Fall 2004, Vol. 1, No. 2
Patrick Lencioni, Death by Meeting
Reviewed by Lori
S. O'Dea, D.Min.
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004). ix + 260 pages.
of Practical Theology, Assemblies
of God Theological Seminary.
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Patrick Lencioni, the best-selling author of The Five
Dysfunctions of a Team, uses his latest book to solve “the
most painful problem in business,” aka the meeting.
Developing a theme he introduced in Dysfunctions,
Lencioni champions principles for dynamic, meaningful meetings.
Using the leadership fable genre, which he has vastly improved
since his first attempt (The Five Temptations of a CEO),
Lencioni offers a valuable resource to every organization.
His engaging writing makes for easy, enjoyable reading. The
storyline provides context and instructive nuances, but for
bottom line readers, the 30-page executive summary (233-252)
reviews the conceptual teaching.
Lencioni identifies two problems in meetings: (1) they are
boring, and (2) they are ineffective. He maintains the boredom
stems from lack of drama, namely conflict, and the ineffectiveness
results from a lack of contextual structure. Death by
Meeting offers solutions to both problems.
Readers familiar with his earlier writing will recognize
much of the dialogue concerning conflict. Lencioni, borrowing
from his own experience with screenwriting, insists that
great drama centers on great conflict. Most people would
rather see a movie than attend a meeting. Lencioni, though,
shows the irony of this preference by pointing out that meetings
are interactive and directly relevant to our lives, whereas
movies are not.
Bringing drama to meetings depends on two leadership skills.
First, the meeting must begin with a compelling plot. Participants
have to see the importance of their decisions in the first
moments of the meeting. Second, the attendants at meetings
must be encouraged to embrace conflict in the meeting. Conflict
demonstrates a willingness for participants to disagree,
which eradicates the tendency to withhold opinions, and to
Readers interested in learning more about the importance
of conflict in meetings would be best served by reading correlating
passages of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Conflict
can be difficult to manage, causing most leaders to avoid—rather
than encourage—it. The value of healthy conflict has
implications for team dynamics and vision buy-in, as well
as interesting meetings.
Lencioni covers new ground in Death by Meeting with
his treatment of meetings’ contextual structure. Most
organizations have one kind of all-purpose meeting, resulting
in wasted time, little accomplished, and high frustration.
Lencioni proposes four different types of meetings, each
geared to a particular purpose. A helpful chart (249) summarizes
the content of his teaching.
First, Lencioni advocates a Daily Check-in meeting.
This five-minute, stand-up meeting covers strictly administrative
details such as daily schedules and activities. Geared toward
the corporate setting, the author attempts to keep communication
and operations at maximum levels through this daily contact.
The second and third types of meetings, Weekly Tactical and Monthly
Strategic, offer Lencioni’s wisest contribution
regarding context. When tactical issues (urgent, functional
matters) are mixed with the strategic (big picture, vision,
direction issues), little is accomplished. Separating the
two helps shorten the length of the weekly meeting, while
creating space for meaningful strategic discussion.
Last, Lencioni calls for a Quarterly Off-site Review meeting.
Readers will enjoy his humorous attempt to distinguish this
event from the infamous trust-building exercises of earlier
decades’ off-sites. This meeting still focuses on work,
but it gives time for much broader systems analysis, as well
as team development.
Given the necessity of meetings to organizational operations
and the general discontent many experience at said meetings, Death
by Meeting should be required reading for all leaders.
The principles and recommended meeting structures can be
adapted easily to fit different organizational cultures,
while maintaining the power of different contexts. Employing
Lencioni’s meeting structure will not perfect the meeting
experience but it will provide an intentional discipline
that, given time, just might make meetings both attractive
Tuesday, January 18, 2005 9:56 AM