How could you not be compelled to read a book called Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable … About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business? We've all experienced the mind- and body-numbing sensation of sitting, listening, and desperately awaiting release so we can get back to work.

But if you assume that author Patrick Lencioni recommends dropping all meetings, you'll be disappointed. Lencioni, who also wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is a fan of the right kind of meetings. He just wants you to change the type, frequency, and length of your meetings. And he wants you to add drama to them, to make them more like movies! But I'm getting ahead of myself.

As with The Five Dysfunctions, Death by Meeting is formatted in two sections. The first is a fictional story of a caring but ineffectual CEO whose well-structured meetings saved his job. Unlike most books with overly simplified fables, this story is well-written and interesting. In the second section, Lencioni explains the theories behind the fable. If you're short on time, you can bypass the fiction and go right to the meat of the business teaching.

Lencioni recommends four types of company meetings for your key management team:

  • The “daily check-in” or “huddle” is conducted standing up and lasts just five minutes; key managers share their three priorities for the day.
  • The “weekly tactical meeting” takes 45 to 90 minutes to review weekly priorities.
  • The “monthly strategic meeting” lasts two to four hours and focuses on issues (two at the most) that affect the business' long-term success.
  • Finally, the “quarterly off-site review” lasts one to two days. Big-picture in scope, this might encompass a review of company strategy, team development, incentive programs, and more.

  • WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES Lencioni's ideas for the weekly tactical meeting seem particularly innovative. He recommends starting with a “lightning round” in which each attendee has no more than 60 seconds to list his or her priorities for the week. Next, everyone should review the key metrics that define the company's success. There should be no more than six metrics, and the review should take no more than five minutes.

    The book's most revolutionary recommendation is that the weekly tactical meeting should have no pre-planned agenda. You and your team will decide on an agenda only after the lightning round and metrics report. “While this might mean sacrificing some control, it ensures that the meeting will be relevant and effective,” Lencioni writes.

    Collectively, this set of meetings clearly separates corporate priorities and issues depending on their scope and focus. There are meetings for short-term priorities and meetings for long-term priorities; meetings for big-picture strategies and meetings for tactics. Without these distinctions, you'll have attendees talking about plans for the company picnic one minute and reviewing the marketing program the next. That's what Lencioni disparagingly brands as an ineffective “meeting stew.”

    As for drama, Lencioni considers it healthy conflict. “Avoiding issues that merit debate and disagreement not only makes the meeting boring,” he writes, “it guarantees that the issues won't be resolved.”

    Thus, he encourages the meeting leader to “mine” for conflict and get all opinions out on the table. Initially, that means watching for negative body language and encouraging that person to share his concerns. It means orally praising participants who are willing to disagree. Only by getting everyone's opinions on the table will the company end up with the best solution.

    My favorite aspect of adding drama to your meetings? Your meetings become authentic, lively, and worth attending. And you, and your key team, are spared death by meeting. — Linda Case is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620; linda@remodelers;