“The good news is that there is nothing inherent about meetings that make them bad, and so it is entirely possible to transform them into compelling, productive and fun activities.” (Patrick Lencioni)

The dreaded weekly meeting

Patrick Lencioni, in his book ‘Death by Meeting’, gives a typical example of a meeting all too many of us have witnessed too often:

  • The meeting is a standard (Monday) morning staff meeting scheduled from 9 am to 11 am.
  • The leader prepares an agenda (often following last Monday’s agenda and circulates it to everyone for comment. Of course, he receives none.
  • The meeting starts late.
  • The first item on the agenda (but not necessarily the most important one) occupies the first long hour because people know they are there for two hours, so they find something to say.
  • The second item (again, not necessarily the second most important one) soaks up another 45 minutes, leaving fifteen minutes for the remaining topics.
  • The meeting adjourns at 11.20 with everyone frustrated for different reasons.

Sound familiar?

The single biggest structural problem facing leaders of meetings is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed in the same meeting, like a bad stew with too many random ingredients. Then they sit down for two or three or four hours to hash everything out. It’s ineffective and unsatisfying for everyone.

So, there are some questions that arise for me in the above meeting that may be useful for you to ask about your meetings:

  1. Why do we have standard meetings? What is their specific purpose?
  2. Once we know the specific purpose – i.e. chuck out the random ingredients – we can decide what the important ingredients (agenda items) are – i.e. the agenda items that will achieve that purpose;
  3. Once we know which the important agenda items are for that purpose, we can build a hierarchy of agenda items – i.e. we can deal with them in order of importance.

To conclude

Different meetings have different purposes – and I deal with these in this month’s podcast. For the moment, try taking these three steps and notice what happens over time: how attendees prepare better and are more focused on their contributions. Put another way, notice how your meetings become more effective and even satisfying.

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