Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable About Solving The Most Painful Problem In Business
by Patrick Lencioni, published 2004
Meetings are boring because they lack drama. Leaders must look for legitimate reasons to provoke and uncover relevant, constructive ideological conflict.
Meetings are ineffective because they lack contextual structure. We need to have multiple types of meetings and clearly distinguish between the various purposes, formats and timing of those meetings.
Meetings should start with the injection of drama in the first ten minutes so participants appreciate what is at stake. For example, illustrate the dangers of making a bad decision, highlight a looming competitive threat or appeal to commitment to a higher mission or vision for the organization.
Then, the meeting leader should mine for conflict whenever disagreement is present. It is better to hash the issue out and let everyone say what is on their mind then to let resentment and personal politics build. And it will require “real-time permission” from the meeting leader to make it work. Conflict must be affirmed as normal and desirable to increase the likelihood it occurs.
The Four Meeting Types
There are four different meeting types to be used based on content:
- The Daily Check-In, aka the “huddle”, a standing meeting no more than 5 mins in length; each participant reports on what they’re working on or need help with that day
- The Weekly Tactical, weekly/bi-weekly, 45-90 mins in length; Lightning Round, go around the table and report on 2-3 priorities for the week in 60 secs or less per person; move to Progress Review, including a report of KPIs, 4-6 per person, 5 mins total; Real-Time Agenda, this grows out of the Lighting Round and Progress Review portions, an agenda for discussion should focus on critical issues raised in these first 15 minutes; the overall goal is to resolve issues and reinforce clarity
- The Monthly Strategic, every 2-4 weeks, minimum of 2 hours per topic; discuss a few critical issues that affect the business fundamentally; need to occur regularly to serve as a timely “parking lot” for critical issues raised in the Weekly Tactical
- The Quarterly Off-Site Review, meets quarterly and offsite to focus on big picture strategic issues; 1-2 days; includes time for a team assessment; personnel review, identifying stars and poor performers; competitive and industry review to spot trends; most important objective is to build team unity
“Sneaker Time” is what is created by a lack of effective meetings and structure. Anything that can not be communicated (or is not communicated) in a group meeting means walking around the office for one-on-one visits. Given there are multiple people on the average team, this time burden involved in communicating can quickly zap teams of their vitality and effectiveness. A great organization can not afford sneaker time and therefore it can not afford to not make its meetings great.
This isn’t a super meaty book, but that’s a virtue– it’s short and sweet and to the point. The delivery of the concept via an interesting and relatable narrative story is also an enjoyable touch.