action oriented meetings

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It has been said that if you want to kill time, a meeting is the perfect weapon. 

We’ve all been there. You are sitting in a meeting, and you are coming to the end of the allotted time for the meeting. You start to get restless. You begin shutting down your computer and putting your stuff in your backpack. You discreetly glance at your phone and see a couple of text messages that have come in.

Your mind has already shifted to the rest of your day. The meeting ends and everyone quickly exits. And no one has the time to stop and ask, “Was that a good meeting?” “Did we really accomplish what we needed to?” “Was it an effective and productive use of our time?”  Sometimes, after a meeting that was a complete waste of time, I have cynically figured out how much salary and how many staff hours we just squandered.

Apparently, there is good reason for us to feel frustrated by ineffective meetings—

  • Professionals lose 31 hours per month in unproductive meetings (roughly four work days)
  • Approximately 11 million meetings occur in the U.S. each and every day.
  • Most professionals attend a total of 61.8 meetings per month
  • Research indicates that over 50 percent of this meeting time is wasted.
  • In one study, 73% said they have brought other work to meetings, and 39% say they have dozed during meetings.

Here is what I know to be true…

  • Your organization spends a lot of valuable time and resources on meetings.
  • Your team wants to be helpful and productive.
  • It is discouraging and frustrating to walk away from meetings that felt like a waste of time.
  • With just a few small tweaks you can better steward people’s time, your organization’s resources, and the effectiveness of your impact.

After sitting in thousands of meetings, I have concluded that the most important part of any meeting is the “landing.” And, yet it is usually the most neglected part of the meeting. It is the norm to walk out of a meeting without clear decisions, without clear action steps, and without clear deliverables. It doesn’t matter how clear the agenda was or how good the snacks were or how much good discussion there was, if you don’t land the meeting well, it can be an organizational disaster.  So, I have developed a strategy to help the meetings I lead land well. I’ve found it a good practice to take the last 15 minutes of a meeting to land well. Most meetings continue discussion up to the very last minute, and then the meeting takes a crash landing. Setting aside the last fifteen minutes will allow for a smooth, effective, and productive landing. I have also learned that asking and answering three questions during that fifteen minutes can significantly raise the productivity of the meeting.

Question 1: What did we decide?

I am amazed how many times I have walked out of a meeting and I thought we made a decision on something, but other people who sat in the same meeting didn’t think we had landed a decision. So, I went out and started to act on the decisions I THOUGHT we made.

This can cause significant confusion, chaos, and conflict. And, by the way, it can make you pretty unpopular with your teammates. Before you leave the meeting, you must be clear on what is a decision and what is still just a discussion. Now, when I lead meetings, I find myself always pushing for decisions.

I have been in lots of meetings, just like you have, where the discussion gets right up to the edge of a decision, but nothing is ever definitively decided. I have also been in lots of meetings where we end up rehashing everything we discussed in the last meeting. It’s like Groundhog Day, and it’s a waste of time.

And, because we have an amazing ability to interpret things differently (think gossip game), I have found it helpful to actually write down on a whiteboard or flipchart the decisions that were made in a meeting.

Question 2: Who needs to know what we decided?

I have had personal discussions with hundreds of church staff members about the issue of “staff culture.”

When talking about gaps or weaknesses, lack of communication comes up in almost every discussion. This has direct correlation to the question of “what did we decide.” If decisions aren’t clear, then there is no way that communication will be clear or accurate.

Communication is also another reason I have found it helpful to write down the decisions we made in the team meeting.  When decisions are written down, it allows team leaders to take what is written back to their teams. It also minimizes the chances of decisions being reinterpreted between the team meeting and the time a decision gets communicated. 

In most churches I have worked with, the leadership would give themselves higher scores for communication than the volunteers or staff that work in the organization. And as a leader, one of my assignments from the meeting is to communicate those decisions to those I work with.

A few minutes of communication on the front end of a decision will help your team be more effective, make your team members feel valued, and save a lot of time cleaning up later because of a lack of communication.

Question 3: Who is responsible, and what are the action steps? Or key deliverables?

As important as it is to have clear decisions and clear communication, it is just as important to know who is responsible for certain actions.

Ultimately, all ideas and decisions become work that somebody has to own. After writing down the decision the team made, I would suggest also writing down any key action items related to that decision and who is responsible for those action items. And, I would include the date the person will commit to having completed the action item.

I know this might seem a bit tedious, but these steps can be what move good discussion and good intentions to great progress and great effectiveness. If you are a smaller team these steps might seem like overkill. I would encourage you to still employ the concepts but customize them to your size and situation. There are two more small steps you can take to increase the productivity of your team meetings. 

  • Define the win for the meeting. 

By asking that question we are aligning everyone’s expectations and defining what success is for this meeting. It is amazing how many times the question “What’s the win/purpose for this meeting?” is met with blank stares. Another way to ask it is “What outcomes would make this meeting worth the investment of our time?”

  • Capture what was decided, the communication that needs to happen, and who is responsible for key action items

After the meeting is over, if you are the team leader, leave ten minutes before your next task or meeting. Determine the items and above and write anything you need to follow up on before the next meeting.

Meetings are part of life in any organization—it is part of the process of moving the vision forward. And high-performing teams learn how to maximize and optimize the time spent in meetings.

But, when we work with churches, many pastors tell us they feel frustrated by amount of time spent in time-wasting meetings, alongside lack of follow-through, overspending, ministry silos that undermine the vision and a lack of leaders.

That’s why our team has been working on a brand new courseUnstuck Church Staff—to give pastors a self-paced training tool for learning the skills to:

  • Align staff activity to goals of the church
  • Create better conversations and clearer communication between staff and supervisors
  • Build confidence in meeting structure, cadence, effectiveness
  • Learn how to better diagnose performance issues
  • Hire fewer people by equipping staff to give more ministry away… and lots more

AND, we created a bonus module to help you evaluate team shifts you need to make because of the disruption we’ve experienced during the coronavirus crisis and where your church is headed next.

Enrollment is open now!

We hope you’ll give this course a look.

  **This is an excerpt from High Impact Teams by Lance Witt

Lance Witt

Lance is a pastor and a friend to leaders. He is passionate about helping people live well so they can lead well. Lance served 20 years as a Senior Pastor before serving 7 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He is also the founder of Replenish ministries and for more than a decade has been serving leaders and organizations of all shapes and sizes. Lance has written two books, Replenish and High Impact Teams.

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