Leading a Productive Staff Meeting

There are two major kinds of work in modern organizations: one is taking phone messages for people who are in meetings; the other is going to meetings. Most of us aspire to the second category until we have attended two or three meetings, then we beg to get back on phone duty.

The modern church staff meeting has been compared to an off-the-wall combination of a merry-go-round and a funeral; people attending something they don't want to attend, going in circles, and focusing on something that is quite lifeless. Some miss what was once alive, others pray for those who look to be in pain, and the rest are content to be there for a free ride on a colored pony.

Some church staffs meet simply because it's Monday. The primary goal is that everyone gets to say something - even those who have nothing to say. Other church staff meetings look like they have some good potential. But the relationships are in such poor condition that politics, fear, and a general mistrust remove any chance of productivity, let alone an enjoyable experience. Then, thankfully, there are staff meetings that the people want to attend, creative ideas are exchanged, good decisions are made, and measurable productivity is the result. These staff meetings don't happen by accident. They are the result of intentional effort and design. This article is dedicated to help you make your meetings be productive, meaningful and enjoyable.

1. Preparation for an effective meeting.

Prepare for it as if it were a Sunday morning sermon. What takes place before the meeting is as important as what happens in the meeting. I will confess that of the hundreds of meetings I've led, there have been more than I care to admit that I was not well prepared. The people who attend the meeting will never prepare more than the one who leads the meeting. So, how prepared do you want the team to be?

As a general rule of thumb, it is wise to invest at least as much time preparing for the meeting as you spend in the meeting.

Clearly define your purpose and stick to it.

Don't try to make it a one size fits all meeting - a combination of a prayer meeting, training meeting, emergency meeting, business meeting, and regular all purpose no-purpose meeting.

In the last article of The Pastor's Coach (see online archive), I outlined four different meetings in some detail that are held each month.

In outline review:

All Staff Meeting - the primary purpose is to shape the staff culture and build team morale.

Pastoral Staff Meeting - the primary purpose is communication and strategic thinking.

Staff Training Meeting - the primary purpose is leadership development.

War Room Meeting - the primary purpose is master planning, with a detailed focus on the calendar.

Your meetings need not be so rigid that there is never a blending of purpose; creativity and God moments don't always fit into an agenda. But in general, your team will be better served by a well-planned meeting.

Explore alternatives to the meeting.

If you don't need a meeting, don't have one. Some items, although important, are too detailed or don't involve enough of the people who attend the meeting to justify being included on the agenda. You may be able to cover an item by assigning a small task force to handle it, or perhaps a brief conference call could cover the issue.

On occasion, this idea may relate to the entire meeting. The simple thought here is "don't meet when it's not necessary." (If you adopt the four different kinds of meetings, each once a month, as described in the last article, you will rarely cancel a meeting.)

Determine who is to attend the meeting.

Generally speaking, the fewer the better, but exclusivity is not the goal. The goal is to be productive. Only those who need to be there should be in attendance. In other words, base your decision on who will make a significant contribution rather than who will get their feelings hurt if they aren't invited.

In the case of a very small staff, such as: a senior pastor, one part-time associate, and a church secretary, your staff meeting is just as important as for a large staff. Prepare well and insist on productivity. If you are a solo senior pastor with no paid staff, I still recommend a meeting in which you select 3-5 effective lay leaders to be your volunteer staff.

Design the meeting agenda.

For the regular staff meeting, an outline of categories for agenda items could look like: (again, please click here to see the last issue of The Pastor's Coach for more detail.)

Story-telling - Stories of life change Rapid Fire - Quick communication updates Think Tank - Ministry strategy and design From the Heart - Matters of the heart Leader's with a Shepherds heart - Prayer

Distribute the agenda in advance. Give the staff opportunities to participate to their fullest capacity through preparation. As a general rule of thumb, nothing comes up in the meeting that is not on the agenda. This is not intended to squelch the spirit, but the way to stay focused, purposeful, and on time.

Know and communicate the value of the meeting.

Education is always valuable. Occasionally, let your staff know how important the meetings are. (This is preparation in that its real value is usually not in the meeting it's shared, but in meetings that follow.)

Examples: Compute the salaries and fringe benefits of everyone attending and calculate the per hour value. It will be a staggering number. On occasion remind your team of good stewardship with God's money. Or, remind the team of the eternal consequences of the work you are tending to. We are not to take ourselves too seriously, but we are to take God very seriously.

Have the meeting room completely prepared before the meeting begins.

2. Leading an effective meeting.

Cultivate the right environment.

A good balance is one of both playfulness and purposefulness. It's like a boat on a tether. There's enough rope for the boat to ebb and flow with the tide, but not so much rope that the boat drifts out to sea. Have fun and laugh, but stay on course.

Pay attention to the sense of timing and progress.

Start and end on time.

It's acceptable to end early, but not late. Respect people's time.

Keep the pace moving briskly.

It's not a race, but keep it moving.

Allow breathing room after tense or difficult topics.

On occasion, there may be a personal issue, or a tense or difficult topic. Take a break, make room for humor, or take some time to pray.

Restate and clarify complicated issues.

No matter how rapt and in awe your staff members may appear, they really don't catch everything that is said. Briefly restate, or better yet, call upon someone to restate complicated issues.

Never forget the Next-Steps principle.

Next-Steps is about progress and accountability. The Next-Steps principle simply teaches us the importance of identifying what the next step is and clarity on who will take ownership for that step. Note: put a due date on each assignment.

Be sensitive and receptive to interruptions from God.

Because of the kindness and graciousness of God, there are times when He interrupts the meeting. These are sweet moments. Be attentive to His promptings. If He wants to change the agenda, let Him. This does not imply that a meeting without a epiphany is not important or not spiritual. I am assuming that part of your preparation is in-depth prayer. I'm referring to those special, unexplainable moments when the favor of God blesses your experience. Be grateful and go with the flow.

Encourage healthy interaction.

Don't hog and don't hide. It's kind of corny, but nonetheless a helpful guideline. No staff person should dominate or control, and no staff member should be silent. Leaders speak up, but don't take the spotlight. Courtesy and kindness are non-negotiable. So is honesty and candor, so from time to time there may be a moment of tension. This is normal, but don't let it pass without resolution. Tend to it by allowing thoughts and feelings to emerge, but only to the extent that the team benefits.

3. Follow-through is as important as preparation.

I'm a terrible golfer. People like me to play only because I'm entertaining. I once won an award in a "Texas Scramble" (best ball) type tournament raising money for missions by hitting 17 trees off of 18 tees. Some years ago I thought lessons might help. I took six lessons before I realized that God never intended for me to play golf, but one thing I did learn was the importance of good follow-through. Over and over and over again, my golf pro instructor pressed in on the importance of good follow-through on my swing, something, apparently, I never achieved. Follow-through in your staff meetings is no less important. Without follow-through, you might as well just pick up the ball and throw it at a tree. The following will help you follow up and follow through.

Evaluation.

The following seven items are those I hold as critical criteria for a productive meeting:

1. Was the purpose of the meeting accomplished?
2. In what way was the mission of the church advanced?
3. What took place of redemptive value?
4. Did the staff give their undivided attention and their best effort?
5. What are the next steps and who is responsible?
6. What was learned?
7. Was the chemistry of the team such that the meeting was enjoyed?

Produce and distribute necessary follow-up email for clarity and accountability as needed.

4. Final quick tips for added value.

Create discussion, don't deliver a lecture.

Take advantage of brief coaching, teaching, and mentoring moments.

Always find something to praise.

Do your homework, on paper and with people.

Invite people to attend the meeting for purpose more than protocol.

Watch for messages between the lines.

Thank the people for their time.

Remember: Anything that can be done outside a meeting should be!

This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com. I hope this is helpful to you, the next edition of The Pastor's Coach will cover the topic of ministry values.

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