Are you constantly running short on time? How many meetings did you attend last week? Were they productive? How much did they actually cost your organization? Were you able to measure the return on investment?
In 2004, I moved to the U.S from Australia after accepting a VP role for an organization that was growing globally and, as a result, experiencing new challenges. While I was looking forward to this new challenge, nothing had prepared me for the number of meetings I was expected to attend, or how many people believed that they also needed to attend!
I found myself attending endless meetings and going away from them frustrated and annoyed because it appeared we didn’t have the right people in the room—those who had the authority to make decisions, and others whom we depended on for their support to see them implemented. If we didn’t have their buy-in, we ran the risk of seeing them derail what had been decided.
After reading Patrick Lencioni’s, Death by Meeting, I decided to conduct an audit of all of the meetings I was asked to attend, expected to attend, or where someone from my department was required to be. In some cases, more than one person from the same department was asked to attend.
I included vertical meetings that were initiated from higher in the leadership chain as well as down the chain when staff wanted me to be there so they could get a decision. Horizontal meetings were also included. These meetings required cross-functional representation or where buy-in was needed from other departmental leaders.
What was even more revealing to me than the actual cost of conducting all of these meetings, was the reality that many of them ended with no clear result or tangible outcome. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was reflective of larger, systemic issues in the organization’s culture.
Dr. Adizes argues the need for “CAPI” to be present at meetings if effective outcomes are to be achieved, and if you don’t want to waste time and resources. Essentially, CAPI is the coalescence of (A) authority, (P) power and (I) influence.
If the purpose of a meeting is to see a decision made, then it is critical to have a person in the room that has the authority or the legal right to make that decision. That person must be able to say “yes”, “no”, or “wait”.
However, we also know it’s not good enough for meetings to merely include someone with the authority to make a decision. We’ve all attended meetings and been frustrated by seeing good decisions thwarted by others who have the ability to withhold their cooperation or that of their team. Adizes describes this ability as “the power to punish or reward.”
Finally, there is the need to have someone at the meeting who has the ability to influence or convince others to do something without having to use authority or power. Primarily, this person doesn’t have to be in a position of authority to influence people. Dr. Adizes refers to these people as ‘Integrators’ or ‘Influencers’.
What’s the bottom-line?
We know there are many factors that can make it difficult for leaders and organizations to always achieve win-win scenarios, but it is possible to increase the probability of achieving them by holding more productive meetings. To achieve this:
The people who together comprise an organization’s CAPI must develop mutual trust and a vision of a win-win future… They must believe that they will benefit from the long-term win-win, even if there is a win-lose in the short-run. Unless the various constituencies develop a mutual trust, the short-run conflict of interest will dominate behavior and impede the efficiency of implementation.
For the record, I implemented a new system of meetings for my department that improved communication, increased productivity, and gave us back a lot more time to do the work rather than discuss the work.
Immediate results were experienced…and even enjoyed!
 Patrick Lencioni, Death by Meeting (San Francisco: Jossy-Bass), 2004.
 Dr. Ichak Adizes, Managing Corporate Lifecycles (Santa Barbara: Adizes Institute Publications, 2004), 267.