Are you a “Death by Meeting” Leader?

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Over 20 years ago, I was teaching Effective Meetings at a small training firm in Silicon Valley. Naomi Chavez was a manager at Cisco Systems attending my class, and she was so pleased that she recruited me to go to work at Cisco Systems. I’ll always be grateful for my Cisco experience, when at this stage in the company’s history, everything was new, innovative, and exciting, including meetings!  Yet this was the exception in business, not the norm. In most places, meetings are poorly timed, badly run, and lack an organized structure.

On average, leaders spend nearly 23 hours a week in meetings.

Although most agree that they are necessary, they are often viewed as a waste.  The Harvard Business Review published research by Steven Rogelberg, who found:

  • 65% said meetings keep them from completing their own work
  • 71% said meetings were unproductive and inefficient
  • 64% said meetings come at the expense of deep thinking
  • 62% said meetings miss opportunities to bring teams closer”.

In Death by Meeting, a leadership fable by Patrick Lencioni, we read about the struggles of a leader hoping to restore passion that their people deserve. Lencioni finds that meetings are boring because they lack two main crucial factors; drama and contextual structure. Initially, I wondered how drama could be such a crucial component.  Drama in everyday life is something we all have in common. While seemingly annoying and unnecessary at times, it is inescapable, and often very beneficial. Why? Because conflict drives resolution, and for the same reason it sells tickets at theaters, drama keeps people engaged. Without drama things are boring and ineffective.  Drama stirs up conflict and brings diversity of opinions, and the more opinions voiced, the more effective the resolution. As far as lacking contextual structure, Lencioni introduces a fourfold meeting system he designed that takes the critical tasks of a meeting typically crammed into one and spreads about different meetings, each designed for one specific purpose. Key word one. Whether five minutes or two hours, Lencioni emphasizes the importance of the team sticking to the specific focus of the meeting.

The Daily Check In – this is a brief gathering at the start of the clock to gain clairty and avoid misunderstanding.  It eliminates unnecessary and time-consuming emails and starts the day with more efficiency. 

The Weekly Tactical. This one is about an hour each week for quick reporting by each team member to discuss priorities.  This format does not allow for evaluation of major issues, but provides an opportunity to keep everyone informed of progress.  

The Monthly Strategic.  These meetings address what is most important the seen as the most fun, as leaders discuss critical issues that will affect the business in fundamental ways. In the Monthly Strategic, there is not a strict time frame, which is dictated by the topics being discussed and debated. They may be a bit more frequent than monthly, but enough to ensure critical issues are being discussed.

The Ad hoc Meeting.   If a topic is too crucial for weekly tactical, but is urgent and needs to be discussed before the next monthly strategic, it can be assigned to a meeting sub-type called ad hoc.

Whether you decide to read up on the techniques he introduces in his book, or create your own, I have found compartmentalizing the focus of meetings to be very valuable and effective in keeping individuals engaged and focused. Teams who can rally around these types of meetings can attack issues with a sense efficiency and will be successful in advancing the overall health of their company that will have a positive impact in various aspects such as revenue, overall worker happiness, and time management.

When I drill down in leadership workshops, I find that while everyone says they want fewer meetings, what they are really saying is that they want better meetings.  And better might mean that the meeting is not necessary, or it is not necessary for you or someone else to attend.  Michael Hyatt’s book, No Fail Meetings, suggests five steps to orchestrate more productive meetings.  Hyatt says that only 5% of all meetings facilitate brainstorming or other creative functions – in other words, the kinds of meetings people actually enjoy!  Saying “no” to attending a meeting is a reasonable option, unless there is a compelling reason to say “yes”. Hyatt’s fives steps include:

  1. Decide if is important.
  2. Schedule the right people at the right time for the right length and right location.
  3. Prepare a results-driven agenda.
  4. Meet and engage in a powerful, productive conversation.
  5. Follow up by reviewing your meeting notes, completing your assigned tasks, and holding others accountable for theirs.  

Hyatt provides many useful tips in No Fail Meetings, such as eliminating annoying habits and behaviors in meetings.  

I highly recommend Lencioni and Hyatt’s books if you are struggling with meetings.  And, if your organization would benefit from a workshop on Effective Meetings, please let us know.  Sometimes it is useful to have an outside facilitator to lead a meeting, for things such as strategy planning, team development, conflict resolution, or creative problem solving.  We’ve mastered techniques and skills since 1990 that allow our facilitators to help you with these more complex meetings, where you as the leader need to be a participant, not a process facilitator. We love this role and we do it quite well, so give us a call if you’d like to discuss some ideas.

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