If you’ve worked long enough, you’ve hit on something that involves multiple people. At that point, the common line is to “get all the stakeholders” together so everyone’s on the same page and actually working together. It’s a good philosophy, that works when you’re getting just the people involved in something together – and nobody else. The problem is that that’s rarely how these situations play out.
The biggest problem with the whole “stakeholder” thing is that we’re throwing the term around way to freely. It used to mean “anyone involved in making this work”, but now it’s been perverted into “anybody who has an opinion on the matter.” The latter is not conducive to getting anything done. The flip side to getting all the stakeholders together on something, which nobody ever seems to talk about, is that you get all the stakeholders and only the stakeholders together to make decisions. The whole point of this is to get things done, and that means limiting participation to only those who need to be brought in.
Dragging people who aren’t stakeholders into every part of the decision-making process leads to meetings with way too many people. This means the decision-making process takes longer, and is driven by people who don’t actually have any stake in the matter. It also adds too many thoughts, questions, and opinions into the mix, which drowns out input from people who are actually in the thick of things. This slows down work as people stop to deal with outside concerns that aren’t relevant to what they’re trying to do.
Here’s the thing, stakeholders are the people who have to get involved any time you try to do anything. They’re that central to things working. Getting them together during the decision-making process is merely jumping to an inevitable conclusion – they are going to impact the final state of your product. Getting everyone together up front just eliminates miscommunication and re-work. Put simply – stakeholders will always involve the other stakeholders. They’re also not the people talking about getting other stakeholders together or even the people asking for meetings with a particular set of attendees.
The cold, hard truth about stakeholders is this – they don’t ever need to be told who the other stakeholders are. Stakeholders don’t need to be told to work with the other stakeholders, they’re going to have to because that’s the only way things are going to get done. The only people asking for other people to be brought into the decision (ever notice how those people always include themselves in the meeting list?) are people who aren’t stakeholders themselves. They’re people who want to be treated like stakeholders, but the reality is they’re not necessary to getting things done. This is how time gets wasted in unproductive meetings and projects get sidetracked on concerns that are unnecessary, unimportant, and/or were already covered by the actual stakeholders.
This doesn’t impact just workplace projects, it happens in almost any scenario where the number of people with opinions outnumbers the actual stakeholders in the issue. Pick any political issue that doesn’t impact you directly, but you have a thought on the matter anyways. The end result is you give some flimsy justification for why you should be considered a stakeholder, and now you’re part of the problem, insisting that you be treated like you’re just an integral part of the issue as the people who are directly participating in it.
Here’s a simple test for if you’re part of the problem or a legitimate stakeholder – real stakeholders don’t need to justify why they’re stakeholders to anybody. Everyone knows they’re integral to the issue. It’s the extras that need to explain why they should be listened to. If you’re having to explain why you’re a stakeholder, then you are not a stakeholder.
It’s 1 thing to openly solicit opinions from a wide variety of sources, regardless of whether or not someone’s actually a stakeholder. Just keep in mind that there’s going to come a time where things are going to need to get done, and when that time comes, the problem typically isn’t that all the stakeholders are involved, it’s that there’s too many other people in the room interfering with the actual stakeholders.
Sometimes, the best thing to do for a project is to get out of the room and let other people take care of it, especially if that’s a viable option in the first place. The fewer the cooks in the kitchen, the easier it is to get everyone working off the same recipe, and deliver a clean, focused, working product.