Personal Development

Death by Meeting (book)

#learningIsAGift ?
#rituals of #theBeautifulJourney ?

#2021monthlyArticle series

It’s true, isn’t it? Some meetings could have been an email ?, but not all things can be solved by an email. This article won’t be about “No more meetings!”, but about “Better meetings!” Having better meetings will result in needing fewer of them as well. For The Win! Let me share some information from the Lean Facilitator course I completed in July at my work place and Patrick Lencioni’s view on meetings, from his book Death by Meeting.

Note that the Lean Facilitator course was something I’ve done in my own time as I’m interested in the topic and can be useful in my activity given I’m running:

  • our cross-departmental release retrospective (After-Actiton Review)
  • the Compliance team meetings, onboarding and awareness meetings
  • other meetings in our Line Management Community of Practice (The Change Series, coming soon)
  • a Lean Six Sigma – Theory & Practice series of meetings across multiple departments in the company
  • various other meetings

In Lean, the aim is to deliver value & a way towards that is to remove waste (ref), so what would waste look like in meetings? Here are some examples from the Lean Facilitator course:

Waste in (Virtual) Meetings (pt 1) Waste in (Virtual) Meetings (pt 2)

⚠   No apparent meeting agenda


⚠   No ground rules for attendees

⚠   Attendees attempting to multi-task & not giving their full attention

⚠   Attendees speaking over each other

⚠   Attendee(s) dominating the call

⚠   Attendees discussing topics that should be taken offline/different meeting

⚠   Attendees causing distraction e.g. forgot to mute & there is background noise

⚠   Lack of structure to the meeting


⚠   No summary or record of decisions & actions & no visible follow-up after the meeting

⚠   Lots being said about a topic, but without a summary & clarity on actions

⚠   Attendees who are not needed for the meeting topic & missing key attendees

⚠   Technical issues and/or no familiarity with the meeting software

Some of the good practices implied by the opposite of the above can be found in Patrick’s approach to meetings, as well as some new things, as you’ll see below. In a few of his books, Patrick compares meetings with movies. Why is it that we can sit through a 2h+ movie and be entertained, but not through a meeting in which we could participate, influence its course and be directly affected by it in important areas of our work/lives? Well, here is what movies have and what makes us like them:

  • Drama
  • Conflict
  • Contextual Structure

Inspired again by the different types of movies out there & why & when we prefer one over the other, the author proposes the following Types of Meetings that keep in mind contextual structure & relevance:

  • Daily Check-in (e.g. 5 min)
  • Weekly Tactical (e.g. 45 min)
  • Monthly Strategic (e.g. 2 h / as needed)
  • Quarterly Review (1 – 2 days)

Now let’s bring those movie ingredients to a meeting!


One of the facilitators of the Consulting Skills course told us a story based on true events from another company where the consultant, at the start of the meeting said: 
“Your X department is broken! I won’t put up any more slides and graphs. Let’s take 5 minutes and then come back and talk about fixing it.”
… and the participants were actually relieved:
“Finally! Someone is saying it!”
… and were looking forward to fixing it.

Note that careful decision making & preparation is needed for such a bold statement with a client. Know your customer! Know your context!

There are milder approaches to bring in the drama, here is an example from Patrick’s book:

“Our competitors are hoping we throw our money around carelessly. And they’re certainly looking for ways to reduce their own unnecessary expenses. Our customers don’t want to have to pay higher prices for our products to cover for our lack of discipline. Our families would rather see more money in our pay checks than in our travel and expenses budget. So, let’s dive into this with a sense of urgency and focus […]”

In my mind, in both cases, there is nothing said harshly. Instead they are an invitation to tune in to the reality of the situation. Also, in both cases, there is no blame placing. In Patrick’s book, the story was about an executive team and I can imagine this kind of dramatic meeting start there, but how does one apply this approach to e.g. regular project or team meetings? Let’s allow our imagination to go wild! ?

CONFLICT (active debate)

… is the antidote to boredom and the path to creative solutions. On this point, Patrick’s advice is to mine for conflict/debate, so that everyone’s ideas are heard and as a result, getting buy-in (not consensus) stands a chance. If people don’t get a chance to speak, yet they want to, meetings get boring for them, they may get frustrated and this “frustration often manifests itself later in the form of unproductive personal conflict and politics”. For the debate to go well, a safe environment of mutual respect, trust & emotional (self-)awareness is needed. This is a personal & joint effort, with the facilitator playing a key role in how the meeting evolves.


Don’t mix headline news with sitcoms and thrillers, all in one show! We have different expectations based on what we’ve chosen to watch. It’s the same with meetings. Nobody wants a bad “meeting stew”. Here is Patrick’s structure proposal for the types of meetings mentioned earlier:

The Daily Check-in

Daily headline news aimed to help “avoid confusion about how priorities are translated into action on a regular basis” and “eliminate the need for unnecessary and time-consuming e-mail chains about schedule coordination”.  

The Weekly Tactical

Focus is on resolution of issues and reinforcement of clarity to ensure short-term objectives are met. The proposed structure:

  • The Lightning Round: 1min/person to mention their 2/3 priorities for the week
  • Progress Review: 5min reporting of critical information or relevant metrics
  • Real-Time Agenda: the agenda is built based on info from the previous steps

The Monthly Strategic

This is considered the most important type of meeting any team has. It requires a focused agenda (not too many items), plus research and preparation ahead of time on the given topics. This is where we “analyse, debate and decide upon critical issues”.

The Quarterly Review

Mostly for executive teams. Patrick recommends this meeting to take place offsite, but should remain focused on work. No non-executive team members should participate, except for a 3rd party facilitator, if needed. This meeting covers e.g. strategy review, competition and industry review, personnel review, team review.

That’s Patrick’s approach to meetings. Methodologies like Scrum already have their meetings designed, but if you are not using Scrum, or maybe even if you do, is there anything from the above that you can use? Any aspects already present in the meetings you’re attending? Can you picture yourself delivering a dramatic intro? Have you ever noticed the type of waste in meetings exemplified at the start of the article? Can you think of other examples of waste in meetings?

Until next time… wish you better meetings!

And remember, #practiceiseverything!

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