We don’t hate church meetings as much as we say we do. 

We just hate lousy church meetings.

At least that’s the contention of Patrick Lencioni, author of “Death By Meeting.”

When a fellow youth pastor recommended Lencioni’s book, I assumed the author was handing out tips on how to have shorter meetings and to have fewer of them.

Nope. Lencioni argues that meetings aren’t inherently boring and unproductive.  We just make them that way. 

In fact, Leoncioni says, “there is simply no substitute for a good meeting – a dynamic, passionate and focused engagement – when it comes to extracting the collective wisdom of a team.”

In “Death By Meeting,” this business guru, who also happens to be a Christian, spells out two simple principles, in a way that makes for easy reading. He calls his book “a leadership fable.” The lesson unfolds within the story of a software company that makes video games. They hit a crisis or two, and the lessons on how to run a good meeting bubble up from the plot.  He’s not a threat to John Grisham, but Lencioni’s books are always a painless way to learn how healthy organizations function.

Lencioni focuses on two main problems with most meetings: They are dull-dull-dull, and their structure is random and unfocused. Not just in church. Schools, businesses, and non-profits have the same problem.

Here are his solutions:

Healthy Conflict

Nobody has trouble sitting through a 100-minute movie, but a 100-minute meeting? Forget about it. The difference, says Lencioni, is that movies have a gripping story, which almost always involves conflict.

During the first few minutes of any meeting, the leader needs to “hook” the participant’s interest by revealing the compelling plotline – how our Fall Festival ties back to the Great Commission or the impact this budget meeting can have on real lives. Then, leaders need to “mine for conflict” – draw out the natural passions of the group of the intelligent, experienced people gathered around the table.  The leader’s job is not to squelch disagreements. It’s to encourage differences, as they lead to solving real problems.

Structure and Purpose

To stick with the movie analogy, imagine if you tried to combine a sit-com, with CNN Headline News and Braveheart. The result would be a frustrating mish-mash of conflicting styles and purposes.  But that’s what most people do with their meetings.

Instead, there should be different meetings for different purposes. Yep, you might actually have more meetings, but Lencioni contends that “when properly utilized, meetings are actually time savers” because we reach solutions sooner and rehash things less often.  He recommends four kinds of meetings.

§  Daily Check-in: Five minutes to share daily schedule and information you would have tracked each other down for anyway. Tips: Don’t sit down. Tackle administrative issues only.

§  Weekly Tactical: 45-90 minutes to review this week’s activities, any key measurements, and deal with tactical obstacles and issues that impact the near future. Tip: Postpone big-picture strategic issues.

§  Monthly Strategic: 2-4 hours to discuss, analyze, brainstorm and make decisions about critical issues affecting long-term success. Tips: Limit to one or two topics, prepare and research ahead of time. Mine for healthy conflict.

§  Quarterly Off-site Review: 1-2 days to review core strategy and team development, plus (in business land) industry trends and the competitive landscape. Tip: Don’t over-structure.

Lencioni gives more details throughout the story and in the executive summary at the back of the book. You can read it over two or three lunch hours – about as long as it takes to sit through a typically painful staff meeting.

It’s a great book to read together as a team, but not a smart gift to slip your boss. Before you decide to remove the splinter from your pastor’s meeting table, better to remove the beam from your own.

This material appeared originally in Group Magazine.