Secret Cabal meetings
I run a biweekly meetup for the staff+ engineers in my local organisation. A couple different folks asked about whether meetings like these have been worthwhile and how you might go about setting one up, so here is my approach. YMMV.
Overall, I’ve found these meetings to be pretty valuable in a couple of ways: they help build relationships between the staff+ engineers in the local org, serve as a social outlet where we can discuss things freely in a way that isn’t often possible with a wider audience, and act as a sort-of informal lightweight mentorship program where people share what’s worked for them in tough situations. It’s also sometimes useful as a bidirectional channel between engineers and Leadership that’s a little more direct than ad-hoc 1-1s.
We don’t have precise invitation criteria other than “staff+”, and the attendance list is a little fuzzy—it mostly overlaps with “the set of engineers in my local office reporting to my skip-skip-manager” but with some edge cases where people relocated or have different reporting chains.
I send out a calendar invite for half an hour every two weeks, and also have a private group for posting agendas and taking notes. If I can’t make it to a meeting, I’ll ask someone else in the group to host. We also have a chat channel with the same members.
I’m pretty aggressive about having an agenda, since there are usually 6+ folks without a lot of free time attending; this also means cutting people off to make sure we get through most topics.
The day before the meeting I:
- ask my local org leader if they have anything they want to raise to their local senior engineers
- post a poll for agenda topics, which doubles as a reminder for the meeting the next day
Some weeks the polls are busy; often, I supply a couple of conversation prompts.
example topics #
- whaddya all think about the new reorg?
- so-and-so has joined to work on Fancy New Project, let’s ask them to talk about it for a bit
- Local Org Leader has a new initiative e.g. updated hiring goals, they’ve joined for a minute to talk about it and answer questions
- X has someone on their team who is struggling with $challenge; how have you all helped people in similar situations?
- “challenge"s may include unrealistic promotion expectations, excessive negativity, insuffient technical quality, infectiously bad work-life balance cough me cough, etc
- Y wants to make a Big Technical Change, which of you should they set up small-group meetings with? what might go wrong? who else should be involved?
- Z has noticed some ownership gaps where stuff is falling through the cracks between a few teams; do attendees agree with that observation? who should be in a follow-up meeting to discuss?
what we don’t do #
We don’t make decisions: no technical deep dives or strategic directions—those stay in public fora and have a wider audience.
We don’t broadly announce the existence of said meeting. This is mainly a consequence of the fact that FB keeps IC levels relatively confidential, but also helps avoid the impression that people who aren’t invited are being cut out of important decisions, a pitfall which hadn’t occurred to me until it was pointed out on Slack.
We don’t invite managers, even if they were previous attendees who switched to the manager track. This was the topic of some discussion but it’s what works for us now; your mileage may vary.
We don’t go over time—this is strictly half an hour, which helps to make sure that it’s a good use of a lot of temporally-challenged attendees’ calendar space.