Do you ever feel a sense of dread when you are summoned to an urgent meeting; or when you get the minutes and agenda the day before your monthly team meeting; or when you see your diary full of meetings for weeks in advance – like a slow and painful punishment?
If so then you may have unwittingly sentenced yourself to Death by Meeting. What? We do it to ourselves? No way! That would be madness!
But think about it. We consciously and deliberately ingest all sorts of other toxins: chemicals like caffeine, alcohol and cigarette smoke – so what is so different about immersing ourselves in the emotional toxic waste that many meetings seem to generate?
Perhaps we have learned to believe that there is no other way and because we have never experienced focussed, fun, and effective meetings where problems are surfaced, shared and solved quickly – problems that thwart us as individuals. Meetings where the problem-solving sum is greater than the problem-accumulating parts.
A meeting is a system that is designed to solve problems. We can improve our system incrementally but it is a slow process; to achieve a breakthrough we need to radically redesign the system. There are three steps to doing this:
1. First decide what sort of problems the meeting is required to solve: strategic, operational or tactical;
2. Second design, test and practice a problem solving process for each category of problem; and
3. Third, select the appropriate tool for the task.
In his illuminating book Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni describes three meeting designs and illustrates with a story why meetings don’t work if the wrong tool is used for the wrong task. It is a sobering story.
There is another dimension to the design of meetings; that is how we solve problems as groups – and how, as a group, we seem to waste a lot of effort and time in unproductive discussion. In his book Six Thinking Hats Edward De Bono provides an explanation for our habitual behaviour and a design for a radically different group problem solving process – one that a group would not arrive at by evolution – but one that has been proven to work.
If we feel sentenced to death-by-meetings then we could buy and read these two small books – a zero-risk, one-off investment of effort, time and money for a guaranteed regular reward of fun, free time and success!
So if I complain to myself and others about pointless meetings and I have not bothered to do something about it myself then I now know that it is I who sentenced myself to Death-by-Meeting. Unintentionally and unconsciously perhaps – but me nevertheless.