The Gatekeeper

I was talking with a friend of mine recently who’s a key player on a major supply chain project. He’s encountering something that I’ve seen before manifested in different ways. He wants to participate in a key meeting, but the meeting organizer is hesitant to include him – and in fact has made the following statement to him:

“I don’t want to invite you to the meeting because it will waste your time”

This could just as easily be said in a variety of different ways, but ultimately my friend was dismayed and discouraged.

My friend is not subordinate to the gatekeeper, is not a low performer, and is not someone who needs his work directed or orchestrated. In other words, he’s accountable for his delivery, and he owns it.

Some of the initial thoughts that crossed our minds in terms of how he could respond, included:

“What makes you believe you are the arbitrator of what is a waste of my time and what isn’t?”

“Why do you feel you are in a better position than me to understand what the best use of my time is?”

Of course, these thoughts came up in our private discussion, but we don’t believe that asking these questions is going to achieve the outcome he would like, and in fact could create more friction. My friend and I agreed that however valid and legitimate these questions appear to be, there was absolutely no value in asking them.

This demonstrates our initial knee jerk reactions, but when we take a step back and we think critically and objectively, we disregard them in order to come a better conclusion and a better way to move forward.

We understand that any time we create a meeting we select who we invite based on who we believe needs to be there or who we want to be there. That’s reasonable. If we have team members of whom we are accountable for their delivery, then selecting who attends can be a strategic decision, but we need to be careful of overreach and exercising control too tightly.

We both agreed that the meeting organizer appears to motivated by some element of having control rather than what’s in the best interest of the organization. Of course, we don’t know the exact reasoning and we can’t be 100% conclusive about this at this point, but we left with this likely conclusion based on previous interactions, and we had determined that there is no possible way for the meeting organizer to have the kind of insight into what is a waste of time for my friend and what isn’t.

We also considered that the meeting organizer may have other reasons for not including my friend in the meeting, but for some reason was not forthcoming about it. We talked about how it’s not probably personal but may be just politics.

We realized that the question of “why does the meeting organizer want this level of control?” became pretty irrelevant. My friend is in a position where he believes he can gain and provide significant value by attending these meetings, but he is blocked by a meeting organizer who’s walls are built up way too high.

We believed the best course of action was to have an honest conversation with the meeting organizer about my friends value proposition rather than focus on why the organizer wants this level of control. There is too much information that is being held back by the meeting organizer, and a frank discussion needs to be had. This should help remove any walls the meeting organizer has built up regardless of if those walls are justified or not, and allows my friend to start at a neutral place for the topic of discussion.

Additionally, my friend has contingency plans in place which include conducting his own meetings and having additional discussions with key people to get things going in the right direction. It’s always best to plan a few steps ahead and be intentional and strategic about it.

These are the day to day politics of any organization that need to be navigated. It’s important to meet and discuss and build relationships to help move things along. Generally, be careful about trying to exert control over others; even in situations where you believe you are well intentioned, it may come across as insincere or patronizing. With a little tact, conversation, and relationship building, walls can be torn down, relationships can be built, and people can move along in harmony within well functioning teams.

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