Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni


Last week I finished reading another Patrick Lencioni book Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business. This is another useful contribution from Pat to the corporate world, this time around how to make team meetings effective. I have also read his other books The Ideal Team PlayerThe Five Dysfunctions of a TeamThe Motive, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars in the past. And my next book by Pat will be The Advantage which I plan to finish before this year turns around.

In this book, the author tells us about team meetings – why many employees don’t like meetings (the paradox), and how to make meetings more productive and exciting (the reason for hope). We spend upward of 30% of our time at work in meetings, and yet the majority of those are boring and ineffective.

To make team meetings more engaging, Pat beings the analogy of movies. Just like interesting movies hook the audience from the very beginning, we need to make the first 10 minutes of meetings very engaging to the participants by allowing for drama. We may need to illustrate the consequences of a bad decision, highlight a competitive threat, appeal to participants’ commitments, or remind them of the impact their decision has on their clients, employees or societies at large. 

We also need to accommodate conflicts of ideas in the team meetings. An intelligent group of diverse people will seldom agree on matters of importance. To encourage challenging each other through active debate, the leader of the meeting may give real-time permission for a healthy debate at the start of the meeting.

To give structure to team meetings, the author recommends holding four different types of meetings in different frequencies. Those are – 

(1) Daily Check-In: It’s like news headlines, a daily 5 to 10 minutes morning standup to go round and say what items they are going to act on that particular day.

(2) The Weekly Tactical: It’s weekly staff meeting to be held for 45 to 90 minutes focused entirely on tactical issues of immediate concern. It should start with a lightning round of 1-minute updates from each participant, followed by a progress review on critical business information or metrics, finally ending with a real-time agenda focused on short-term tactical problem-solving that align with team priorities. The key is to resolve the issues at hand and reinforce clarity without giving in to any discussions on long-term strategic issues.

(3) Monthly Strategic / Ad Hoc: This is the long and interesting meeting within the team that focuses on strategic issues for the team, project, or business. It requires a prepared agenda, sent to the participants for research ahead of time, with one or two major topics to discuss for a couple of hours. Impromptu/ad hoc strategic meetings may be called anytime as the need arises but the monthly scheduled strategic meeting should still be put in the calendar.

(4) Quarterly Offsite Review: This is an opportunity for the team to step away from immediate pressing issues that normally command attention, and review the business in a more holistic long-term perspective.

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