At the core of the Greater Sum software apprenticeship program is exposure to ideas and techniques that accelerate learning, and therefore accelerate careers.  We read and discuss a book each week, often a book that isn’t technical, but instead focuses on learning, teamwork or some other aspect of being a software developer that is as important as understand the latest Javascript library.

Recently we read Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. Meetings are an important part of any organization. Unfortunately they are often painful.  Lencioni’s model for meetings is to be clear on the “level” of discussion at each meeting. Here are the reflections of our apprentices on the book.

There was one concept from Death by Meeting that really resonated with me and had it been implemented at previous jobs would have greatly improved the effectiveness of our meetings.  The author, Lencioni, draws attention to the disadvantages of trying to cover topics with different scopes in the same meeting.  He breaks topics for discussion in meetings into 4 different categories that should be discussed in their own meeting.  

  • Daily 15 minute meetings for coordination
  • Weekly Tactical meetings for looking at progress on up to three key metrics and solving obstacles or issues that might have arisen in the past week.
  • Monthly Strategic meetings for solving issues with long term goals or personnel.  These are meetings where people come prepared to argue with relevant information
  • Quarterly Off-site meetings for discussing product lines, defining what success looks like for the next three months, analyzing what has changed in the marketplace since the last offsite.

Meetings become ineffective, boring, and take to long when people try to solve problems in the wrong meeting.  For example trying to solve an obstacle in the daily coordination meeting is going to make the meeting drag on and will probably hold people hostage that don’t have any input on the issue, wait for the weekly tactical meeting or call a separate meeting with only the relevant people for something that can’t wait a couple of days.  Trying to solve a strategic issue in a weekly tactical is going to take up a lot of time and the problem probably won’t be solved due to people not coming to the meeting prepared with the information for a definitive conclusion.

-Matthew Knowles   

When first hearing the title, Death By Meeting, I assumed the book to be about the evils of meetings and how to limit or do away with them all together. Having felt the pain of boring, monotonous, wasteful meetings, I was ready to learn how to rid myself of this evil. The book makes note right away, though, that meetings are not inherently bad and are necessary time savers when properly utilized. The answer isn’t no meetings, it’s more contextualised and interactive meetings. What really stood out to me is the need to make meetings engaging and encouraging conflict. This brings on debate and disagreement over the issues at hand which leads to the issues being resolved. A lot of time is wasted with emails, phone calls, and wandering the halls trying to clarify issues that should have been resolved during a meeting. Time spent properly in meetings can cut out a lot of wasted time outside of meetings.

-Wes Duncan  

Business meetings can feel like death by blood-letting.  Slow moving, having the quality of being both numbing and painful at the same time.

Often these facts are due to a lack of appropriate purpose and focus for meetings.

Death By Meeting,by Patrick Lencioni, aims to identify different types of meetings that teams have and provide structure and purpose to each type of meeting.

Meetings should be more interesting than movies.  They are interactive where movies are passive.  They are also relevant to our lives.  The decisions from meetings have a direct impact on our work, how we spend our time, and where our focus is placed.

Effective meetings should start with a hook to get everyone engaged; to set the tone for the importance of the meeting.  From there, dive into the meat of the meeting and mine for conflict from those in attendance.  Look for differing opinions to shed light on the topics from different angles.  Give opportunity, and even require, that everyone share their perspective on the subject matter.  This will flesh out all of the known issues and allow an informed decision to be made.  The leader should acknowledge the different perspectives and make a final decision.  Then move on.  Consensus is not required, but providing an opportunity for others to share their full perspective is important to ensure that all the available information is used to make the final decision.

A sound meeting strategy for a team is to have:

  • Daily Check-in’s of about 5-10 minutes to review what each member is working on that day.
  • Weekly Tactical lasting no more than 60 minutes.  The agenda is set in the opening moments of the meeting, not before.  It is set by quickly reviewing what each member is working on that week and comparing these topics to key metrics to determine the focus of the meeting and the agenda.
  • Monthly Strategic meetings are longer meetings, lasting usually between 2-3 hours.  These meetings have 1-2 topics and the agenda is set ahead of time so that all parties can prepare beforehand and have all pertinent information available for the meeting.
  • Off-site reviews are for more comprehensive reviews of things like business strategy, team/personnel, and your industry or competition.

Meetings should be focused on delivering on a particular goal and be engaging for participants.  Many meetings can easily fall into these categories and can be made more useful by implementing the strategies suggested in Death by Meeting.

-Peter Flanagan   

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