I recently read Patrick Lencioni’s book Death by Meeting and first of all, let me start by highly recommending it to anyone who works as part of a team that needs to make decisions together. While there’s a lot to mine from this book, I want to share a couple of points that really jumped out at me.

The Power of Dialogue

Like many of us, I spend a lot of time in meetings, and not all of these meetings feel effective. Again, like many of us, I mostly accepted that as just “the way things are”. Reading this book opened my eyes to the fact that it doesn’t have to be this way.

One of the points that immediately struck me is that effective meetings include dialogue. Some of my meetings had become a monotonous cycle of attendees taking turns making status reports, with very little conversation about any of the reports, or really any dialogue between people in the meeting. This was obviously not a great use of time. If the reports didn’t demand discussion, they could easily be conveyed in another format. Meanwhile, reports that probably should generate discussion often didn’t because everyone fell into the bad habit of not engaging.

By moving to a format where the “nothing wrong here” and “nothing to discuss” reporting was done outside of meeting time, our meetings were able to become more focused just on the items that actually needed discussion.

The Type of Meeting Matters

Another point that really hit home for me is that there are different types of meetings. If all of your meetings are the same, you are likely either trying to merge different types of conversations into the same meeting--losing focus and clarity--or missing out on a category of meeting altogether. While Patrick Lencioni defines four types of meetings, I want to focus on just two here:

  • Tactical meetings: Tactical meetings focus on what’s happening now. This is where you check-in on your key metrics and discuss any obstacles your team is facing in meeting goals or completing necessary activities. Tactical meetings will often follow a set agenda with a consistent format.
  • Strategic meetings: Strategic meetings focus on the bigger picture and the long term. This is where you dive deep into a specific area of your business to analyze and discuss options, ultimately reaching decisions. Strategic meetings should focus on only one or two items, and everyone should typically know ahead of time what the focus for a particular meeting will be so any initial analysis or research can be completed ahead of the meeting.

Our team had fallen into the pattern of trying to merge these two types of meetings into a single meeting each week. We rarely had the time to dive deep into a strategic conversation because most of our time was spent on tactical discussions. Even if we did start into a strategic discussion, because it wasn’t planned ahead of time, the team wasn’t necessarily prepared to discuss that topic, and we often failed to reach any decisions. Having a clearer focus on the different types of meetings helps everyone be prepared and ensures you are able to successfully have both types of conversations, as both are equally necessary.

Defining Goals and Metrics

Finally, in thinking specifically about tactical meetings, I realized that our team doesn’t always clearly define what our primary goals are and/or identify metrics we can readily monitor to track progress against those goals. Without clear goals and metrics, it’s easy to lose focus and spend too much time on less important items, and not enough time on the things that matter most.

This can work at both individual and team levels. At an individual level, I’ve started taking a few minutes each week to identify my most important goals for the week. Out of the many things that I need to get done this week, which ones are the most important? Then, each day, I take a few minutes to identify my number one priority for the day as well. Taking these moments to reflect, and writing down my goals, helps me prioritize appropriately throughout the day and the week.

This is just as important at the team level. Having agreed to common goal metrics means that everyone is working together in the same direction. Monitoring those metrics on a regular basis reinforces priorities and encourages accountability.

Recognizing these obstacles is helping our team have more meaningful and productive conversations. Lencioni’s book dives deeper into the three takeaways I explained in this post and highlights several other helpful strategies that our team has also found success with. Check it out for more ideas!

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