This is one in a series of "leadership fables" in which Patrick Lencioni shares his thoughts about the contemporary business world. His characters are fictitious human beings rather than anthropomorphic animals, such as a tortoise that wins a race against a hare or pigs that lead a revolution to overthrow a tyrant and seize control of his farm.
In this instance, Lencioni focuses on probably the single greatest waste of organizational resources: meetings. Although they are "the closet thing to an operating room, a playing field, or a stage that we have...most of us hate them. We complain about, try to avoid, and long for the end of meetings, even when we're running the darn things! How pathetic is it that we have come to accept that the activity most central to the running of our organizations is inherently painful and unproductive?" Nonetheless, in most organizations, meetings comprise the single greatest cause of waste of resources and, yes, of opportunities as well.
Briefly, here's the fictitious situation. Lencioni introduces Casey McDaniel, generally viewed as "an extraordinary man - but just an ordinary CEO" of Yip Software, a designer and manufacturer of sports-related video games company he founded. What is perhaps most significant about Casey is the fact that conducts lethargic, unfocused, and passionless staff meetings that his colleagues understandably dread, as does he. For reasons best revealed within the narrative, he sells his company to Playsoft, the second-largest manufacturer of video games. Enter J.T. Harrison who serves as a liaison between Yip and Software. Almost immediately, Casey's inadequacies as a CEO and, especially, the consequences of the executive staff meetings he conducts become obvious to Harrison who becomes increasingly concerned about Yip's underperformance. Casey's career and the fate of his company are in jeopardy when Casey hires Will Petersen to be his temporary administrative assistant while his permanent administrative assistant is on maternity leave.
What then happens - and does not happen -- throughout the ensuing weeks enables Lencioni to dramatize the importance of scheduling, preparing for, conducting, and then following through on meetings that are never boring nor ineffective. Hence the great emphasis Lencioni places on having different kinds of meetings (e.g. daily check-in, weekly tactical, monthly or as-needed ad hoc strategic, and quarterly off-site), each of which has a different context, purpose, structure, and timeframe. Obviously, some meetings will generate more conflict, excitement, drama, etc. than will others. Over the years, many (if not most) of the staff meetings I have participated in (including those I conducted) wasted time on discussion of what to discuss rather than on making decisions about what to do.
At least 8-10 years ago, Lencioni apparently made a conscious decision to address especially important business issues by creating a human context for each rather than merely offering answers to questions or prescribing solutions to problems. To me, this is one of the greatest benefits of a business narrative, in this instance of a leadership fable: Creating a series of real-world situations (albeit portrayed fictitiously) that readers can identify with emotionally as well as rationally. He is a brilliant business thinker but he also possesses the skills of a master raconteur as he introduces a cast of characters, develops conflicts between and among them, and then allows "rising action" to build to a climax that is also best revealed within the narrative. Unexpected plot developments engage the reader even more.
Of special interest to me is Will's role in this business fable. He serves as an especially effective means by which Lencioni articulates his insights and suggestions. Eventually, in ways and to an extent also best revealed within the narrative, Will has a profound impact on Casey's leadership style as well as on Yip Software's fate. Although Casey and his colleagues as well as J.T. Harrison are fictitious characters, each is credible as a human being rather merely functioning as a literary device. Their values, concerns, personalities, anxieties, and behavior will be very familiar to anyone who has been involved in non-productive group discussions.
As is Lencioni's custom in each of the other volumes in the series of "leadership fables," he also includes (after the Fable) a "Model" section, consisting of supplementary material (Pages 221-254) whose value-added benefits will help his reader to make effective application of the lessons learned from the experiences shared by Casey and his colleagues at Yip Software. Lencioni leaves no doubt that there are direct correlations between enjoyable as well as productive meetings and effective leadership and management to establish and then sustain a "healthy"organization.
Those who share my high regard for this volume are urged to check out Patrick Lencioni's other "leadership fables" as well as Michael Ray's The Highest Goal, David Maister's Practice What You Preach, Bill George's Authentic Leadership and his more recently published True North, James O'Toole's Creating the Good Life, and Michael Maccoby's Narcissistic Leaders.