Death by Meeting (How High Functioning Teams Rise Above it)


The title of this article is from Patrick Lencioni’s book “Death by Meeting”. It is centered on one of the most painful problems of business: bad meetings. While it’s true that much of the time spent in meetings is wasted, the solution is not to stop having meetings but to make them better. Lencioni’s examples hit straight to the point: Imagine the surgeon saying, “If I didn’t have to operate on people, I might actually like this job.” Or the professional baseball player: “I’d love my job if I didn’t have to play in these games.” Just doesn’t make sense, yet that is what we do when we dread our meetings.

Good meetings provide opportunities to improve execution by accelerating decision making and eliminating the need to revisit issues again and again.

High functioning teams create highly functioning meetings with these steps:

Purpose: Create one sentence about why you are having the meeting.  Is it strategic, team building, or to learn from each other?  We set up meetings based on what we’re trying to get done, not because “we’ve always done it on Monday mornings”.   I’ve seen too many of these meetings where people talk about the company outing instead of getting down to the agenda.

Maximum of three outputs:  What are we going to achieve; what are the meeting outcomes?

Agenda:  Know what you’re covering and how long each topic will take.

Start on time, end on time: People show up late because meetings are booked back to back with no buffer-time built in. Airlines have buffers to make sure we show up on time for flights: pre-screening, boarding times, doors closing. Here are a couple of buffers you might want to try:

● Stop meetings five minutes prior to the ending time. This allows everyone to have that buffer to go to the bathroom, get a cup of coffee, walk down the hall to the next meeting and be seated before it starts.
● Book meetings for less time than you first consider. The idea is that if you compress time, people will end up getting it done because you control the agenda and stay on topic.

Three meeting roles: Moderator, time keeper, and parking lot.  The moderator makes sure the meeting stays on track and doesn’t go off on tangents.  The timekeeper keeps to each agenda item.  If an item is allotted 7 minutes and that time is up, it’s time to move on to the next item.  The parking lot role says, “We don’t have time to talk about that in this meeting.  Let’s put it in the parking lot and talk about it later”.

There are four primary types of meetings:

  1. Yearly/quarterly off-site retreat. Effective offsite meetings allow teams to step away from the daily, weekly, even monthly issues to plan the business in a more holistic, long-term, strategic manner.
  2. The monthly strategic meeting. In many ways, this is the most important type of meeting a team can have, and can also be the most fun. The team wrestles with, analyzes, debates and decides on a few critical issues that will affect the business in a fundamental way. This allows executives to delve into the top issues without the distractions of deadlines and tactical concerns.
  3. The weekly or every other week tactical meeting. Every team needs to have regular meetings focused exclusively on tactical issues of immediate concern. What matters is that it is run with a sense of discipline and structural consistency.
  4. The seven minute pulse. These are standup meetings at 11:00am, when mid-morning energy drops. People share good news or key frustrations. It’s kind of like the football huddle where the team talks about plays, shares information and gets everyone pumped up to drive the business forward.

How do we cultivate the habit of running meetings properly?

Understanding how to properly run meetings is entirely different from going out and living it day to day. Do you think: “This is crazy! Where am I going to find the time to do all of this? I’m already in too many meetings.”

While it’s true that much of the time we spend in meetings is wasted, we can make them better. When meetings are properly utilized, they actually become time savers.

How could you increase the effectiveness of your meetings?

Need help with this topic or leadership coaching? Contact Mission Critical Teams.