The Dreaded Business Meeting!

by Jeffrey Cavignac, CPCU, ARM, RPLU, CRIS, MLIS – President, Cavignac & Associates
My four partners and I recently returned from our Management Offsite Retreat. The meeting was held at the newly-remodeled and recently re-opened, Casa Del Zorro in Borrego Springs.* While we didn’t solve the world’s problems, we certainly solved many of ours and identified goals and objectives for the next five years. It made me reflect on the structure of our meeting and the importance of running a meeting correctly.

Like most businesses, our company’s personnel has lots of occasions to meet. We have always held regular meetings and have tried to make them as productive as possible. We have been reasonably successful, however, I have always felt we were missing something.

About five years ago, I came across a book written by Patrick Lencioni and it fundamentally changed the way we schedule and run our meetings, which has resulted in substantially better results. Patrick Lencioni is president of The Table Group, a San Francisco Bay area management consulting firm and the author of several bestselling management books including Death by Meeting. As the title implies, the focus of the book is the often-dreaded “business meeting.” The point is made that “for those of us who lead and manage organizations, meetings are pretty much what we do – it is therefore imperative that we make our meetings more effective and restore some of the passion that goes into a productive meeting.”

Lencioni states that there is nothing inherent in meetings that make them bad, so it is entirely possible to transform them into compelling, productive, fun activities. In order to do this, we have to rethink the way we currently run meetings.

Lencioni points out that meetings are ineffective for two basic reasons:

  1. Meetings are boring because they lack drama or conflict. Unfortunately rather than mining for that “golden conflict,” most meeting leaders seem to be focused on avoiding tension and ending a meeting on time. To make meetings less boring, leaders must look for legitimate reasons to provoke and uncover relevant, constructive, ideological conflicts.
  2. Meetings are ineffective because they lack conjectural structure. Too many organizations have only one kind of regular meeting, often called a staff meeting. This randomly focused discussion usually touches on everything from strategy to tactics, from administrative to culture. Because there is no clarity around which topics are appropriate, there is no clear context for the various discussions to take place. In the end, not much is decided because the participants have a hard time figuring out whether they are supposed to be debating, voting, brainstorming, weighing in or just listening.

Lencioni goes into some detail on the four basic company meetings, which are:

  • Meeting #1 – The Daily Check-In
  • Meeting #2 – The Weekly Tactical Meeting
  • Meeting #3 – The Monthly Strategic Meeting
  • Meeting #4 – The Quarterly Offsite Review

Bad meetings exact a toll on the human beings who must endure them. That toll goes far beyond mere momentary dissatisfaction; bad meetings generate real human suffering in the form of anger, lethargy and cynicism. While this certainly has an impact on organizational life, it also impacts people’s personal self-esteem, their families and their outlook on life.

For those of us who lead organizations and the employees within them, improving meetings is not only an opportunity to enhance our companies, it also a way to positively impact the lives of our people, including ourselves.

If you are not getting the results you want out of your meetings, you should consider getting a copy of Death by Meeting.

*If you haven’t checked out the Casa Del Zorro, you should. The new ownership has done a fantastic job of updating the property while retaining its historic charm and at the same time keeping the pricing very reasonable.