Death by Meeting

“Any simple problem can be made unsolvable if enough meetings are held to discuss it.”

– Mark Twain

In 2004, Patrick Lencioni authored a book titled Death by Meeting-A Leadership Fable.  The title alone sums up how many people feel about meetings.  Not surprisingly, studies have shown that the average professional spends 25% of their time in meetings and half that time is wasted.  That’s 250 hours a year!  Most people just accept this waste as the reality of today’s business environment – like commuting to the office.  However, you can dramatically improve the quality of many of your meetings with a few simple questions.

If you consider the meetings you attend, you’ll notice that about half your meetings are problem solving/decision making meetings.  The higher your position in the organization, the more likely you’ll encounter the problem solving variety.  By asking 4 simple questions, you can dramatically improve the quality and even eliminate most of the problem solving/decision making meetings:

  1. What is the problem we are trying to solve?  Try this one question at your next unproductive meeting and see if you don’t get some very different responses.
  2. What is causing the problem? This question is frequently overlooked as people assume they already know the cause.  You won’t get agreement on the ultimate solution if you don’t get agreement on questions #1 and #2.
  3. What ideas do you have for solving the problem?  We often allow our biases and incorrect assumptions to narrow our choices.  Don’t fall into this trap…ask the question.
  4. What is your recommendation?  This should be a logical outcome from the responses to questions #1 – #3.

The answers for the above questions should be expected from every person that invites you to a problem solving type meeting.  If they are answering these questions in advance, they’ll find that they often don’t even need to meet.  Sometimes you’ll need to meet to help answer one of these questions but then your meeting will be dramatically more focused and productive.  Try it and you’ll be amazed at the clarity and productivity of your meetings.





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