Patrick Lencioni has sat through too many lethal meetings in his corporate career. In fact, that's one of the main reasons he left the corporate career track. After years of working at Bain & Company, Oracle, and Sybase, where he was president of organizational development, he jumped ship with four other employees and founded his own consultancy, The Table Group, in 1997.
With his new best-selling business book Death by Meeting (2004, Jossey-Bass), Lencioni is becoming known as the doctor of the weekly meeting. The book's story centers around Casey McDaniel, whose computer game company is bought out by a competitor and whose job is on the line because an observant exec begins to question McDaniel's competence based on the way he holds his meetings. The book's executive summary shares Lencioni's strategies for building better meetings, which have to do with holding different types of meetings for different purposes (“daily check-ins” vs. “monthly strategics”). “The single biggest structural problem facing leaders of meetings today,” he says, “is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed into the same meeting.” It's like a bad stew, with too many ingredients.
What is the ultimate result of poorly planned and executed meetings?
The real cost isn't wasted time — the far greater cost is the cost of the bad decisions you make about important things, like, let's say, a new product. If people are bored, they're not going to make the right decisions. So there's a human cost, a financial cost, and a strategic cost.
Should managers eliminate staff meetings?
The answer is not to not hold them at all, but to make them better. If people accept the proposition that meetings are bad, there's no hope that they'll get better. But meetings are critical to an organization. That's like a surgeon saying he doesn't want to operate.
So, let us in on the secret to making your staff meetings better.
You don't make them better, you make them great. It's not about making them more fun. It's about making them so relevant that people can't imagine not being there. I use meetings in my company as an example. We roll up our sleeves, argue, struggle, and two and a half hours later, the clock has spun by. We know the importance of meetings, and we're passionate about them.
Why don't more managers get it?
I think people get used to things and think that that's just the way they are. It's like the college professor who sees people nodding off as he lectures and figures, “Well, that's just what college kids do.” Also, maybe some managers shouldn't be leaders. As a leader, I get really frustrated when I see people being bored. These people have convinced themselves that the problem is the meeting, not them.