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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • December 4, 2006
  • minute read

Why Meetings Are Killing Your Team… …and how to fix it 

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Meetings are killing your team’s performance. Here’s why it happens, what to do about it, and why you need to fix both – the team and the way you hold meetings.

One of the key reasons that teams don’t work well during Whitewater is due to the rise of that other organizational phenomenon – the ‘Meeting’.

Up until Whitewater (through Early Struggle and Fun), the concept of ‘the team’ is a simple and effective one.

At this point, the whole idea of ‘the team’ based on an action-based resource constraint: if something needs done, it gets done – by the minimum number of people necessary to get it done.

The organization can’t afford to throw any more resources at a problem than are strictly necessary, for the simple reason that the organization doesn’t have any spare resources.

Enter Complexity – The Game Changes

At the top end of Predictable Success (just before Whitewater hits) the organization has had a great run of success, and as a consequence is a little more resource-rich, but at the same time, is beginning to experience the debilitating effect of complexity.

Life is more complicated than in the early days.

No longer is everyone sharing the same 20/200/2000 square feet of space. No longer is everyone getting together for pizza on Friday lunchtime.

If something important happens (or fails to happen) not everyone knows immediately – and some people may never know.

As a result of these two dynamics – more resource and more complexity, a new phenomenon arises – the ‘Meeting’.

Now We Have To Have ‘Meetings’?

That’s a Meeting – with a capital ‘M’.

Sure, there will have been ‘meetings’ previously – with a small ‘m’ – essentially events when more than one person had to be in the same place at the same time to get something decided and/or done.

But now we’re talking about ‘Meetings’ – now a process rather than an event: agendas, expectation to attend, ‘going around the room’, reports, reports in, reports out, (gulp) PowerPoint presentations, action points…

And guess what?

People are simple expected to be good at this stuff – to be able to almost overnight, develop a skill that they never had to use previously – the ability to ‘give good meeting’.

Now, most people can’t do that – no matter where they (or their organization) are on the Predictable Success lifecycle.

In all my years in this business, I’ve met four, maybe five people who could run a truly effective meeting – and that’s from everyone I’ve met – including those in Predictable Success and beyond.

Zoom in on the Whitewater stage, and here you have a group of folks who never really did this before – who didn’t have to. Yet – suddenly – this has become a life-threatening issue…


In fact, they shouldn’t have developed this skill at this point. It’s freaky and counterproductive to develop ‘meeting skills’ in a fast-growing organization going through Early Struggle and Fun.

When you see highly-developed meeting-goers in an organization that’s in Early Struggle or Fun, you see an organization that’s in trouble.

It’s as if you’d just witnessed an 8-year-old spending 2 hours a day at the gym developing his pecs – there’s something fundamentally wrong here.

This, by the way, is one of the two reasons why many tech start-ups founder – they have too much money made available at too early a stage, and (partly as a consequence) they try to develop Predictable Success attributes (org charts, cross-functional teams, delegation, meeting skills etc.) much too early on.

Our Meetings Are Terrible, So Our Teams Must be, Too…

Here’s the result of all this: the concept of ‘the team’ is redefined – the team’s success or failure is assessed in relation to the outcome of meetings rather than in terms of achieving results.

Over time, people begin to merge the two concepts of ‘teams’ and meetings’. The equation becomes:

Meetings = Teams = Meetings.

As a result, the idea that the team might actually have a purpose – a reason for being – something specific to accomplish – gets lost.

Without a purpose, it’s impossible to know what the next action should be to achieve that purpose.

And so the very concept of ‘the team’ becomes a synonym for purposeless inaction, propped up by ever more frequent and ineffectual ‘Meetings’.

"Without a purpose, it’s impossible to know what the next action should be to achieve that purpose" - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success.

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In Whitewater, this is highly problematic for two important reasons:

  1. Teams are now needed more than ever, and
  2. Meetings – even those with a capital ‘M’ – are necessary to manage the growing complexity of the organization.

So, what have we got here? Two Dynamics:

  • The fact that most organizations in Whitewater have little experience of running effective meetings and are therefore not very good at it, plus
  • The “teams = meetings = teams” perception.

Where does this leave us? With this sequence:

  • ‘Meetings’ are held.
  • They are not very good.
  • We (subconsciously) conclude the team (and maybe even the very concept of a ‘team approach’) isn’t very good either.

‘The Only Way To Get Things Done Around Here Is To Do It Yourself.’

And the result?

Many people – most of the high performers, and certainly all the ‘E’s and ‘P’s – who hate meetings anyway – withdraw into maverick, gunslinger mode, deciding that nothing is going to get done through these meetings, and ‘the only way to get anything done around here is to do it myself’.

And so at the very time it needs effective teamwork (and to use effective meetings to manage complexity) the organization instead begins to reverse into itself, like a collapsing sun forming a black hole.

Except this black hole becomes an ‘information and operation’ black hole: people begin to hoard and protect information, instead of sharing it, and begin to operate independently, without recourse to others.

At it’s worst, the ‘maverick’ mode causes such an end run around the ‘Meetings’ (now only perpetuated by the out-of-the loop ‘A’s – Accounting and/or HR folks, often) that the ‘Meetings collapse like an undercooked souffle', and the organization slides gently back to fun.

How do we fix this?

How do we change the dynamic, away from the ‘black hole collapse’ back into Fun, and instead push through Whitewater into Predictable Success?

Here’s What Needs To Happen:

Four specific things need to happen:

  1. The founding manager / management team need to experience an ‘A-ha’ moment – the realization that (properly controlled) processes and systems – including ‘Meetings’ are their salvation, not their enemy (in essence, beginning to develop the ‘I’ role).
  2. All teams in the organization – from the janitorial committee to the senior management team and everything in between, need to be redefined in terms of their purpose, and the specific actions required to achieve that purpose.

    ‘Meetings’ should be blown up and redesigned to fit solely around one thing – what needs to happen next for the team to achieve it’s purpose?
  3. The management team – all of them – need to learn how to ‘give and take good meetings’. This is a mechanical, teachable process, with clear rules and techniques.

What about you? What Do You Do To Ensure Your Meetings Don't kill your team’s performance?

Let Me Know In The Comments Below!


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