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Being excluded from Kickoff calls

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Software Engineer at Seed Stage Startupa month ago

I've been working at this company for almost 2 years now and we recently started doing kick-off calls for big features. Before this, management would come up with features in private meetings and assign engineers tickets. We expressed our frustration with this approach so management started doing "kick-off calls" recently but would only invite 1 engineer or 1 data scientist depending on who they think should lead the feature/project. This is a 10-person company, and it feels like I have no room to be creative/propose solutions etc. I brought this up during retro and 1:1s with my manager and the answer I always got was "we don't want it to be a democracy" or "too many people/questions would drag the meeting longer than it has to" etc

I can understand this reasoning if it's a big team/company, but we're a really small team and it feels to me like they're not interested in hearing about other engineers' input, ideas etc at all. This causes me to think engineers are just here to do grunt work/grind. Am I being too cynical?

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Discussion

(2 comments)
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a month ago

    "Too many cooks in the kitchen" is a very real phenomenon, so I get it. Even though 10 people is small for a company, it can easily be a crowd for a project. I have been on projects with just 5 core stakeholders that have turned out to be a giant mess.

    Even at Taro where we currently only have 3 engineers (Rahul, Charlie, and myself), we have realized that we should be giving more solo-ownership to decisions in order to move faster.

    All that being said, I have many suggestions there:

    1. Do an async in-between approach - Just because you aren't invited to the meeting doesn't mean you can't influence the project's direction. If there's some sort of product spec document with each proposed project, ask leads to open it up to feedback before decisions are solidified and you can type in comments during a certain window.
    2. Show evidence for improvement - Do you have clear examples of prior projects that would have gone better had leadership invited feedback more proactively? If so, compile that information together and make a case. Everything should be done for a reason.
    3. Deepen relevant relationships - This one is more generic but still true. Nobody gets a seat at the table for free. Make your leads and manager like you so much and respect your opinion so much that they're forced to invite you.

    Something to keep in mind is that you don't want any jaded-ness or cynicism to come through while proposing these options. Make sure to follow the advice from the Effective Communication course: [Course] Effective Communication For Engineers

  • 2
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    Ex-Google SWE • FE/Mobile -> BE/Distributed/AI
    a month ago

    Alex's suggestions would be what I would do as well. If you can garner their respect and trust from a technical perspective, they'll be open to your suggestions and ideas. I'd discover what kind of credibility influences them too (e.g. monetary impact, personal relationship, data, credentials, etc.) and go from there. Although the extent of influence you need will also depend on what kind of company management is trying to build and the extent to which they are open to changing that.

    There are different types of leadership, and they each have their pros and cons. Different seasons in a company call for different types, and different people with different levels of skill work well under different styles.

    It sounds like you're in an autocratic one. It's one thing for management to be intentionally this way. It's another to be accidental about it. The leadership seems to be unaware that they are lowering either you and/or your team's morale, which doesn't seem great. Separately, it also sounds like either you don't work well under this type of leadership or management doesn't have enough of your trust to do it this way.

    It's worth pointing out the autocratic style is not all bad. It allows the team to move fast and can be more efficient - it's really great for moments of crisis or when the leader has proved themselves and the team deeply trusts the leader. The negatives of this leadership style is what you are experiencing.

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