Death by Meeting (and the 5 Ways to Avoid It)


Bad meetings they’re useless, they’re toxic and they’re among the most common productivity killers in the workplace.

Meetings are an essential part of any organization but in many ways, it has become a dreadful and costly part of everyone’s job. In the worst of times, they become the source of struggle and tension among employees and leaders of an organization.

Death by Meeting, a book by Patrick Lencioni, explores (through fictional accounts) bad meetings and how they affect the modern workplace. According to him, “The greatest myth that exists about meetings is that they are inherently bad.” People see them as one of the necessary evils of every business. “But the fact is, bad meetings are a reflection of bad leaders. Worse yet, they take a more devastating toll on a company’s success than we realize.”

In order to turn tedious, boring and generally awful meetings into opportunities for insightful discussion, strategic planning and/or conflict resolution, the book gives us the following tips.


1. Know the purpose of your meeting

First, ask yourself, is the meeting really necessary? Are there objectives in place? Do these objectives necessitate a meeting or can they be achieved through other means (via email or phone conversation)?

It is important for every meeting, be it formal or informal, to serve a purpose. Meetings are often called among employees without any clear reason which, in effect, undermines the importance of it. Prior to the meeting, a detailed notice must be sent out so that the concerned parties will be able to prepare. State clearly whatever the purpose of the meeting is (planning, brainstorming, conflict resolution, benchmarking, etc.) and by doing so, you can structure the meeting accordingly and set the right expectations to all the participants.

2. Clarify what is at stake

People have been used to the same, old boring office meeting that it’s difficult to get them excited about it. The challenge here is how to make the meeting important to them as it is to you. So if the meeting is not important to you either, well, let’s just say you’re doomed!

It all starts with you and your ability to recognize the importance of every office meeting. Ask yourself, why should I care about this meeting? Once you begin to clearly understand what is at stake, you will find it easier to convince others.

3. Hook them from the outset

Engaging people during meetings is always a challenge. In order to maintain some level of engagement, it is important for the facilitator to open up a two-way channel at the very start of the meeting which allows dialogue and meaningful exchange of ideas and information. Asking the participants, “What do you think of this?” every now and then goes a long way in letting them know that the meeting is a discussion rather than just another presentation.

4. Set aside enough time

While starting meetings on time is a must, you’re better off counting accomplished tasks rather than counting time. Set aside enough time or at least conduct meetings at a convenient time to avoid cutting the meeting short due to time restrictions.

Meetings that come to an end without any clear resolution of the issue being discussed is a total waste of time. After all, the mark of a successful meeting is not how short or long it is or whether or not the meeting ends on time. A great meeting is one that ends with clarity, closure and commitment from every participant.

5. Provoke conflict

Yes but no. Yes, every meeting should produce some sort of conflict but not in the way you think. Provoking conflict is all about eliciting opposing views before agreeing on a resolution.

Meetings are boring because they lack drama. By provoking conflict, you can further explore ideas, get to the bottom of every issue and discover other things that may not be apparent at first glance. There is a fine line however, with what is professional and personal. Seek out opposing views and air them out without necessarily causing any altercation or confrontation at least on a personal level. Meetings should always be passionate without being personal and ideological instead of emotional.

Considering how (almost) universal the negative perception of meetings are, each of these tips can help turn an otherwise boring and ineffective activity into something that is beneficial to you, your team and your organization or business.

Death by meeting means wasted time and missed opportunities. It signals a declining sense of responsibility as well as lack of productivity so don’t be a casualty!