There was a time when I worked for a nonprofit and we used to call the staff meetings “staff beatings” because they were so horrible. People left completely unmotivated and broken. It was all we could do to rally for another week. It doesn’t matter if you run a nonprofit or a for-profit—anyone who is in business knows that the most dreaded part of the workday is the meeting. They last too long, they take time away from real work, and they sap workers of energy and enthusiasm.
In Death by Meeting, from best-selling author Patrick Lencioni, readers are invited to take a contrarian, nontraditional view of meetings that will transform what is now a painful and tedious activity into something that is meaningful and productive.
Lencioni argues, meetings are usually unfocused and any and all topics are given equal discussion time; the result is that they end up being ineffective and participants leave feeling unsatisfied. Instead, the solution is to hold different kinds of meetings for different purposes—four, in fact.
Meeting #1: The Daily Check-In: The purpose of the Daily Check-in is to hear what other staff members have on their agendas for the day, in order to avoid unnecessary and time-consuming email chains about schedule coordination and to make sure that important tasks don’t fall through the cracks. Daily Check-ins should last five minutes—10 minutes tops—and should be done standing up to ensure that they don’t last longer.
Meeting #2: The Weekly Tactical: A Weekly Tactical should last between 45 and 90 minutes and should focus exclusively on tactical issues of immediate concern. Critical elements include:
The Lightning Round: This is a one-minute, around-the-table reporting session in which every team member relates their two or three priorities for the week.
Progress Review: Members report critical information or metrics on issues such as revenue, customer satisfaction, inventory, etc. Lengthy discussions of underlying issues should be avoided here; the progress review should last no more than five minutes.
Real-Time Agenda: Contrary to popular belief (and practice), the agenda for a meeting should not be set beforehand; instead, once the lightning round and progress review are completed, the team leader should decide which tactical issues are most pressing and are to be addressed during the meeting.
Meeting #3: The Monthly Strategic: This is the meeting where team members can really sink their teeth into an issue and engage in an open-ended conversation and debate. Monthly Strategics are what Lencioni calls the “parking lot” for critical strategic issues that come up during the Weekly Tactical meetings.
Meeting #4: The Quarterly Off-Site Review: Off-site meetings have justifiably earned a reputation for being more of a social gathering than a time to explore the long-term vision of the organization. According to Lencioni, this is a time for executives to step away from daily distractions and to reflect on and discuss the state of the organization.
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