Death By Meeting

Summary Written by Chris Taylor
"The guy sitting down for a sitcom has very different expectations than he does when he's going to a movie. Or watching Headline News at the airport."

- Death by Meeting, page 141

The Big Idea

Turning meetings into movies

"The leaders of these meetings have to think of themselves as directors. Get people hooked in those first ten minutes, then mine for ideological conflict, then drive it to conclusion."- Death by Meeting, page 164

One more time: Great movies have a) believable characters, b) engaging conflict and c) a standardized structure. We “get into movies” because we connect with the characters and want to see them overcome (or occasionally be defeated by) the obstacles they face. And yet, as Lencioni points out, the outcome of a movie rarely (if ever) has any real impact on our lives. They’re a nice break from reality, but that’s where their impact ends. Meetings, on the other hand, do impact your reality. They’re already populated with a great cast (you and your colleagues) and, if they’re set up properly, they can absolutely have the same level of conflict and structure that we find so engaging on the big screen.

Insight #1

Mining for Conflict

"(Everyone) needs to be looking for places where people have different opinions but aren't necessarily putting them out there. And when you see that, you need to force them to communicate what they're thinking until they've said all there is to be said. You need to be constantly mining for buried conflict."- Death by Meeting, page 122

Movies would be pretty boring if the characters simple took turns being on screen, talking about the events of their past week and the week upcoming. It would also be a huge waste of time, money and energy for the people involved in making the films. Meetings are no different, in that regard. When you put 2 or more intelligent people in a room together, they’re bound to have differing opinions and values. Exploit that. The full value of teams is what I’m calling “collective autonomy”; a group working together to accomplish their shared goals, yet each bringing their own strengths, experiences, interests and opinions to the table.

Too many of us seem afraid to speak up and question our peers during meetings. Do it with respect, and do it with an end goal of mutual gain, but be sure you do it. Question everything and, on the flip side of that, be open to your peers questioning your logic or suggestions. It’s not personal, it’s about making sure everyone’s on the same page and buying in to the final decision, whatever that may be. Make sure your team is making informed decisions by making sure everyone is heard.

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Insight #2

Avoid Meeting Stew

"The biggest problem with our meetings, and meetings in general, is structure. ... Our problem is not that we're having too many meetings. Our problem is that we're having too few of them."- Death by Meeting, page 135

I’ve done it with my team. I have no doubt that if you lead a team, you’ve done it with yours. I’m talking about “The meandering meeting”, where we leap from topic to topic, covering everything from the minute the monumental, with nothing more than an agenda item point to separate the topics. One of the great wakeup calls for me in Death by Meeting was the reminder that it’s almost impossible for people to shift mindset from a tactical issue to a strategic one. (page 159)

Our meetings aren’t effective when we’re mixing in every element of the business. All attendees deserve to have a clear understanding of the meeting’s purpose, whether it’s tactically based or strategic, and that relevant topics are going to get the time they deserve. Lencioni talks about four distinct types of meetings that we should be having:

  1. The Daily Check In – 5 minute standing meeting to touch base on needs and actions for that day.
  2. The Weekly Tactical – 60 minutes, comprised of quick updates, a progress review of key (no more than 6) metrics and a “real time” agenda – focused on the most pressing tactical decisions that arise during the quick updates and progress review.
  3. The Monthly Strategic – 120 minutes per topic on the “directional based decisions”.
  4. The Monthly Retreat – an offsite 2 days to discuss all the “other pieces” of the business – Key Employees, Industry Trends, etc.

If you haven’t read Death by Meeting, the list above may seem overwhelming. In reality, it’s completely the opposite. By keeping the context clear on each meeting, you’ll find your team to be more engaged and more passionate in debate, allowing for more productive meetings in general.

I truly believe every leader should own a copy of this book to have on hand. For those of us that spend a good deal of our time in meetings, Death by Meeting is a guidebook like no other. Your business is meant to be fun, and meetings are the cornerstone of that engagement. Dive in.

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Patrick Lencioni

Patrick Lencioni is founder and president of The Table Group, Inc., a specialized management-consulting firm focused on organizational health. He has been described by The One-Minute Manager’s Ken Blanchard as “fast defining the next generation of leadership thinkers.”Pat’s passion for organizations and teams is reflected in his writing, speaking, and consulting. Lencioni is the author of nine best-selling books with nearly 3 million copies sold. After several years in print, his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team continues to be a fixture on national best-seller lists. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, became an instant best-seller in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times andBusinessWeek. And his latest work, Getting Naked, was released in February 2010.The Wall Street Journal has named Lencioni one of the most in-demand business speakers. And he has been a keynote speaker on the same ticket with George Bush Sr., Jack Welch, Rudy Guiliani, and General Colin Powell.Pat’s work has been featured in numerous publications such asBusinessWeek, Fast Company, INC Magazine, USA Today, Fortune, Drucker Foundation’ Leader to Leader, and Harvard Business Review.As a consultant and speaker, he has worked with thousands of senior executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 corporations and professional sports teams to universities and nonprofits, including Southwest Airlines, Barnes & Noble, General Mills, Newell Rubbermaid, SAP, Washington Mutual, and the US Military Academy at West Point.Prior to founding The Table Group, Pat worked at Bain & Company, Oracle Corporation, and Sybase, where he was vice president of organizational development. He also served on the National Board of Directors for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America from 2000-2003.Pat lives in the Bay Area with his wife Laura and four boys.

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