Why wasn't I invited to the meeting?

Maybe you haven't proven to others why you need to be there.
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"I'm disappointed."

These were the first words to come from Damien in a recent one-to-one conversation we had.

"I feel like the team doesn't respect my position," he told me. "I'm trying to engage with them, but they aren't reciprocating."

Damien was clearly frustrated.

"They had a meeting last week, for example, and I really should have been there. But they didn't invite me," he continued, offering several examples of ways the team was excluding him and, he felt, making it difficult for him to do his job.

When he paused, I asked him if he had any idea why they didn't invite him to the meeting in question.

"That's exactly my dilemma," he said, "I can't figure out why they wouldn't."

"Well," I said, "Why should they invite you to the meeting?"

To me, the situation seemed clear: When putting this particular meeting together, Damien's teammates probably didn't think too hard about the guest list; they just invited the people who popped into their heads.

"Should they invite you because your job title indicates you should be there, or because they think you would make contributions that help them drive the project forward?" I asked. I reminded Damien that these are difficult questions, but they're important to consider.

My last question could be even more difficult to face: "Have you done anything in the recent past that demonstrates to the team that they would benefit from working more closely with you? What are some examples of those things?"

It's important to note that Damien's job title does indicate that he should not only be at meetings like the one in question, but that he should be leading those discussions. But, in an open organization, job titles and hierarchies don't drive behavior.

The culture at Red Hat (the open organization where I work) is built on four core values: freedom, accountability, commitment and courage. Everyday dilemmas like this one represent moments when those values come to life—if we take the time to think about them, that is.

It takes courage to recognize that what you're doing is not working, or that you are not contributing in a way the team finds valuable (the reason they aren't including you in discussions). It requires accountability to say, "I am going to acknowledge this and do something about it," rather than hoping other people will change their behavior. In order to actually demonstrate progress, making a concrete commitment to the team will be essential. In this scenario, the team with which Damien is working is using the value most often cited in open source communities: they are exercising their freedom to do what they think is right, despite Damien's objections.

The hope, of course, is that both parties in a situation like this would reflect in the same way: What can I do to create a better outcome (rather than waiting for the other side to act)? In the beginning of our conversation, Damien felt like his team needed to do things differently. No doubt they felt the same way about him. My goal became working with Damien to figure out what he could do, and, at the same time, I trusted that some team members would rise to challenge the entire team on with ways they could do things differently.

In an open organization, job titles and hierarchies don't drive behavior.

Damien left our conversation with the task of thinking about what his colleagues most needed from him. What could he do that would bring them the most value? If he could identify that, and demonstrate progress towards achieving it, then the team might be more motivated to work with him.

I found out later that his colleagues were having a similar conversation; they opened a dialog to talk about team members' expectations for one another and the ways they were (and were not) currently meeting those expectations.

The situation is still unfolding, but it illustrates a great example of the open organization principles in action. When team members set expectations of each other, and hold one another to them, having open dialog and sharing continual feedback becomes much more important than job titles and organizational structure.

Picture of Sam in his home office smiling at the camera. Sam is a white man. He has long curly brown hair and is wearing a dark green zip up fleece hoody.
I lead a team in Red Hat focused on providing context, knowledge, connection and alignment to our Product and Technologies employees, as well as working to ensure they have an inclusive, equitable, and safe environment to work and grow in. I am a late-diagnosed autistic person and I co-chair Red Hat's neurodiversity employee resource group.


It really does take courage to not invite people to meetings, but I think this is very important. Here in Japan flooding a meeting with observers can weaken accountability greatly. You just can't figure out how is in charge of what.

Keep up the courage of only asking key, accountable people to meetings.

Thanks Ron - great perspective. How to keep meeting attendance down could be a whole other article topic :) I think a good rule of thumb is to only invite people who really need to be there (vs. who just want to be informed). The question here is, what if you think you need to be there but the team doesn't?

In reply to by Ron McFarland

A long time ago - in the 1990s - :) I was working as a COBOL Programmer for an Insurance-Software Development Company. This company had very flat hierarchies and a great company culture encouraging people to push to their "responsibility limits" and even beyond. Failures were accepted as essential part of the improvement and innovation cycle. AT that time it was the greatest company in the world for me. After working there for about 6 months I was taking with a colleague about how to make career in such an environment (flat hierarchies, no real job titles)? Her answer: "You will recognize that you are climbing the career ladder as soon as people come and ask you for your expertise."
Sam, thanks alot for these great insights and a very nice example for "open organization principles in action".

Mark - thank you. Very well said - I love your story. Indeed, when people come to you for advice that is a great illustration of how you are providing value. Thank you for sharing!

In reply to by markkrake

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