Death By Meeting: A Leadership Fable
Patrick Lencioni is a management consultant with a knack for writing fast-paced, engaging books on the challenges (and opportunities) business executives and their companies face.
In Death By Meeting: A Leadership Fable he tells the tale of a software CEO whose poorly planned and badly run meetings put his company and his job at risk, and how—with the help of his plucky and resourceful new assistant—he changes the meeting culture and saves the company.
The final 40 pages summarize Lencioni’s analysis of the importance of meetings, why so many companies have so many bad (and demoralizing) meetings, and his tips for creating successful meetings. His analysis boils down to two key insights:
“Meetings are boring because they lack drama.”
“Meetings are ineffective because they lack contextual structure.” (p. 224)
Problem #1: Lack Of Drama.
Lencioni has three tips for adding drama/conflict/meaning to your meetings:
The Hook: “Participants need to be jolted a little during the first ten minutes of a meeting, so that they understand and appreciate what is at stake.” (p. 228)
“Employees are…looking for a reason to care. And that’s what the leader of a meeting should be giving them.” (p. 229)
Mining For Conflict: “Resolving those issues (i.e., the ones that matter) is what makes a meeting productive, engaging, even fun…. And so a leader of a meeting must make it a priority to seek out and uncover any important issues about which team members do not agree. And when team members don’t want to engage in those discussions, the leader must force them to do so.” (pp. 229-30)
Real-Time Permission: When conflict happens in a meeting, “a leader can minimize the discomfort and maximize the likelihood that conflict will continue by interrupting the participants and reminding them that what they are doing is good.” (pp. 230-31) Lencioni gives an example in which the leader 1) interrupts and reinforces that the ongoing debate is “exactly the kind of thing…we need“, 2) acknowledges the importance of the perspectives of those who are arguing, and 3) reminds everyone that the goal is a decision that will benefit the company as a whole.
Problem #2: Lack Of Contextual Structure
Basically, all meetings are not created equal. Lencioni argues that corporate management teams should be having four different kinds of meetings, each with its own purpose, format and length. They are what he calls the:
- Daily Check-In;
- Weekly Tactical;
- Monthly Strategic; and
- Quarterly Off-Site Review.
For other kinds of organizations, the meeting types may vary and/or change somewhat. But the fundamental insight—that there are, appropriately, different kinds of meetings for different purposes; and that it’s the job of leaders to create a culture in which meetings are dramatic (in the best sense of the word) and purposeful—is invaluable.