Recently, on the recommendation of my colleague I read Patrick Lencioni‘s
Death By Meeting. It wasn’t
what I expected, but in such a good way. Every few pages came insight after insight which led to a very sobering experience.
Meetings don’t have to suck. They can actually be productive and engaging.
The eye opener has been that meetings shouldn’t be simply a gathering of bodies in a room, agenda or no agenda. They shouldn’t
be raging with boredom, distraction, and mental check outs; they shouldn’t be draining motivation and energy even before they
begin; they shouldn’t be what we think of when we think of “meetings”. Of course, deep down I never thought meetings
should be all of these things, but Lencioni paints a picture of what could be in a way that I hadn’t thought of or envisioned.
So if meetings shouldn’t be these dreadful gatherings that routinely come to mind when we think of meetings, what should they
be? Well, in a Lencionian world they should be similar to a movie: full of conflict and drama.
Conflict?! Yes, conflict! Meetings are vessels in which we come together as teams. They facilitate discussions and
guide decisions that determine our identity and follow-through as an organization. They should be dynamic, interactive,
and challenging. We should be pushing one another to make the best decisions we can because of how important those decisions
are in the days that follow. We owe it to ourselves, our clients, and everyone we work with to be engaged in open, honest, and
But this conflict isn’t petty or subversive. It’s not only energizing and challenging, but also respectful and constructive.
The purpose is to engage in finding the best ideas, making the best decisions, and to provide a framework for authentic buy-in
and support no matter what decisions are made. This kind of commitment is very hard to achieve when we aren’t actively engaging
with one another, vibrantly pushing the conversation further.
However, this drama by itself isn’t enough, at least not without contextual structure. Contextual structure provide a basis for
clearly understanding the purpose, goals, and boundaries of a meeting. Daily stand-ups have a different goal, scope, and purpose
than a weekly planning meeting which itself is different than a monthly strategic. So often we throw everything together in one
meeting, into a Meeting Stew, and wonder why it doesn’t work.
Only so much can be accomplished in a given amount of time. Without recognizing and respecting the differences amongst the various
types of meetings, it all blends together. This blending kills the ability to make real headway on anything. A weekly resource
planning meeting shouldn’t be the place to change strategic direction on a product or switch marketing focus. Those conversations
take longer and need their own time and place to have dedicated thinking and discussion. When something emergent that just can’t
wait comes up, Lencioni recommends an ad-hoc meeting with clear purpose and scope. Keeping an ad-hoc meeting separate from others
will help us stay focused and move forward together without diminishing the value of planned meetings.
Thinking about meetings in a positive light is not easy. There are too many past experiences and assumptions that have been ingrained
in my brain. My challenge is to unlearn those and embrace the type of meeting that Lencioni speaks of. Of course now, it all seems
like common sense. Why didn’t I think of that?
But I didn’t think of it and I’m not going to go easy on myself. It would be easy to give myself a way out to say I didn’t do it
wrong, but the things that I have done right may have been more coincidental than intentional. I certainly did them with good
intentions, but not with the perspective and clarity that I now believe I should have had.
I recognize and embrace this failure. In the spirit of lean start-ups and agile thinking, now is the time to cut my losses and pivot.
So here’s to the death of meetings as I once knew them.