team. Don’t let the entire team manage you! If it happens, there’s only one way it will go. Downhill.

Good luck!


Julie said...

Great post! And a frequent issue. I would also suggest involving the other team members by using part of the meeting, when ALL the team members are there, to review the purpose of the meeting, what value they get from it, what they contribute to it and what they feel other people do/could contribute. Depending on how that is going the manager could also ask the members how it impacts them when members don't show up. They can hold each other accountable as well as expecting the manager to take sole responsiblity.

The HR Store said...

@Julie - Thanks for the comment & follow! You make a great point on involving all team members and making them accountable for their actions. At the same time they get to see the benefits of having the meeting. It's in line with the thought that each team member should be asked to take lead in meetings, on a rotational basis. That will increase accountability too.

But at some point, the manager should draw the line and take decisive actions. In this case I felt that the manager has let the issue continue without taking any action.

Jyoti Bhargava said...

Since it's being acknowledged that the team member excels at his work, and even then repeatedly misses the weekly meeting, I'd say that it's time to take stock of the feasibility of these meetings and the level of productivity they result in. It's certainly a great idea to have a one to one chat with this team member to get his feedback on the meetings. But, it'd also be prudent to use this opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of this weekly interface by doing a quick survey of how other team members feel about the time spent in these discussions - whether they consider them adding value to one's role or merely a drain on everyone's energy levels; whether this interaction can be managed over box lunch instead of using productive hours of one's work day or be reduced in duration or tweaked in another way to be agreeable with most members.

Ask a Manager said...

Like Jyoti, I think it's worth taking a look at the real value of these meetings. People often start skipping meetings when they conclude nothing useful gets accomplished in them, and in general most workplaces' tendency is to have too many meetings. Is a group meeting every week really necessary to accomplish these goals?

The HR Store said...

@Jyoti - Thanks for the comment. Very useful insight. I agree with your point about checking on the feasibility of having weekly meetings. It's also a chance for the manager to take feedback and work on them. In this case, it's just one person from the team skipping meetings. So ideally the manager should act fast and take a stand that's in the best interest of the team before it snowballs into a bigger mess.

The HR Store said...

@AskAManager - Thanks for your comment & good to see you here! As usual, you're spot on with your assessment! Agree with you on workplaces having far too many meetings to accomplish simple tasks. Hope the poster has read your comment and takes note for future action.

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I hate those meeting because my husband was leading one of those and he spent a lot of time in there so that he didn't have time for us.