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Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business Hardcover – March 4, 2004
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Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (J-B Lencioni Series)
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Casey is a former semi-pro golfer who starts a game development studio creating golf simulations. His company is acquired, and told that his business can remain autonomous, but only if they improve their performance, now that they are a public company.
Casey, unable to realize how poorly structured and useless his meetings were, hires Will, a 20-something who just finished his MBA and is looking to improve the company's meetings. In doing so, he learns a bit about the business, and how to engage co-workers.
Overall, I found the story to do a suitable job of illustrating the author's key points. If you want to get to the bottom of the book, you can really read the last 10 pages or so, which can also be found on the author's site: [...]
But first...here's a Pop Quiz! Everyone stand up. OK...now remain standing if your job requires you to attend at least one meeting a week. OK...now remain standing if you are in a minimum of five meetings a week (staff meeting, one-on-one meetings, etc.). I know...everyone is still standing. But now...remain standing if you have ever read a book, attended a workshop, viewed a webinar or had coaching on effective meetings management. (Anyone still standing?)
My top book pick in my "Meetings Bucket" is this book--but I've never fully reviewed it here. So...listen to Lencioni talk about "Sneaker Time" (pages 251-252):
"Most executives I know spend hours sending email, leaving voice mail, and roaming the halls to clarify issues that should have been made clear during a meeting in the first place. But no one accounts for this the way they do when they add up time spent in meetings.
"I have no doubt that sneaker time is the most subtle, dangerous, and underestimated black hole in corporate America. To understand it, it is helpful to take a quick look at the basic geometry of an executive team within the context of an organization.
"Consider that an executive team with just seven people has twenty-one combinations of one-to-one relationships that have to be maintained in order to keep people on the same page. That alone is next to impossible for a human being to track.
"But when you consider the dozens of employees down throughout the organization who report to those seven and who need to be on the same page with one another, the communication challenge increases dramatically, as does the potential for wasting time and energy. And so, when we fail to get clarity and alignment during meetings, we set in motion a colossal wave of human activity as executives and their direct reports scramble to figure out what everyone else is doing and why.
"Remarkably, because sneaker time is mixed in with everything else we do during the day, we fail to see it as a single category of wasted time. It never ceases to amaze me when I see executives checking their watches at the end of a meeting and lobbying the CEO for it to end so they can `go do some real work.' In so many cases, the `real work' they're referring to is going back to their offices to respond to e-mail and voice mail that they've received only because so many people are confused about what needs to be done.
"It's as if the executives are saying, 'Can we wrap this up so I can run around and explain to people what I never explained to them after the last meeting?' It is at once shocking and understandable that intelligent people cannot see the correlation between failing to take the time to get clarity, closure, and buy-in during a meeting, and the time required to clean up after themselves as a result."
Whoa! That hits close to home! Good stuff. So get the book, read his leadership fable (in the classic Lencioni style) and begin religiously implementing his four kinds of meetings: 1) Daily Check-in, 2) Weekly Tactical, 3) Monthly Strategic and 4) Quarterly Off-site Review.
In terms of criticism, I thought the fable part of the book was mediocre. A mediocre story line is kind of ironic given the fact that the premise of the book revolves around effective storytelling.
I did enjoy the book, but I would have been just as happy with a one-page outline of the meeting structure. I would not recommend this book for someone without enough patience to enjoy the slow development of the ideas -- they would get more value from a one-page outline. I would recommend this book for someone who wants to savor the concepts and retains information better when it is dramatized. I'd also recommend it to anyone who wants to improve the quality of meetings.