Death by Meetings: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni
Bad meetings almost always lead to bad decisions, which is the best recipe for mediocrity.
A company’s culture can mirror its meetings.
Meetings should have passion and urgency.
Bad meetings can be the birthplace of morale problems.
The length of a meeting doesn’t necessarily affect its effectiveness.
Movies are exciting but irrelevant to our lives. Meetings are boring but relevant. The reason they are so boring is a lack of conflict.
Conflict is nothing more than an anxious situation that needs to be resolved.
There must be something ultimately at stake for a meeting to be good.
If everyone is engaged, they’ll make better decisions and they are more likely to share their opinions and get their ideas out on the table.
As good movies have a hook early on, good meetings need to hook people and engaged them quickly. They need a reason to care.
Once people are interested, do some mining for conflict. Constantly mine for buried conflict.
Consensus is a horrible thing. It is not usually achievable.
Having too few meetings is likely more of a problem than having too many.
There are many kinds of television programming. They all offer different kinds and amounts of content.
4 Kinds of Television Programming
1. Daily Headline News – Daily Check in – 5 min
2. Weekly Sitcom/Crime Drama – Weekly Tactical – 1 hour
3. Movie – Monthly Strategic – 2 hours
4. Mini-series – Quarterly Off-site Review – 6 hours or more
Trying to accomplish too many things at once can derail the effectiveness of a meeting.
The context of a television program affects our expectations greatly.
The Daily Standup
The key is keeping it to 5 minutes or less. Everyone reports on what they are working on that day.
The Weekly Tactical
Focus exclusively on tactical issues. It should run like clockwork. There is no agenda. Everyone gets 60 seconds each in the opening lightening round to report on their 3 primary activities for the week. After the lightening round the team puts together an agenda now that everyone knows what is actually going on in the organization. Be aware of the scorecard – 4-6 key metrics to see how things are going. Keep the discussion to 45 minutes by focusing only on topics that have an immediate impact on tactical issues and growth. This forces attendees to focus on solving problems.
The Monthly Strategic
The President wouldn’t have a meeting to discuss the White House Christmas Tree lighting ceremony as well as strategy to combat terrorism. Likewise, a tactical meeting is a bad place to discuss strategic issues. If strategic issues come up in a Tactical meeting, table them. If they are too urgent, schedule an Ad Hoc meeting. Only one or two strategic issues should be addressed during these Monthly Strategic meetings. Agendas are critical because you might need to prepare for them by doing a little research. This will greatly improve the quality of the meetings. Where the Daily and Weekly meetings need to be strictly scheduled and timed, Monthly meetings don’t need to be so strict. Carve out 4 hours and use what time you need. Time will become less important in these meetings. The best place to find topics will be the Weekly Tactical. Create a parking lot list for future Monthly Strategic topics. These should be scheduled every month even if it doesn’t seem like they are always needed because they will often be overdue by the time they are scheduled for a felt need. Regular intervals keep them from falling by the wayside. The challenge is not putting too many items on the agenda.
Leaders of meetings need to think of themselves as directors.
Quarterly Off-site Review
This is a time to review strategy, competitive landscape, morale, dynamics of the executive team, top performers, bottom performers, customer satisfaction. Pretty much anything that has a long term impact on the organization. Anything you can’t cover in a Monthly Strategic meeting. These can take up to 2 days. Annual or semi-annual meetings usually aren’t frequent enough. Don’t bring in outsiders – rather, focus on team-building. Keep them easy to attend and don’t overburden the schedule.
Bad meetings at the executive level usually indicate a huge gap between performance and potential.
Meetings are a puzzling paradox. They are both critical and painful. But there is nothing inherently bad about meetings. We must fundamentally rethink much of the way we perceive and manage meetings.
Stop looking for technology that bypasses meetings and stop worrying as much about agendas and minutes.
Bad meetings start with the attitudes and approaches of the people who lead and take part in them.
The 2 biggest problems with meetings
1. They are boring – because they lack conflict
2. They are ineffective – because they lack contextual structure
The truth is, the only thing more painful than confronting an uncomfortable topic is pretending it doesn’t exist.
Leaders of meetings must have disciplined spontaneity – they must avoid the urge to prepare an agenda ahead of time and allow the meeting to take shape as it is happening.