Before the school year is fully underway, I wanted to give a review on the book Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. The book’s name and cover picture likely sum up people’s feelings about meetings. We (very often) find ourselves in meetings without purpose, which do not lead to action or change, and meetings that are just not interesting. We may feel helpless or treat these as inevitable realities, but that’s not the case.
Lencioni has a humanizing and accessible approach to the topic. The book is 274 pages and approximately 80% is written as a fictional story. Readers are introduced to characters in a fictional company dealing with a problem they didn’t know (or think to admit) they had: bad meetings. The characters have depth and personality, but are easily interchanged with people readers know at their own organization.
Through the story, Lencioni introduces his simple but revolutionary approach to meetings. While the concepts are applied through examples in the story, the final 20% of the book ditches the fiction and recaps elements of the approach. The combination of the straightforward concepts and story-like examples help cement the information and enable the reader to see applications of this concept.
Given the book’s title, I would have expected Lencioni to coach on how to cut back on meetings. Instead, he offers opposite advice (sort of). It’s not necessarily that Lencioni thinks people need to have more meetings overall. Rather we should transform the type of meetings we hold. His model consists of four meeting types:
Daily Check-in (approximately 5-10 min):
Share daily schedules and activities
Weekly Tactical (45-90 min):
Review weekly activities and metrics, and resolve tactical obstacles and issues
Monthly Strategic (2-4 hours):
Discuss, analyze, brainstorm and decide upon critical issues affecting long term success
Quarterly Off-site Review (1-2 days):
Review strategy, competitive landscape, industry trends, key personnel, team development
The core of Lencioni’s approach argues we blend too many approaches or strategies into one type of meeting. This results in muddled efforts and mixed reactions from attendees. While folks may balk at the idea of trying to schedule multi-hour sessions, it’s not as wild as you think. Given the email exchanges, additional meetings, and other follow up efforts on a topic, an initial a 2-4 hour chunk of time one day may indeed be more efficient, timely, and productive.
This books was especially compelling for me. It spoke to a core frustration or disappointing reality encountered on a regular basis. It also provided simple and realistic steps to rectify the situation. I’m pleased to report my office leadership agreed to restructure our inter-team meetings according to this model. Meetings are now more focused and generate a better sense of purpose when meeting or discussing topics. There is a noticeable transformation in the meeting room energy and productivity (during and after meetings).
My recap/explanation of Lencioni’s approach is not complete or necessarily doing him justice. I hope some of this content has piqued your interest. Even if it hasn’t but you admit meetings are not as productive as they could be, it’s worth checking out the book to see whether this simple approach could work for you or your area.
(Originally published on Student Affairs Collective)