There is good book by Patrick Lencioni called Death by Meeting. The book is good; the title is great.
The title resonates with many church leaders I know because so many of us have been in meetings that felt like torture. Who hasn’t been in a meeting that drags on and on? Or a meeting that is heated, but it’s not clear why? And then there is the meeting that generates lots of conversation but no results.
What’s even worse is that many of us LEAD such meetings. I know I have.
Whether you are on a church staff, lead volunteers, or conduct meetings at work, you know the pressure to make the most of everyone’s times and to avoid being brought up on charges of attempted murder by meeting.
How can we improve our meetings? A few years ago I had my eyes opened to the simple truth that how we approach meetings makes a tremendous difference. Specifically, my ability to lead meetings improved when I recognized that every meeting has three key elements: purpose, process and content. When I let these three elements work together, they work for me and everyone else in the meeting.
Purpose (Why Our Team is Meeting)
Every team meeting needs direction, or purpose – and the purpose needs to be clearly stated. A clear purpose orients each team member in the same direction and toward the same objective during the meeting.
I once consulted with an organization whose leadership team held Monday staff meetings. Every Monday they met for one hour. Why? Because it was Monday.
Because it is Monday is not a purpose. There is nothing wrong with meeting every Monday, but each meeting must have a clear purpose in order for the team to be effective during the time the team members are together. When a meeting lacks a clearly stated purpose, a team runs the risk of each team member arriving with his or her own notion of why the meeting is being held. Of course, often these notions vary and compete, causing confusion (and perhaps frustration) during the meeting and disappointment (and perhaps frustration) after the meeting.
Process (How Our Team Will Conduct Our Meeting)
In addition to purpose, every team meeting needs a clearly stated and agreed-upon process for how to conduct the meeting. For example, I am leading a meeting later this week for which the purpose is to generate actions for improving what I will call here “Program X.” The process for conducting the meeting is:
- Quickly review the reason we do Program X in order to set context
- Take 2 minutes to share rationale for choosing to revitalize Program X rather than replace it.
- Brainstorm fresh ideas for revitalizing Program X
- Commit to taking next steps on three of the best ideas
Note that the above example is just one way such a meeting could proceed. The key is not in finding a perfect process that fits any and all meetings, but in having a tailored process that is clear and keeps the conversation moving in the right direction (toward the purpose). Your role is to be tenacious about ensuring the team has a meeting process, not about dictating what process is best.
While you want to strive to have a process tailored for your purpose, I’ve found that having ANY process (no matter how imperfect) is far better than having no process.
Content (What We Share in the Meeting)
Every meeting has content. You might say this is “the meat of the meeting.” Very often, teams dive into content without first establishing purpose and process. This kind of undisciplined conversation, discussion, and sharing produces very poor results.
To lead a great meeting, you have to be able to recognize when the content of the conversation has strayed off purpose and/or is not aligning with the established process. For instance, in the previous example if someone started critiquing an idea during the brainstorming phase, it would be imperative to put a halt to the critiquing because doing so is out of pace and off topic.
To make the most of meetings, when (not if, but when) we recognize team members sharing content that is off purpose or out of process, we name it and get everyone back on track. There is no shame or judgment conveyed when we help a meeting correct course, it is simply a matter of helping “us” do what “we” agreed to do.
Simple, But Not Easy
This all sounds simple, and it is. However, it is not easy. What is most difficult is the discipline it takes to implement new meeting behaviors. It takes courage to try something new and commitment to stick with it.
May your next meeting be less deadly!