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How to Avoid the Drudgery of Business Meetings


Instead of writing a self-help book on business leadership, management analyst Patrick Lencioni penned a series of fictional tales that make their point through narratives. “The Five Temptations of a CEO” focuses on a CEO and the five temptations he faces in management; “Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive” zeros in on the head of a consulting firm who’s having trouble with organization and its rivals; and “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” tells the story of a female CEO of a struggling Silicon Valley firm. However, it’s Lencioni’s “Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable… About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business” that features a familiar issue many executives lament about and dread: boring business meetings.

“We complain about, try to avoid, and long for end of meetings, even when we’re running the darn things! How pathetic is it that we have come to accept that the activity most central to the running of our organizations is inherently painful and unproductive?” Lencioni asks.

Patrick Lencioni

To illustrate how disadvantageous boring meetings can be and how to avoid the “drudgery of meetings,” Lencioni has structured his book in two parts: The Fable and The Model. In the fable part, Lencioni spins a story around Casey McDaniel, the founder and CEO of Yip Software, and Will Peterson, an assistant. What both have in common is a painful realization of how unbearable the weekly staff meetings have become. It also doesn’t help that Yip is quite the underachiever and the staff is complacent and unmotivated, something that mystifies Casey until Will begins to analyze the situation in detail.

In the second part of the book, Lencioni sets out to solve the quandary of how to make business meetings more efficient and fun by offering five tips:

  • Know the reason for your meeting: Is it about solving a tactical, short-term problem, or a critical strategic issue? Avoid letting your meeting morph into a combination of all of these, which will make participants more confused about what’s expected from them.
  • Explain what’s at stake. Do participants understand the ramifications of having a bad meeting? Do they know what could go wrong if bad decisions are made? If not, why should they care?
  • Be interesting. Know from the get-go how to engage. If you don’t, you might as well invite participants to leave.
  • Manage time. A great meeting is not about how short it is, or whether it ends on time. What’s important is whether it ends with clarity and commitment from participants.
  • Provoke conflict. If your people are tired at the end of a meeting, they’re probably not mixing it up enough and getting to the bottom of important issues. Seek out opposing views and ensure they are brought out in the open.

Harvard Business Review has called “Death by Meeting” an “engaging, fast-paced, dramatic story [that] will drive home its lessons better than any textbook,” and Goodreads reviewers praised it as “hands down, the best book on how to run a meeting of any kind” and “exceptional … along with Lencioni’s other books, this is [a] must-read for every business person.”

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