Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable...About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business

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John Wiley & Sons, Jun 3, 2010 - Business & Economics - 272 pages
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Casey McDaniel had never been so nervous in his life.

In just ten minutes, The Meeting, as it would forever be known, would begin.  Casey had every reason to believe that his performance over the next two hours would determine the fate of his career, his financial future, and the company he had built from scratch.

“How could my life have unraveled so quickly?” he wondered.

In his latest page-turning work of business fiction, best-selling author Patrick Lencioni provides readers with another powerful and thought-provoking book, this one centered around a cure for the most painful yet underestimated problem of modern business: bad meetings.  And what he suggests is both simple and revolutionary.

Casey McDaniel, the founder and CEO of Yip Software, is in the midst of a problem he created, but one he doesn’t know how to solve.  And he doesn’t know where or who to turn to for advice.  His staff can’t help him; they’re as dumbfounded as he is by their tortuous meetings.

Then an unlikely advisor, Will Peterson, enters Casey’s world.  When he proposes an unconventional, even radical, approach to solving the meeting problem, Casey is just desperate enough to listen.

As in his other books, Lencioni provides a framework for his groundbreaking model, and makes it applicable to the real world.  Death by Meeting is nothing short of a blueprint for leaders who want to eliminate waste and frustration among their teams, and create environments of engagement and passion.

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I can not thank Patrick enough for his insightful business books. His style of illustrating key principles using fables excited my mind. COULD NOT put his books down! I reread all of them. Hope I can have the pleasure of meeting him in person.

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One should not think that writing an exciting book about business meetings should be possible. Make that doubly so for a fiction book. But Patrick Lencioni, author of the The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, has succeeded. Okay, so it is a leadership fable and the goal of the book is to show how meetings need not be dreary and draining experiences rather than to entertain. That being said, Lencioni draws upon his screenwriting training and takes time to create characters and plot lines that are not any worse than what you find in a lot of popular fiction.
The story is about Casey McDaniel, the CEO and founder of Yip, a computer games publisher. After having sold his company to a competitor, Playsoft, on condition that he can stay on as CEO, he is shocked to learn that his job might not be so secure after all. Shortly after the merger was completed, he receives what amounts to an ultimatum: improve his staff meetings or leave the company. Poor Casey does not know where to start, but luckily for him Will Peterson, his PA temp does. As the story unfolds we get to learn about what the biggest problems with meetings are and what we can do about them.
So what are the big problems? According to Lencioni there are two: a lack of drama and a lack of contextual structure. By a lack of drama he means the lack of a hook to get you interested in the topic under discussion and the lack of conflict throughout the meeting. He certainly has a point regarding conflict. I find that the most rewarding meetings are the ones where people demonstrate some passion. Heated arguments, as long as they remain constructive and do not degenerate into obstinate contradictions, ad hominem attacks and name calling, tend to generate a deeper and broader understanding of a topic than a sleep-inducing, dispassionate ones.
The need for conflict will not be news for readers of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, but the second point regarding the need for contextual structure will be. Lencioni’s point is that we try to handle all issues with the same kind of meeting, but that we really should have different kinds of meetings for different kinds of issues. These meetings will vary when it comes to frequency, length, structure and topics discussed.
He sees a need for four different kinds of meetings:
• The daily check-in
• The weekly tactical
• The monthly strategic
• The quarterly off-site review
The daily check-in is a five-minutes, standing up meeting early in the morning where each member of the team gives a very brief overview of what they will be doing that day.
The weekly tactical is a one-hour meeting that starts with a “lightning round” where each participant gets 60 seconds to report on their three primary activities the next week, followed by an overview of two or three key metrics. Based on the lightning round and the key metrics an agenda is agreed. Only tactical topics should go on the agenda, strategic ones should be parking lotted for the next kind of meeting.
The monthly strategic can stretch up-to three hours. Only two or three topics should be covered in any one meeting as plenty of time is needed to hash out strategic issues. Preparation is necessary for a successful monthly strategic. All necessary research needed for making well-informed decisions must have been done. It is however, also important to not do the concluding in advance. The meeting should be a debate and not a presentation of decisions already made.
The quarterly off-site review is a meeting over two days where topics such as top and bottom performers, the competitive landscape and team dynamics are discussed.

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About the author (2010)

PATRICK LENCIONI is founder and president of The Table Group, a management consulting firm specializing in executive team development and organizational health. As a consultant and keynote speaker, he has worked with thousands of senior executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500s and high-tech start-ups to universities and nonprofits. He is the author of numerous nationally recognized books, including the New York Times best-seller The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

To learn more about Patrick Lencioni and his other products and services—including his newsletter and free resources—please visit

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