Death By Meeting

dbmI just finished listening to Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. There is not an organization I know that couldn’t benefit from this book. Like Lencioni’s other books, this is written in fable form, using fictitious characters running a fictitious business to tell a story. The book is an easy read with many relatable characters and scenarios to keep you interested.

My biggest takeaway was that the danger is not in “too many” meetings, but mixing the types of decisions that need to be made within a single meeting. When you combine tactical agenda items with strategic with long-term planning and try to address them all in the same meeting, the tendency is to:

  • spend too much time on the wrong items
  • people don’t come prepared to weigh in on the most important items
  • time runs out discussing trivialities
  • decisions don’t get made
  • everybody gets frustrated.

If I can put this into David Allen’s Getting Things done language, you have to know what you are trying to accomplish in your meetings and what horizon of focus level of conversation you are having.

1. Runway –  Next actions
2. 10,000 ft – Projects, near-term
3. 20,000 ft – Areas of responsibility
4. 30,000 ft – 6 month to 1 year desired outcomes
5. 40,000 ft – 3 to 5 year goals/objectives
6. 50,000 ft – Purpose, Vision, etc.

Lencioni proposes four kinds of meetings: Daily Check-in, the Weekly Tactical, the Monthly Strategic and the Quarterly Off-site Review. (Summary and graphic from The Table Group)

The Daily Check-in is a schedule-oriented, administrative meeting that should last no more than five or 10 minutes. The purpose is simply to keep team members aligned and to provide a daily forum for activity updates and scheduling. dbm_model

The Weekly Tactical is what most people have come to know as staff meetings. These should be approximately an hour in length, give or take 20 minutes, and should focus on the discussion and resolution of issues which effect near term objectives. Ironically, these work best if there is no pre-set agenda. Instead, the team should quickly review one another’s priorities and the team’s overall scorecard, and then decide on what to discuss during the remainder of the meeting. This will help them avoid wasting time on trivial issues and focus only on those issues that are truly relevant and critical. The key to making these tactical meetings work is having the discipline to identify and postpone the discussion of more strategic topics, which brings us to the third kind of meeting.

The Monthly Strategic is the most interesting kind of meeting for leaders, and the most important indicator of a company’s strategic aptitude. It is the appropriate place for big topics, those that will have a long-term impact on the business. These issues require more time and a different setting, one in which participants can brainstorm, debate, present ideas and wrestle with one another in pursuit of the optimal long-term solution. Each strategic meeting should include no more than one or two topics, and should allow roughly two hours for each topic.

The Quarterly Off-Site Review is an opportunity for team members to step away from the business, literally and figuratively, to reassess a variety of issues: the interpersonal performance of the team, the company’s strategy, the performance of top-tier and bottom-tier employees, morale, competitive threats and industry trends. These can last anywhere from the better part of a day to two full days each quarter. More>>

Lencioni’s premise is that business meetings that are inherently interactive, relevant with real world consequences should be more interesting than movies. But the opposite is true, Why?

The problem with most meetings is a lack of conflict. To quote another of Lencioni’s books, “You have to weigh in before you can buy in.” The benefit of robust dialog around a group of trusted team members is that you get all the ideas on the table for the group to evaluate. Everyone has the chance to feel heard and you get to probe assumptions. Collectively the groups makes a better decision with multiple perspectives in mind. This also helps eliminate some of the “politics” that happen in organizations, because you get to hear what everyone is thinking and since disagreements are encouraged, the focus is on the ideas and not the personalities involved.

Death By Meeting is the perfect book that any team could work through together. I highly recommend it.

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