“How am I going to get any work done, if I spend all my time in meetings?”
We’ve all thought it. But I want to challenge the view that meetings are inherently bad. I have sat through plenty of meetings (and, in fact, chaired a few) where I absolutely get why this is the case – ineffectual, circuitous, frustrating, irrelevant. But inspired by Lencioni’s Death by Meeting, I am an absolute convert to his belief that this is entirely avoidable.
If you haven’t read Death by Meeting and you are a leader, you really should. The effect of bad meetings on a team can be huge – more so than you may realise. Lencioni clearly shows his readers how meetings can be turned into the best part of someone’s week. It is not, though, through more detailed preparation, agendas or minutes. Instead, he advises leaders to adopt some principles which may be counter-intuitive at first, but will soon prove their worth.
The two problems with bad meetings
Lencioni’s view is that meetings have two fundamental problems. The first is that they lack drama. Think here (and this perhaps gives you an insight into my non-working life) of Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol, rather than Dickensian, Sherlock Holmes, Game of Thrones or Holby City depending on your inclinations. The second is that, he claims, they lack context and purpose. Think here a random (and therefore confusing) mix of strategy, information, administration, operational issues and review. The result – a meeting which seems to go on forever with no decisions made that get the commitment of the entire team.
How do you create a soap opera?
Building on his ideas in Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni convincingly tells us that meetings need to be engaging. How? By identifying and encouraging conflict. This is something all good authors and screenwriters know well. There’s no better way to captivate your reader or viewer than through a good-old fashioned bit of tension – and this needs to happen pretty quickly to avoid someone changing the channel.
What does that mean for your meeting? Make sure the items and issues which will cause the most debate are tabled right at the start. Lencioni asserts that this way – expecting people to tackle these issues until a resolution has been agreed – can create authentic and irresistible drama, thus preventing participants from switching off.
Which episode and why?
Of course unless there is clarity over the purpose of a meeting, even high drama will be worthless. Lencioni here does not talk about agendas and minutes, but distinguishes between different types of meetings. His solution here is to have more meetings. This DOES NOT necessarily mean more time in meetings, but making sure there are distinct types of meetings. He outlines the following types:
The Daily Check-in
This is an administrative meeting that should last no more than 5 or 10 minutes. The purpose is simply to keep team members aligned and to provide a daily forum for activity updates and scheduling.
The Weekly Tactical
This is what most people would call staff meetings. These should be about an hour, and focus on the discussion and resolution of issues which effect short term objectives. Again building on ideas in his other books, he shows that these actually work best if there is no pre-set agenda. He advocates that the agenda should be determined at the start of the meeting by quickly reviewing the team’s priorities for that week. This ensures focus is only on the most pressing and important issues.
The Monthly Strategic
This is the most interesting kind of meeting for leaders, and for Lencioni is the most important indicator of an organisation’s strategic vision. This is the meeting for big topics and issues which will have long-term impact. These issues require more time and a different setting, one in which participants can present and debate ideas to come up with the best solution. Each strategic meeting should include no more than one or two topics, and should allow approximately 90 minutes for each topic.
The Quarterly Off-Site Review
This is the final type of meeting and is an opportunity for team members to step away from the day to day business of the organisation and reassess how the team is performing, strategy, morale and so on. These are likely to take a full day.
So at the end of the first day back, and after what I am sure have been many minutes spent in some form of meeting by many of us, give Lencioni some thought. As leaders, meetings are part and parcel of what we do. The solution is perhaps not to get rid of them, but to make sure we transform them into the most compelling part of the day.