From the VetPartners Experts: How to Eliminate Meeting Madness

Jul 25, 2019 at 11:46 am
Mia Cary, DVM

Raise your hand if you love attending meetings. I bet only a few of you raised your hand, likely because most of the meetings we attend are not productive and do not end in clear decisions, including who will do what and when they’ll do it. Thanks to a LinkedIn post nudge from Dr. Matt Salois, I recently reread Patrick Lencioni’s book, Death by Meeting, a leadership fable. In this book Lencioni points his finger toward two root causes of lackluster, ineffective meetings: lack of conflict and lack of contextual structure.

Lack of conflict

When watching a good movie, time flies. This is because we are hooked during the opening scenes. Even if there are a few slow scenes later in the movie, we stay committed and engaged as the plot, ripe with conflict, unfolds. The opposite often occurs when participating in a meeting. There is no hook at the beginning of the meeting, and right when conversations get juicy, conflict is squashed.

Compare these two meeting openers:

Version 1: “Today we are going to review the detailed results of our recent employee and client surveys, including how our 2019 results compare to our 2018 results.”

Version 2: “Today we are going to create three new ways we can wow our clients and take better care of each other.”

Version 2 entices us to sit up and pay attention to what’s coming next—this meeting might just be fun!

Lencioni encourages us to mine for conflict. What is the elephant in the room that everyone is dancing around? Invite that elephant into the meeting, and watch the conversation flow. Another key element of meeting success is that once a decision is made, everyone agrees to support it. Consensus is not desirable or achievable. Better than consensus, we want all participants to fully engage in the discussion, and then align on supporting the final decision, regardless of individual stance when the meeting began. This is why it is so important to mine for conflict and ensure everyone shares their voice. Not only does diversity of perspectives lead to more effective decision making, it also makes it easier to support the final outcome as a team.

Lack of contextual structure

Conventional wisdom tells us that effective meetings are typically an hour long, have an agenda, and that meeting notes are shared within 1 to 3 days of the meeting’s conclusion. But how could one meeting type meet all the various business needs? Instead, consider the four-meeting playbook that provides a variety of meeting types, each with a unique purpose and format.

The four-meeting playbook

  1. Daily check-in — A 5-minute-maximum standup meeting at the beginning of each day, where everyone on the team announces what they’re working on that day. The purpose of the check-in is to ensure everyone is on the same page and to clarify daily expectations of each other.
  2. Weekly tactical — A meeting that is held on the same day and at the same time each week, lasts no more than 90 minutes (ideally less), and—wait for it—has no agenda! The purpose is continued alignment and discussion of topics that are critical to achieving immediate goals. The weekly tactical starts off with each person sharing their top three primary activities for that week in 60 seconds or less. Next, there is a progress report to ensure everyone is clear where the group stands against the three or four metrics that the team has identified as the most important. Finally, the group decides what should be discussed that day. These are the tactical topics that are critical to achieving the current sort-term goals. Often, the right topics will be obvious based on what was shared during the individual updates. If a more strategic topic arises, table it for the monthly strategic meeting. If an urgent strategic issue arises that can’t wait for the next monthly strategic meeting, schedule an ad hoc strategic meeting for later that day or week.
  3. Monthly strategic — This meeting’s purpose is to tee up one or two strategic ideas, such as a new competitive threat, a new marketing strategy, or a possible joint venture. While this meeting does have an agenda, it does not have a strict time limit.  Block half a day each month for this meeting—you may not need all four hours, but some months you will. One way to create the agenda is to—at the end of a weekly tactical meeting—ask each team member to write down one suggested agenda item for the next monthly strategic meeting. Each team member will then give a 60-second pitch on why their topic should make the agenda.  After all topics have been pitched, everyone has two votes—you cannot vote for your own topic and you cannot split votes, but you can vote for the same topic twice. Once you’ve identified the one or two topics, pre-work and research can ensue to help drive the discussion to closure during the meeting. The daily check-ins can be used to make sure the necessary research is being collected and that the pre-work is divvied up.
  4. Quarterly off-site review — This is a two-day meeting with the purpose of discussing topics that have longer-term impact on the success of your business. The topics should be customized to fit your practice or business and could include items such as staff morale, the dynamics of the leadership team, high performers, low performers, client satisfaction, and long-term vision and strategy. Consider an external consultant to serve as a knowledgeable but impartial facilitator to keep the conversation flowing and, when the time is right, helping to move toward decisions and next steps.

Be part of the solution. What will you do to transition the meetings you lead, or attend, from meeting madness to productive, fun meetings that everyone looks forward to attending?

Calls to action (nudge, nudge)

  1. Read the book.
  2. Start with a hook.
  3. Embrace conflict.
  4. Reframe your meetings using the four-meeting playbook customized to fit your needs.


Looking for a consultant to help improve your team meetings? Look no further than the VetPartners member directory, where you’ll find hundreds of business experts dedicated to helping veterinary professionals thrive.

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Dr. Mia Cary, a 1999 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine (go Gators!), is a consultant, speaker, and workshop facilitator specializing in leadership, communication, strategy, teamwork, innovation, energy infusion, well-being, and special projects. Her purpose is activating others to thrive. She is the former chief of professional development and strategic alliances for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and chief innovation officer of the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC). She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Pet Peace of Mind (PPOM) and is a past president of the American Association of Industry Veterinarians (AAIV). She also serves on the Board of Advisors for the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy (VEA). Prior to her work with the AVMA, Dr. Cary held various education and leadership roles at the NAVC, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Novartis Animal Health. She resides in Greensboro, North Carolina, with her husband (John), three bonus kids (Dakota, Carson, and Grant), their dog (Lucy), and their cats (Louie and Leo).

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