Death by Meetings?

For those of you that work in any sort of business environment, how much do you love meetings?

Ok, ok, I can almost hear the groans and see the eye rolls 😊

Recently I took the opportunity to see Patrick Lencioni speak live in Melbourne. If you do not know who he is; Patrick is an American writer of books on business management, particularly in relation to team management. He is best known as the author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a popular business fable that explores work team dynamics and offers solutions to help teams perform better. I use his model quite regularly in my programs which is why I wanted to hear him speak in person, however it was what he said about meetings that really grabbed my attention and changed my perspective.

Most people will talk about meetings in a manner that suggests they feel they have too many of them and they are not an effective use of their time. Some people will say that they spend so much time in meetings that they don’t have time to get their real work done, or that if they didn’t have to spend so much time in meetings, then they would actually be able to enjoy their job. The sad thing is that this has really become quite socially acceptable and many people will be nodding in agreement as a colleague laments the meetings they attend.

This is what Patrick said; complaining about meetings, particularly if you are a leader is actually quite ironic. It would be like a surgeon saying, as he wheeled someone into the operating theatre, ‘You know, I would love this job if I didn’t have to operate on all these people’.

Think about what it means in an organisation to be a leader. Where do Leaders do their leading? Is it from their office or from behind their computers? (Sadly, I do see Leaders who try to do that…… you can imagine how successful they are – not). No, Leaders lead when they are with their people….and in organisations, Leaders are with their people in meetings.

Meetings are where you lead. So, in a nutshell, this is where you do your job. 

The thing about meetings is that meetings themselves are not inherently bad, it is the way we are conducting them that is the issue. If you listen to Patrick talk about the issues with meetings, he explains what most meetings lack; Context and Conflict.


With context, there can be two issues; either trying to fit too many different topics into one meeting or holding meetings without a clear purpose. I remember attending a meeting as an external stakeholder, to learn more about the team. For about 45 minutes or so the team chatted and talked in general terms about things that were going on. There seemed to be no agenda for the meeting or specific outcome to be achieved. At the end of the meeting I asked a couple of participants, ‘why do you have this meeting?’ They looked at me with genuine confusion and said they didn’t know why. It turned out that they had been having a Monday morning meeting at 0900 every Monday for more than 10 years and yet they didn’t know why!

If this is happening in your team or organisation, perhaps you might like to try something along the lines of what Google and One Drive did and cancel all ongoing or recurring meetings from everyone’s diary for a month. This can really help people work out which meetings they need to have and which they don’t.


There is so much to say about encouraging conflict or tension in meetings, but to cover it all, this article would become an essay. So, I do suggest reading Patrick Lencioni’s book; Death by Meetings or watching one of his many talks available on YouTube.

Think about the meetings you attend. Now be honest, what are people really doing in these meetings?  What are you doing in these meetings? Some people may be engaged and participating, but you will notice many who are reading and responding to emails, texting on their phones or planning their day or evening.  

What we need to be doing is creating an environment that engages people emotionally, and enables discussion and debate, so they actually want to fully participate.

“When a group of intelligent people come together to talk about issues that matter, it is both natural and productive for disagreement to occur. Resolving those issues is what makes a meeting productive, engaging, even fun.”  Patrick Lencioni

A simple change you might like to make is how you open your meetings. Think about this; if I were to ask you, what is the most important part of a movie, what would you say? Some people will say the ending or the climax, however the most important part of a movie is the first ten minutes. That is because, it is in the first ten minutes that we decide if we like the movie or not. If the first ten minutes of a movie doesn’t grab our attention, we tend to think this movie is boring, and then we don’t end up watching it or we don’t really engage with it. We do other things while it is playing ‘in the background’.

Think about the first ten minutes of your meetings. Are you giving people a reason to care about the meeting or are you sending a signal that this is going to be boring? Picture this, it’s 3pm, you are starting to feel the afternoon slump, and you are called into a 2 hour budgeting meeting that opens with; John, could you give us an overview of last years numbers…. Or Sarah, could you read the minutes from the last meeting…… yawn….

What is the actual purpose of the meeting? If it is to set this year’s budget and allocate funds, then that is what is going to engage the participants in healthy discussion and debate, and not reviewing the numbers or reading the minutes (both of which could have been passed on in other ways). Try starting with, ‘Ok, the decisions that we make in the next 2 hours are going to impact everything we do for the next 12 months. It will impact team/division/organisational resources and the ability for us and our team members to do their jobs.’

Much more engaging and now you have my attention.

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