October 23, 2007

News & Opinion: Ask 8cr! - Let's have a meeting!

By: Aaron Schleicher @ 3:22 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Welcome to "Ask 8cr!" - a new section of our blog where we've created a forum to find out what kinds of issues and challenges people are having in the workplace. We then take these issues and apply a business book we feel offers a viable solution. Others then chime in via the comments section. The person with the selected challenge gets a free copy of the book, but everyone who reads these posts, wins. Do you have a challenge at work? Send it to me at jon(a)800ceoread(dot)com. Today's challenge deals with the habit of unproductive meetings. Here's the brief challenge sent from one of our readers: "Working with a team of people who have meetings that never accomplish much." - Nathan Short and to the point, it's maybe obvious that Nathan is fed up with long, dull meetings where much is discussed, but little is accomplished. I'm sure many of us have experienced this scenario, reminding us of our least-favorite high school class: meetings as pure formality, and nothing inspiring or changed because of them. Business fable writer Patrick Lencioni tells a similar story in his book Death by Meeting. The strong title implying not only a humorous take on boredom, but also revealing that as meetings accomplish less and less, the fate that the business will face is inevitable. If that isn't enough to scare your group into waking up and taking meetings seriously, Lencioni paints an even darker picture by portraying this story via a group of people who, by normal standards, initially would be considered to be doing a "good job." Complacency is the key issue here. Oftentimes, employees (especially those that work for successful companies) assume that somehow things will always work out, meeting or not. And if that's true, then who really cares about the meeting? Meaning, important questions are left unasked, attendance becomes voluntary, and accountability all but disappears. Enough is contributed to "get by" and the meetings continue on and on, just for the sake of having them, with no real results attached. In the book, the company portrayed is going through a traumatic change (I won't give the whole story away), but all seems well, outside of those in-the-know. Their meetings should be important on many levels - to address the issues within the change that's occurring, but also to keep the company culture and productivity moving forward, and remaining profitable. But as the employees show up (or not) dreadfully each week, the biggest accomplishment they produce by meeting is physically sitting in the same room together. Hopefully, Nathan's scenario isn't as severe, but as the book points out, if meetings are continuously happening, with no results attached, things for the group, and the company, won't proceed positively. Lencioni details how this company turned their situation around via their meetings, and in doing so, lays out a clear method for changing how meetings function (comparing them to movies) and how their results can be improved by adding a crucial element: conflict. Seems strange at first, but the author identifies how conflict is exactly what draws our interest to movies. If we add conflict to meetings, in the appropriate way, at the right time, the attendees will be captivated, involved, and willing to act (something they can't do with all the emotion they get during a movie). As a fable, the book realistically presents this process, identifying the typical characteristics, the common human patterns, the everyday world of conference rooms, and shows how one company tapped into this thinking to completely transform their company. Now, how about all of us?

About Aaron Schleicher

Aaron Schleicher has been the author services specialist at 800-CEO-READ since 2004. You can usually find him hidden under a baseball cap, feet kicked up on his desk, talking with authors, publishers, and businesses. Outside the office you can find him crafting candles, listening to records, and making music with friends and family.