Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable

A friend loaned me a copy of Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick Lencioni.  It took me a while to get around to reading it because I had been working on my dissertation, but now that I have read it I found it to be very helpful.

The largest part of the book is a narrative or “fable” describing the experiences of the CEO of a hypothetical tech company and his top executives.  Through their experiences, we learn why most leaders look at meetings as a boring and ineffective, and what can be done to solve both problems.  The central points which the story is intended to teach are summarized in part two of the book, The Model.

Probably the most important part of the book, and the concept that was most helpful to me, is the idea that it is not effective to have generic meetings that attempt to accomplish too many different types of tasks.  The author recommends four different types of meeting, each with a specific purpose:

  1. The Daily Check-in

This is a 5 minute meeting that  takes place standing up.  Everyone quickly outlines what they are up to that day.  Any items that need discussion should be saved for the Weekly Tactical.

  1. The Weekly Tactical

A meeting of 45-90 minutes that begins with a quick report by each participant of their 2 or 3 top priorities for the week.  Based on those items, an agenda is drawn up for a tactical discussion on issues of immediate concern.  Topics that require a discussion of strategy are saved for the Monthly Strategic

  1. The Monthly Strategic

In this meeting, leaders wrestle with a small number of critical issues that will affect the organization in a fundamental way.  If there are weighty topics to be discussed, this meeting might need to be fairly long. This is probably the most important meeting that a leadership team ever has.

  1. The Quarterly Off-Site Review

This meeting is held to look at the big picture, and to review and assess strategy, leadership team members,  key personnel, and what is going on in the world around them.

This model might not fit every organization exactly, and church leaders will need to think about how to adapt these ideas to their ministries.  But I think that it has much to offer. I have often been frustrated by meetings in which we keep jumping back and forth between tactical and strategic discussions.  Some participants want to “get things done” while others want to talk about strategy before taking action. Having meetings with a clear focus as to the kind of discussion that we are trying to have seems like a very good idea.

One point that the book does not cover is who should be in the meeting.  The assumption seems to be that the same executive team attends all of these meetings.  But  I have gradually discovered that some people are more wired for tactical discussions and others for strategic discussions.  A board or other leadership group that has a primarily strategic focus should recruit people with a strategic orientation.  Sometimes it is better to have a smaller group of strategic thinkers work on strategy, and bring in some more tactical thinkers for the implementation phase.

I’d be interested in hearing the thoughts of others who have read this book, or your reactions to my summary above.

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis