I recently read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. This book is a must read for any leader who wants to improve the quality of meetings in his or her organization. Every team could benefit from the insights shared in this leadership fable.
The problem with meetings is that they are often boring, and they don’t usually get the desired results. There are a couple of reasons this happens. I’d like to share some of what I learned from Lencioni’s book and encourage you to read it if you would like to have killer meetings instead of death by meetings.
Two Problems With Meetings
Major Problem #1 is Lack of Conflict. But not the bad kind of conflict. NOT personal conflict. It’s the kind we have in the plot of a movie or novel. There is a problem to be solved. It drives the meeting forward in a narrative fashion. There is a story. There will be conflict between the ‘characters’ in the meeting, but we want it to be constructive conflict around important issues directly related to the problem. Conflict will result in better decisions. There will be ideological differences. Leaders have to help to create some of the urgency needed for a plot to be interesting. If meetings lack conflict, they are boring. And they basically result in people ‘hanging out’ together instead of solving problems together. Lencioni suggests three ideas leaders can use to help get meaningful dialogue started.
Hook Example – “We have a real problem with apathy. 50% of our students failed at least one class last year. We are all dealing with bored, disengaged students. We don’t want to see students coast through school and pay the price later. We aim for excellence here, and we aren’t getting excellence out of all our students.”
Mining for Conflict – Confront issues that need to be addressed. Don’t avoid them.
Real-time Permission – Let others know the conflict is good. “I’m glad we are having this discussion, even though it may be a little uncomfortable and force us to rethink our work.”
Major Problem #2 is Lack of Contextual Structure. When different types/purposes for the meeting are all lumped together in “meeting stew” with no distinction, the meeting goes all over the place. People talk to fill up the time but not toward a goal or purpose. The dialogue isn’t leading to a decision.
Lencioni presents several types of meetings, but I found two of these to be particularly useful in our school setting.
Lightning Round – A quick, around-the-table reporting session in which everyone indicates two or three priorities for the week. It should take each team member no more than one minute to quickly describe what is on their respective plates. It sets the tone for the meeting.
Progress Review – Reporting of critical information or metrics. What are the key areas of progress either ongoing or established at the previous meeting? Limit metrics to just 2 or 3. Limit discussion of underlying issues here.
Real-time agenda – Once the lightning round and progress review are complete, the agenda is set by what everyone is working on and how the group is performing against its goals, not based on the leader’s best guess 48 hours before the meeting. There must be disciplined spontaneity here. What are the next steps? “Should we develop a more effective question for the common assessment?” “What are we going to do this week about the increasing Ds and Fs in our classes?” Stay focused on tactical issues that must be addressed to ensure short-term objectives are not jeopardized. Any obstacles to tactical issues must be removed.
Meetings don’t have to be a waste of time. They can actually save time, because our results are better when our meetings are better. We can be proactive. Alignment saves time because we pull together instead of pulling in a multitude of directions.
A few other notes…
The meeting should always focus on the people in the room. What are we (these people) going to do about the problem? If there is a need to partner with others in addressing the problem, invite them to the next meeting.
Meetings generate energy when…
1. Teams brag about wins
2. Relationships are strengthened
3. The path forward is clear
4. Accountability focuses on the people around the table
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