Meetings are the place where an organization can access the collective knowledge of its members to make the best possible tactical and strategic decisions. Meetings are the place where organizations can work out conflicts, coordinate individual efforts and get everyone on the same page.
Meetings are an inevitable, necessary and ubiquitous element of organizational life. To my knowledge, no one has ever figured out how to run a business without meetings.
So why do many employees report that they dread meetings and find them to be a colossal and demoralizing waste of time? What makes one meeting boring, tedious and alienating and another energizing, galvanizing and productive? These are mission critical questions for organizations.
In his entertaining business parable “Death By Meeting” Patrick Lencioni offers some useful ideas about what distinguishes good meetings from bad meetings. One of his most compelling points is that leaders can keep meeting participants engaged and productive, in the same way that movies entertain viewers, by leveraging the power of dramatic tension.
In most meetings there are different interests and points of view represented around the table (or the WebEx screen). The skilled meeting leader knows how to “mine the conflict,” i.e. dig down and make sure that the important differences are articulated. Good meetings are characterized not only by passionate advocacy but also by genuine curiosity about, and listening to, the positions of others. There is a shared awareness of, and investment in, what is at stake for the organization in making the right decision.
In other words there is drama. When drama is avoided meetings lack zest and the ignored conflicts live on as the source of problems long after the meeting concludes. Conflicts must not only be faced squarely but also resolved in a professional, respectful and direct manner or there will be resentments and infighting and problems in execution.
Drama alone, however, is not enough to make a good meeting. There also needs to be structure. People need to be absolutely clear about what they are trying to accomplish and not get sidetracked. There needs to be a feeling of accomplishment, progress and resolution.
Many meetings fail to galvanize and motivate the group because they do not clearly segregate tactical and strategic discussions. Lencioni has developed a useful model for how to structure meetings so that tactical and strategic goals don’t interfere with each other.
Next time you hear someone complaining about how much time they waste in meetings think about what this says about how meetings are being conducted. When employees dread meetings the answer may not be less meetings but better meetings.