Death By Meetings….Not at Catholic Charities of the East Bay

Chuck Fernandez, CEO

Chuck Fernandez, CEO

Do you ever wonder if people would love their jobs more if they didn’t have to go to meetings?  I’ve attended thousands of meetings throughout my career – some excellent, some good, and some just plain awful. I learned that excellent meetings can lead to excellent decisions while awful meetings can lead to well… awful decisions.

There are many elements that make for excellent meetings including a focused agenda, venue, and of course facilitation. There are also elements that make for ineffective meetings. In his book, Death by Meetings, Patrick Lencioni says that “meetings are ineffective because they lack contextual structure…. and that too many organizations have only one kind of meeting that combine everything from strategy to tactics and from administration to culture.” He says that because there is no clarity around what topics are appropriate, there is no clear context for the various discussions that take place and that in the end, little is decided. To make meetings effective, Lencioni says that an organization needs to have multiple types of meetings and clearly distinguish between the various purposes, formats, and timing of the meetings.

Those lessons are especially true in nonprofit management. We have many meetings at Catholic Charities of the East Bay and each has a purpose. Two examples include every Wednesday where our Executive Team has a “Setting the Table” meeting where we discuss the previous week’s events and progress made, and then what is on each director’s “plate” for the current week. This keeps everyone informed of what each is doing and what support each director needs. We also talk about strategy, new program and administrative initiatives, and agendas for the upcoming staff meetings. We also have one Administrative Team Meeting (managers and directors) each month where we review financial results, new initiatives, and program highlights and progress.

While many people loathe meetings, the solution is not to stop having them but to simply make them better. Lencioni says that when done right, meetings can save time by improving decision making and execution, and minimize the need to revisit the same item again and again. Each meeting at Catholic Charities has an agenda, a facilitator, and action steps. At the end of the Administrative Team meeting, we summarize the decisions made, review the Action Steps, and then evaluate each meeting (called Plus/Delta) to see what worked and didn’t work and therefore how we can improve each meeting. While we can always do better, we have made great strides in our meeting processes. More people are involved in the discussions and decision making process, communication has improved, and most importantly trust amongst each other has grown. It just feels really good and very special.

Death by meetings….not at Catholic Charities of the East Bay.