My book review is on Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting. In classic Lencioni fashion, most of the book is a fable: this one is about the owner of Yip Software, who decides to sell his company to a publicly traded firm because he wanted the quick financial gains for his team. He quickly regrets the decision when the market falls dramatically and he is confronted with a major concern about his deadly business meetings.
This review could get very long since there are many great takeaways, and the story is fun. And if you are really interested in making your meetings more effective, I recommend the book. But since I try to keep my book reviews on the short side, and don’t usually write about some of his suggestions, I’ll skip outlining the story and take a deeper dive on a couple of his recommendations.
In short, Lencioni finds that meetings miss the mark because they are boring and lack an appropriate structure. I’ve written blogs on how to structure project meetings for more effectiveness, but I haven’t spent much time on operational meetings, and so I’ll focus on two kinds that Lencioni recommends; specifically, Weekly Tactical meetings and Monthly Strategic meetings.
Weekly Tactical Meetings He describes tactical meetings as those periodic meetings where teams gather to discuss and make decisions on the short-term “how” questions that arise in the daily operation of a business. He recommends these practices:
Meetings open with the team (everyone needs to be there) quickly identifying top priorities, typically for the week, though this timeframe is not etched in stone. This is simply an identification process, not a discussion of these subjects.
The team continues by quickly reviewing key performance metrics. Don’t try to look at everything. Know your company’s KPIs, (key performance indicators) as they are frequently called.
After the team has reviewed the top priorities and performance metrics (this shouldn’t take more than 10 – 15 minutes), the team creates an agenda for the meeting. The goal is for this meeting to cover those tactical issues that are near and dear to the team. Hold any strategic (longer-term) questions for the monthly strategic meetings, which I discuss later.
The goals of this meeting are to resolve problems and ensure that everyone is on the same page and can communicate positions effectively.
I recommend that teams prioritize the agenda items and quickly work towards identifying the questions to be resolved in the meeting. While you want to encourage healthy debate that involves everyone in the room and surface disagreements so they can be resolved, I don’t think never-ending brainstorming works well. At some point, after hearing all perspectives, the leader has to make a decision, and the team has to agree to move on. I also recommend that some outline of what happened at the meeting be posted somewhere or disseminated to the team. It should note any resulting action items and assignments.
Monthly Strategic meetings Lencioni describes these meetings as a place where “executives wrestle with, analyze, debate, and decide upon critical issues (but only a few) that will affect the business in fundamental ways.” (p. 241)
He cautions readers to not commingle tactical and strategic issues. I laughed when he compared that to trying to resolve a serious disciplinary issue with your child while you are discussing dinner plans. My takeaways from his discussion on monthly strategic meetings are:
When a pressing strategic issue arises (typically in the Weekly Tactical meetings) consider arranging for an “ad hoc strategic meeting.” (p. 242) This shouldn’t happen very often but when it does, it shows that leadership understands how to prioritize the important over the urgent.
It’s important to have a regularly scheduled strategic meeting to make sure that executives don’t get too bogged down in the tactical side and keep their focus on strategy.
Lencioni recommends a couple of hours to discuss each item to ensure that there is plenty of healthy debate. So a meeting with three items could last most of a day. It can take time to peel the onion and get to the heart of a big question.
Disseminate your agenda in plenty of time and with enough clarity about what kind of research and preparation are needed and who will do that work.
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