Death by Meeting

I've borrowed the title for this blog entry from one of my favorite business books, Death by Meeting by Pat Lencioni. A basic idea of the book is not that you'll die by meetings. Rather, you might die from awful meetings. And, as you know, awful meetings are rather common.It doesn't have to be that way.I lead hundreds of meetings each year. And I watch my clients run meetings all the time.

From this experience I've learned that the main problem that my clients have is that they simply aren't clear on their meeting outcomes. And, when they aren't clear on the desired outcomes, the meeting conversations wander all over the place, leaving participants frustrated and disengaged.

To be clear, I'm not talking about what most people call the meeting agenda. Lots of people create meeting agendas. But an agenda is usually just a list of what you're going to talk about. Rather, I'm talking about being clear on the outcomes that you want to leave your meeting with. For example, a typical agenda item might be: "Review the current budget."  Compare that to an outcome: "The budget has been finalized." Or, compare the agenda item of "Discuss the organizational values" versus the outcome of "Specific examples of how we're living our values have been provided." Or, compare the agenda item of "Review our strategic plan" versus the outcome of "Progress on our goals has been measured and documented."

Notice that each of the outcomes are much more specific when compared to the corresponding agenda item. And, with that specificity comes a significantly more focused conversation that saves time and increases relevance. It's amazing to watch my clients' meetings become more powerful and efficient when they simply employ this tip.

So, when you're preparing for your next meeting, ask yourself this question: "What, specifically, do we want to accomplish by the end of the meeting?" Then, document your responses as outcomes on your agenda, review them with your meeting participants at the beginning of the meeting, and drive the conversation toward those outcomes.

Of course, there are lots of other tips to strengthen meetings. But without a set of clearly defined outcomes, all of the other tips lose power.(If you'd like to learn more about meeting effectiveness, check out Richard Lent's web site and his book, Meeting for Results Tool Kit. Richard is a consultant that specializes in running effective meetings.)