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Meeting Red Flags - Problems In Your Meetings That Signal Issues In Your Culture

Published 7/7/2022

Once you have the right meetings with the right people, it's time to look at the content of the meeting itself.

In this episode we discuss possible red flags that may show up in your meetings, and what kinds of problems these flags may signal.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
On average, what is the sentiment towards meetings in your organization, on your team, even what is your sentiment towards meetings? We've been talking about these in the last couple of episodes of this show. My name is Jonathan Cutrell, you're listening to Developer Tea. Even in these specific episodes, my goal is to help you have better meetings. Meetings can be a very powerful tool. They should be because they're pretty expensive, synchronizing people's time and taking all of their attention should produce a significant amount of value. We've talked about ways to help this happen in previous episodes in the last couple of episodes of this show. Now I want to talk with you about how the meeting itself goes. How to pay attention to the right signals in your meeting, some of the red flags that you can look for. This is inside the meeting. You can pay attention to everything that we've already talked about to have the right kind of meetings to set the tone to understand your audience, but at the end of the day, the content of the meeting, and more specifically, how people feel and interact during the meeting is what will actually produce the value. So in today's episode, I want to talk to you about red flags to look for in your meeting and what they mean outside of the meeting. There's the important thing to understand. If you're having the right kinds of meetings for the right reasons with the right people, if you've got all that context set up properly, and your participation in others' participation in the meeting is aware of the audience, there can still be things going wrong. And I want you to know what those things are, I want you to watch out for these red flags. Before we dive into those red flags, though, we have to understand that we cannot fix meetings directly. We cannot, as managers, there's no way, there's no specific thing, assuming all the other things are in place, there's no specific thing that will fix the red flags directly. This is because meetings are a snapshot, a glimpse of the fruit of your culture. If you are the cultivator, then this is the fruit of what you've been cultivating. We're not trying to be wooey with our terminology here. Your job, if you're a manager, or if you're a tech leader, if you aspire to be a tech leader, is to create the culture where other engineers can thrive. And so, assuming that you've got all of the variables of having the right meetings with the right people, about the right things, all of those are in place, any other problems that you're having in your meeting are a result of culture. So when we talk about a red flag today, we're going to talk about potential culture problems for you to go and investigate as a result of these. Remember, we cannot directly fix a meeting. Trying to directly fix a meeting is fixing the symptom of a deeper problem. Before we talk about these red flags, I want to talk about today's sponsor square. This episode is brought to you by Square. We've been partnering with us throughout this whole year. They have been a huge partner for this show, so please show Square your love. There are millions of sellers across the globe using Square to run every aspect of their business. Many are looking for customized solutions that are deeply connected and easy to use. This is where developers come in. You can grow your business by extending or integrating with Square using free APIs and SDKs to build tools for those millions of sellers across the globe. You can learn more by going to developer.com slash square. That's developertea.com slash square. Thanks again to Square for sponsoring today's episode. Hopefully when you hear that problems and meetings are indicative of a culture problem, then you are hoping you're waiting for these red flags because if you understand your role as a technology leader in any capacity, a leader on your team, whether you have the title or not. If you care about that leadership, then you care by default, the kind of de facto care about the culture on your team. Even if you aren't aspiring to become a leader, you should care about the culture on your team anyway because it impacts you. It impacts your ability to succeed, assuming that you care about the success of your company, of your role, the security in your job. All of these things are impacted by your culture. Anytime we're talking about something, being a red flag about your culture, it should be a very high priority in understanding those problems so you can try to find a way to address them. What are these red flags you can look for in meetings? To be clear, we can't cover all of them because there's a lot. To be fair, what might be a red flag for one team might be normal for another one. We're doing this as an exercise in identifying the types of problems you should be looking for, but certainly we can't be comprehensive in a single episode covering every possible culture signal that you may have in your company. We're going to cover the first two and they're both insidious. You wouldn't necessarily notice these as red flags unless you are really thinking about what they mean. The first is quick convergence. This means as people are sharing their opinions, others just seem to agree. There's not a lot of differing opinion expressed during a meeting, especially during decision-making processes, converging quickly on a decision as a kind of pattern behavior. Now don't freak out if the next decision that your team makes you converge quickly. The important thing here is to recognize the red flag is only a red flag if it becomes a pattern of behavior. If you're continuously converging quickly in your meetings, and this is a red flag because one of two bad things must be true. Either A, there are differing opinions on your team that are not being shared or B, there are no differing opinions on your team. The underlying cultural problem is different in each of these cases. In the first case, in case A, where there are differing opinions that aren't being shared, there's something to investigate about why those opinions are not being shared. Perhaps the people with differing opinions feel uncomfortable sharing those opinions. But what is the reason they feel uncomfortable? For example, maybe they have experienced negative repercussions for sharing their opinions, they're differing opinions in the past. Or maybe they believe that their experience or their opinions are not as well-founded as the other members of the team. So they sit back and withhold because they believe other people have higher credibility. Or perhaps there's a motivation issue. There are members on the team who don't really put in the energy to develop an opinion about a subject and instead allow the people who are putting that energy in to drive the conversation. In a situation where you have people that all have the same opinions, you run the risk of not having enough diversity, which will make your team less resilient and less capable. This particular red flag is dangerous because it loels us into believing that our team has found some kind of rhythm as if we've gone through the classic team phases of storming, forming, and norming. So I encourage you, if you see this red flag, to track it down, to pay attention in your one-on-ones and ask questions for the people who are not providing additional opinions, try to figure out who is driving those opinions and who seems to be kind of just following along. I can't tell you everything that might be wrong with your culture if you're seeing these kinds of meetings, but it is a signal that you should probably do some investigation. The second red flag is that all of your meetings are run by managers. All of your meetings are run by managers. Again, this may be a little bit insidious, a little bit hidden, because you wouldn't necessarily say that managers running meetings is a bad thing on its own, but if all of your meetings are run by managers, in other words, if you don't have meetings that are generated by the ICs, it's likely that you have silos in your culture. This means that the ICs on your given squads on your given teams are not able to collaborate with each other freely. If your managers are the ones that are having to make the connection points, then you may have a bit of a culture of red tape or isolation of your teams away from each other. Our third and final red flag is a hard one to know if it's flying. That is that the individuals in any given meeting are not showing up entirely. They're not committed to that meeting. Here's what I want you to ask yourself, and then if you are a manager, this is a good question to ask your reports. What does it look like when I show up completely committed? What does it look like when I go into a meeting and for that hour or even that 15 minutes, whatever that meeting length is, I'm fully committed to that meeting. What would it look like? You might be saying, what does it mean to be fully committed? In some ways, this is why this one's hard to recognize when it's actually a red flag flying over your meeting. The truth is, the answer is individual. Also, it's likely that if you were to check in with yourself during that meeting, you could answer this. Am I actually fully committed to this meeting in this moment right now? Am I putting my full effort, my full focus and attention into what we're doing here with this meeting? Here's a very important part to this particular flag. It is that you don't deduce from this flag that someone doesn't care about their job. It's critical to understand that once again, we don't directly affect this. We don't tell people to start committing their full selves to the meeting because this is a cultural problem. We've said it before, we'll say it a hundred more times. This is a cultural problem. What does that mean? It means that there is a culture that is preventing our ICs, right? There's a culture that's preventing the engineers, the participants in this meeting from showing up as their full selves from actually committing entirely to this meeting. Maybe they don't care about this meeting. That's a possibility. Maybe they don't see the importance of it. Maybe they don't believe that their contributions matter in this meeting. So they're kind of on autopilot. Maybe they're tired, then they might need a day off. Or maybe they have so many meetings on their calendar that they can't really possibly commit that much to every one of them because it's too much. They're spread too thin. Or maybe they have other work that is more pressing in their minds than whatever the meeting is trying to accomplish. There are a lot of reasons that this can happen. And sometimes it's more than just one of them. It might be habitual. It might be something that they've kind of always done. They don't really feel like they contribute much to meetings in general. So their default is to show up in a distracted or otherwise half committed way. But it's important for us to recognize that showing up to meetings half committed is probably worse than not showing up at all. Showing up to meetings half committed is probably worse than not showing up at all. Now again, I want to overemphasize this point that this does not mean that that person needs to be chastised. This doesn't mean that you need to go and give this person feedback that they need to show up more committed. Instead, you need to find out what is driving them. What is the root cause that makes them feel like they can't be committed or that they shouldn't be, that they don't want to be committed. Address the problem at that source. Your job if you're a leader of the culture, which is virtually anybody who cares about the culture in your organization on your team. If you are a leader of culture on your team, your job is to think about these red flags that you see in meetings and consider what is the underlying culture that is producing this result that's producing this fruit. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's sponsor, Square Head over to developertea.com slash square to get started with squares APIs and SDKs for engineers like you looking to grow your business. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use. But also, join the conversation with other engineers who are looking to grow in their personal and professional lives at developertea.com slash discord. This is a totally free community for you as an engineer or even if you aren't an engineer, you are welcome to join us in this community that's developertea.com slash discord. This is the best way to help other engineers like you find Developer Tea. Thanks so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.