Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni

As the title suggests, Lencioni's Death by Meeting is built upon the widely accepted fact that meetings are killing businesses slowly but surely, every day, all over the world.  Lencioni also believes strongly that meetings should be energetic, vital, and enjoyable as they shape the organizations that hold them. Specifically, he believes that meetings suck because they lack both drama and a contextual structure. 

For the former, he draws an analogy with movies.  While a good movie can keep you on the edge of your seat with tears in your eyes and a pounding heart for two hours, a two hour meeting most often induces boredom, sleep, and frustration.  The difference is that movie directors know how use drama, especially within the first ten minutes, to hook the audience into caring.  Just as importantly, screenwriters use conflict to inject pure, genuine, passion into their films.  In a business meeting passion is just as important, but unfortunately idealogical conflict is misperceived as impolite or hurtful rather than constructive.

To illustrate lack of contextual structure, he borrows from TV shows.  Imagine if TV executives decided all programs would be the same length and include elements from headline news, 30 minute sitcoms, hour long dramas, 3-hour movies of the week, and 5-night miniseries.  That is often how business meetings are designed.  To combat that, he proposes a regular sequence of various types (contexts) of meetings to address specific issues.
  • Daily Check-in
    • 5 minutes
    • Share daily schedules and activities.
    • Remain standing; dont' sit down.  Keep it administrative.  Don't cancel due to absences.
  • Weekly Tactical
    • 45-90 minutes
    • Review weekly activities and metrics.  Resolve tactical obstacles and issues.
    • Don't set agenda until after initial reporting.  Postpone strategic discussions.
  • Monthly Strategic
    • 2-4 hours
    • Discuss, analyze, brainstorm, and decide upon critical issues affecting long-term success.
    • Limit to 1-2 topics, prepare and do research, engage in good conflict.
  • Quarterly off-site review
    • 1-2 days
    • Review strategy, industry trends, competitive landscape, key personnel, team development.
    • Get out of office, focus on work, limit social activities, don't overstructure or overburden the schedule.

Like the three other Lencioni books I've read, this one was finished in slightly under 3 hours.  And it all would've been illuminating if I hadn't read pretty much the same stuff over a year ago in Verne Harnish's Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.  Lencioni does give Harnish some credit, but other than that the recommendations are about the same.  Not to draw too fine a line, but Harnish’s advocates these meetings:

  • Daily Huddles
    • 5-15 minute
    • What's Up? Daily Measures. Where are you stuck?
  • Weekly
    • 1 hour
    • 5 minutes for good news. 10 minutes for the numbers. 10 minutes for customer and employee feedback. 30 minutes on a single, important issue.
    • Have everyone make a single statement to close.
  • Monthly
    • 2-4 hours
    • The focus of these meetings should be learning.
    • Review the P&L.  Gauge progress on priorities.  Train middle managers.
  • Quarterly
  • Annual

Unlike Harnish’s, Lencioni's book is an easy read that uses his typical “fable” style that makes the topic a bit more enjoyable.  Harnish’s book, however, covers a lot more than just a meeting schedule.  In fact, Harnish’s book is the only business book I’ve re-read immediately after finishing it the first time in order to take better notes and fully digest his ideas.

As a bonus (if you consider it as much), I also took this opportunity to quickly review another of Lencioni's books I read a while ago but wanted to refresh: The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.

In this book, Lencioni shares his ideas on what makes for a healthy organization.  Without preamble, they are:
  • Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team.
    • Cohesive teams build trust, eliminate politics, and increase efficiency by...
        • Knowing one another's unique strengths and weaknesses
        • Openly engaging in constructive idealogical conflict
        • Holding one another accountable for behaviors and actions
        • Committing to group decisions
    • Create organizational clarity.
      • A healthy organization minimizes the potential for confusion by clarifying...
        • Why the organization exists
        • Which behavioral values are fundamental
        • What specific business it is in
        • Who its competitors are
        • How it is unique
        • What it plans to achieve
        • Who is responsible for what
    • Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity
      • Healthy organizations align their employees around organizational clarity by communicating key messages through...
        • Repetition: Don't be afraid to repeat the same message, again and again.
        • Simplicity: The more complicated the message, the more potential for confusion and inconsistency.
        • Multiple Mediums: People react to information in many ways; use a variety of mediums.
        • Cascading Messages: Leaders communicate key messages to direct reports; the cycle repeats itself until the message is heard by all.
    • Reinforce Organizational Clarity Through Human Systems
      • Organizations sustain their Health by ensuring consistency in...
        • Hiring
        • Managing Performance
        • Rewards and recognition
        • Employee dismissal

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