Rethinking How We Lead Meetings

 

How are you at leading meetings? If you lead them, you better be asking. I lead meetings. Lots of them. Perhaps too many of them. It is so easy for me to get into the groove of leading the meetings without evaluating if I’m actually doing it well. These people are looking to me to lead an engaging, productive, and team building meeting where we all grow in our trust for one another. They eagerly and often secretly hope that the meetings will end on time or early, but they want to be engaged in the meetings as well. They hate boring meetings.

In the past few weeks I’ve talked to several pastors and leaders who were hoping I’d give tips on leading meetings. I’ve gotten the ball rolling with the below posts. I also took a few minutes scouring some of my favorite blogs for additional food for thought on meetings. I don’t claim to agree with everything said, but I do agree that you and I should be thinking about it more.
 

Articles by Wayne Hedlund (me):

Articles by Michael Hyatt:

Articles by Seth Godin:

Articles by Patrick Lencioni:

Articles by Tim Stevens:

Articles by 99%:

Three Enemies of Unity

A few years back I heard about a church that was having a serious fight. The elders and the pastor were at odds with each other and it wasn’t getting resolved. It turns out, one side wanted to get rid of the projector and go back to just putting everything in the bulletin. The church was just inches from experiencing an ugly split over the issue. Finally, the pastor agreed to the elders demands and things settled down, for a little while.

Paul opens up his first letter to the Corinthians with these words:

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” 1 Cor. 1:10

This appeal to local churches is easier said than done. Our mutual enemy seeks to tear down the body of Christ by sowing discord wherever he can and as often as possible. It is so critical that our leadership teams are aware of these attacks and are ready to combat them. 

Following are 3 strategies the devil uses to sow discord. 

1. Pride

Last night I listened to my two teens fighting about something. The content of the fight was very trivial and there was really no point in them arguing about it at all. I asked one of them, “Why are you guys still fighting about this?” The answer? “Because I’m right.”

Sometimes we are just unwilling to let things go. We believe we know what’s supposed to happen and are unwilling to give in until others admit we are right. Most prideful people don’t see themselves as being prideful and, unfortunately, are often unwilling to admit defeat. 

The below questions might help bring awareness to the team, if pride is hiding away in someone’s heart.

  • Am I angry?
  • Am I willing to be wrong in this conversation?
  • Am I really listening and seeking to understand the other perspectives in the room?
  • Are my thoughts and words expressing love and gratitude to those around me right now?
     

2. Failure to Communicate

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” We send that quick email or mentioned something in passing and think we’ve communicated. I know what this is like. Once I think I’ve communicated something to someone, I put it out of my mind for good. If I actually didn’t communicate, then there will be problems.

If there are unresolved disagreements among the team, it’s because of a failure to communicate. If team members feel hurt, angry or frustrated with others on the team, communication isn’t happening. If people are making assumptions that others ‘get it’ when they don’t or are getting things done when they aren’t, then someone needs to have more conversations.

3. Lack of Shared Purpose

It can be challenging to take my family to an amusement park. I have 4 children; two teens and two young gradeschoolers. Sometimes, what they want to do at the park goes in four different directions. If we spend all our time just catering to one child, then there’s a chance the other three will leave disappointed and frustrated. Each one has a different idea about why we are at the park.

The same can hold true in the local church. When the leadership team has differing ideas on what the church should be doing or how it should be behaving, there will be conflict. This is why I encourage churches to host monthly or quarterly strategic meetings designed to determine vision, purpose and strategy together as a team.

What other enemies of unity should I add to this list?

 

16 Ways To Lead A Bad Meeting

Many years ago I attended what I would call a bad meeting. It was the traditional setting: Long table with 6 people on each side, a meeting facilitator at the head and someone (me as it turns out) at the opposite end. It was, by far, the most boring meeting of my life. The frustration and anxiety I experienced in those two long hours are vividly etched in my memory. I can’t get them out even today when I think of that experience. I remember watching the gentleman sitting next to me pull out documents and a legal pad and evidently begin doing work from his office. He looked to be 100% disengaged from the discussion. I remember watching the seconds tick by on my watch just like I did while in high school. When the meeting was over I was the first one out the door. I have no idea where I went, I just remember thinking, “I need to get out of here.”

I know you are intrigued. You’ve been wondering for weeks now just how you can most effectively lead a meeting as frustrating, ineffective, unproductive, and boring as this one. Today is your day. Following are my top suggestions on how to lead a bad meeting

How To Lead A Bad Meeting

Begin the meeting late. 

Whatever you do, be sure to NOT start the meeting until everyone has arrived. Even better, show up late yourself to the meeting. 

Kill several trees.

Hand out lots of documents and papers. Make sure several of the documents were handed out at the last meeting. To add a layer of confusion to the meeting, include a document or two which you will never explain or refer to. Lots of paper will help you feel important and will require everyone to shuffle things around a lot and look busy.

Take attendance before you begin.

You know, like your teacher’s did in school. This will remind the team that you are in charge and that they should never miss a meeting.

Vote on the previous meeting’s minutes.

This is especially effective when there is no reason to vote on the previous meeting’s minutes (for example: it’s not a meeting that requires a vote based on an article in your organization’s by-laws.) The best way to facilitate this act of boredom is to request that everyone read the minutes from top to bottom; then ask for a motion to accept the minutes, for a second motion, and be sure that all in favor says, “I”. Don’t forget to personally record who made the first motion and who seconded as well. 

Rehash old conversations.

From the minutes, go over all of the previous meeting’s discussions, adding commentary and inviting additional discussion. One of the best ways to frustrate your team is by spending the bulk of your meeting re-hashing conversations and decisions that have already been made.

Recruit a scribe or note-taker on the fly.

In particular, do so after you’ve already led the meeting for 15 minutes and ask the scribe to write down what’s already happened. You can also ensure your scribe loses several hours sleep that night if you ask him about every 4-5 minutes, “Did you get that in the minutes?”

Overload the agenda.

Make sure there are more items on the meeting agenda than you will have time to address. This will provide an amazing tension in the room as the participants wonder if the meeting was meant to be an all-day meeting. It will also create an added layer of discontentment because the meetings will never seem to accomplish the designated goals.

Do most of the talking.

You love the sound of your own voice as well as your own opinions, so you know your team will hang on your every word. Well, not really. If they hung on your every word the meeting wouldn’t be very boring would it? No. Just talk a lot and make sure what you have to say is mostly irrelevant and delivered with the least amount of energy and passion as possible. Think of your History Professor in college.

Lose track of the conversation.

Focus is your enemy. Go on as many rabbit trails as you want, especially if they aren’t on the agenda or if they are discussions you have already hashed over in past meetings. Make sure you never really get back to the agenda item. Just close down one of the rabbit trail discussions, make sure it was recorded in the minutes, and move on to the next agenda item. Bonus idea: skip one agenda item.

Interrupt people.

If people start talking, wait until they are just getting to their point and either finish their sentence for them or thank them for their comments and move on to the next agenda item without inviting other thoughts. Note: never ask your note-taker if they got other people’s comments in the minutes, just yours.

Veto discussions.

An alternate to interrupting people would be to allow the team to discuss the topic at hand without your input for a long time and then veto their ideas with the one you’ve been planning all along.Don’t allow the team to question your decision, just move on to the next agenda item. Another option would be to ask someone else to lead a discussion while you are away on a business trip and then veto the decisions made in the room later in the week via email. These tactics require preparation: you have to have already made up your mind about what you want to do, before you ask for the team’s input. 

Assume everyone is on board.

This is easy to do. Just make sure you NEVER ask people if they understand or agree with the ideas or decisions being made. Don’t encourage questions either. If someone does ask a question, let them know they will understand once the discussion is over. Don’t follow up later to find out if that happened. Also, it’s really good to be slightly condescending when people ask questions. This will help them realize that they are big boys and girls and should be able to figure out what’s going on themselves. This will ensure others don’t ask questions later in the meeting.

Don’t hold anyone accountable.

Make sure nobody gets held accountable for outstanding action items assigned to them. One great method to accomplish this is to simply “forget” to send previous minutes. Also, don’t worry about setting due dates. If there is a due date and something doesn’t get done, just set a new due date. Using these methods, you will be sure to get almost nothing done as a team.

Mix things up.

Detail oriented tactical conversations don’t mix well with big picture strategic conversations. So to lead a bad meeting, mix them into the same meeting. Start talking tactical, like who is going to do that upcoming event, and then move into a strategic discussion about why it’s important; then go back to more tactical. This method will confuse and exhaust your team over the long haul.

Avoid constructive conflict.

You probably have this one figured out. Best case, avoid all conflict. If you can’t prevent conflict, then simply pick which side of the conflict you are on and join in the battle. The key to avoiding constructive conflict is to ensure that everyone involved is defensive and focused on protecting themselves and their ideas. Do that, and you will succeed every time in alienating and destroying team trust.

Go long.

No. That’s not a football reference. I just mean that you should make sure your meetings all go much longer than scheduled. Bonus: start a new discussion 2 minutes before (or after) the meeting is supposed to end.

How to Lead a Good Meeting

 

I’m beginning to wonder if boring meetings are bad for your physical & emotional health. Really. Think about it for just a second. When we’re bored, we tend to have bad posture and if the meeting is long, then we’re in that pose for a good while. So that can’t be good for your body. Even worse, boring meetings tend to be stressful for everyone present. We’ve all got other things we could be doing. And then there’s the fact that boring meetings usually mean we aren’t paying attention, which means we might miss something or not get proper buy-in for an upcoming new venture. And that leads to less than great results, which also leads to stress. Stress isn’t good for the body . . . you get the idea.

A while back I wrote a post about “16 Ways to Lead a Bad Meeting” that you might find mildly humorous (I hope.)

Nobody wants to lead a bad meeting. So I’d like to share some pointers I’ve learned over the years on how to lead, well, a ‘good’ meeting instead. I hope you find them helpful.

Begin the meeting on-time.

People can be notorious for being late and we hate to start without them. Here are a couple of suggestions for doing this effectively. At your next meeting, let the whole team know that you have personally been irresponsible to the team for not honoring all of their time by starting the meeting late. Inform them that, beginning today, you will be starting all future meetings on time.  If someone comes in late, you will give them the benefit of the doubt the first time. After that you will be addressing them following the meeting regarding their lateness to the meeting. 

Prepare.

I can personally attest to the great difficulty in properly preparing for team meetings. We are all so busy and hold so many meetings throughout our day and week that it’s so easy to just jump from one meeting to the next without more than a passing thought to what will be happening when you get there. However, ANY preparation you give prior to the meeting will reap great rewards during the meeting. The more you give, the greater impact the meeting will have. Your meetings will have more depth during conversations, be much more interesting, and may possibly even finish early.

Create a Realistic Agenda.

It is very demotivating to team members when there are more agenda items than you could actually ever address. You don’t want demotivated people in your meeting. It ruins momentum. When you don’t address an item on the agenda that is important to a team member, it can seem to them like it isn’t really important to you, especially if you don’t get to it several weeks in a row.

Hold Others and Yourself Accountable.

You should regularly review action items (to do’s) that have been assigned to members of the team to ensure they are getting done. If and when they are not, there should be accountability with the team regarding the breach in fulfilling an agreed upon commitment. If this is an issue for you and your team, then for now, I recommend you read both of the following books: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Crucial Confrontations.

Avoid Rabbit Trails.

You get the analogy of that little phrase, ‘rabbit trail’, right? It jumps off quickly and captures everyone’s attention without them even knowing it. This is particularly true if the topic at hand is boring or getting drawn out or is a difficult topic of discussion. “Let’s talk about something more interesting!” The effective team leader will work very hard at minimizing this activity. Every once in a while you may decide the rabbit trail is important to entertain for a while. However, it should rarely happen and should almost always come back to the original topic. One idea when people seem to want to go down a rabbit trail is to say something like, “Let’s add this conversation to the February 8th meeting agenda.” or some such thing.

Set Expectations First.

It’s important at the beginning of certain discussions that you clarify your expectation of the discussion. Is this discussion meant to stimulate creative thinking? Is it to discuss tactical options? Will there be a vote? Or is the direction already decided and you want people to express their opinions and concerns? Are we brainstorming or are we evaluating? What do you want the end of this conversation to look like and sound like?

Ask Lots of Questions.

The point of most meetings is discussion and feedback. This usually doesn’t happen by itself. Many (though not all) people need to be encouraged to speak up and their opinions/ideas drawn out. This will happen by asking both general and specific questions about the topic at hand. Sometimes it is good to put one or more team members on the spot for their input. If the team member has been tracking with the conversation she will have something to say, even if it’s just, “everything we’ve said so far makes total sense to me.”

Ask for Clarification.

If you are not sure what a person means during a discussion . . . even a little bit, ask for them to clarify their point or re-ask their question. When necessary, repeat it back to them in your own words and ask for confirmation that this is, in fact, what they are saying. If not, keep exploring until you are all on the same page. 

Confirm Your Team’s Understanding.

It is often very good to ask the team if everyone understands what is being discussed or what has just been said or decided. Just because you understand what’s going on, doesn’t mean others do. Watch out for glassy eyes which could indicate, “I have no idea what was just said but am embarrassed to say so.” When in doubt, ask someone else in the room to repeat back what has been said or decided.

Confirm Buy-In.

It’s important you don’t assume everyone agrees with what has been said. Sometimes, when it SEEMS like everyone agrees there are individuals who don’t but are afraid to say so because they don’t want to rock the boat. Ask a few probing questions to give people a chance to ask an additional question or raise a concern. Two really great follow-up questions to consider which will help with this is: “What do you like best about this idea?” and “What do you think we might do to improve on this idea?”

Embrace Silence.

Learn to embrace silence. People need time to think and respond. An insecure leader will ask, “Does anyone have anything to add?” or “Does anyone have questions about this idea?” and will allow a scant 5 seconds for responses before moving on. Wait 30 seconds (an eternity). Halfway through you can say, “I’m not afraid of a little silence here. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page.”

Openly Expose Elephants in the Room.

I don’t know how else to say this. If there’s an elephant in the room you need to stop everything and talk about the elephant. You also need to give your team members permission to expose elephants too. It’s very possible (probable) it’s standing right behind you and you don’t even know it. Just be honest and say, “Listen, I could be wrong, but is there something going on right now that we are all not talking about and should? Specifically, . . . . ?” Check out this post entitled, “Exposing the Elephant in the Room

Say What You Think & Feel.

Similar to the elephant exposure idea, you need to be free to honestly express something you think or feel as the meeting facilitator. Of course, your team members should have permission to do that too. If you feel like the meeting is getting boring, why don’t you say so? If it seems like people are falling asleep on you – ask if they are. If it seems like everyone seems confused about what you are talking about, say so. It’s always possible you are wrong, but what if you aren’t? 

Listen.

Listening is really hard to do, especially for the leader of the meeting. Often, the leader has the most at stake in the discussion and wants to make sure the conversation is going where they want it. A good meeting facilitator will force himself to listen, ask for clarification, and ensure everyone has had their say before the discussion ends. He needs to be able to express his viewpoint as well, of course. Often that should happen near the end of the discussion or at the very beginning. Sometimes the meeting leader will need to make comments or reorient the discussion because it’s getting off-track, but the primary job of the facilitator is to lead the DISCUSSION, not the DECISION. This is especially important if the meeting leader is the leader of the organization. Usually, people want to just go with the leader and will not express viewpoints if the leader has already said everything he (or she) thinks.

Think Before You Speak.

Important. Very important. Did I say important? If you want to say something, go ahead. But make sure you have gathered your thoughts and whenever possible select your words carefully. As the team leader, everyone is taking their cues from you. As the organizational leader they are also deciding if it’s safe to talk because of you. Learn catch phrases that will facilitate conversations like, “I wonder if . . .”, “Is it possible we are forgetting . . .”, “I could be wrong, but . . .”.

End On Time or Early.

Your team will thank you. Work hard at being the hero and finish early, or at the very minimum, on time. If you’re meeting seems like it might end up going late, let everyone know a good 10-15 minutes beforehand, if possible – and release anyone who has other appointments coming up right away so they can rearrange them or leave your meeting on time.

 

Exposing the Elephant in the Room

We all know about the elephant in the room. We just won’t admit it or talk about it. Ever. It’s taboo. It’s inappropriate. It’s insensitive. It’s just wrong, right? Nobody talks about it.

  • Brenda has bad breath. You can smell it halfway across the table. Don’t say anything.
  • A zipper is down. Don’t mention it to anyone, maybe you’re the only one who noticed (and who’d want to admit to noticing that?)
  • Tom just suggested something in the meeting that was already discussed ten minutes ago. Umm. Let’s just move on.
  • James just showed up 10 minutes late, again. Pretend it’s normal and expected.
  • Lisa has been systematically shooting down every idea we have had for the past ten minutes. Just stop giving new ideas.
  • The team leader just missed the fact that half the room has no idea what he’s talking about. Nobody wants to say anything.
  • John has been texting for the last 30 minutes . . .
  • Larry has been hiding behind his laptop . . .
  • Katie looks like she’s going to either hit someone or start crying hysterically . . . 
  • We already talked about that three weeks ago . . .
  • None of us are really interested in this new project . . .
  • We are all tired and haven’t taken a break for the last two hours . . .
  • Tina is missing. She probably forgot about the meeting again . . .
  • Bill has missed her deadline for that project three times already.


Elephants overwhelm the room.
 They are big, smelly and noisy. They keep pushing people around. It always seems like the trunk is resting on your shoulder, breathing in your ear. Elephants are extremely effective at creating an unproductive and distracting environment.

There will always be at least one elephant in the room when trust is broken. A team of people who are afraid to talk, speak their mind, or say what most everyone is thinking has a serious problem. They are dysfunctional teams and accomplish almost nothing. Now imagine a meeting with more than one elephant! Maybe you don’t have to. 

Does the shoe fit the elephant on your team? I recommend you get a book, read it, and then ask your team to read it. It’s all about elephants (ironically, the author doesn’t talk about them). You’ve probably heard about the book, but unless you’ve read it, you’ll never know if you’re ready for the elephants or not. 

Check out Patrick Lencioni’s bestselling book: 
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
 
Source of Elephant in the Room image unknown.

The Power of Criticism in Meetings

meetingsHere’s the deal. If all you have are a bunch of head nodding people in your team meetings, you will have a hard time coming up with new and fresh ideas. I know. I’ve been there. There have been times when it’s been really important for my team to find a creative solution to a problem, but when we tried to discuss it, nothing happened. Often, I would end up standing up and pacing around while people talked until I was able to come up with a viable solution myself for us to consider. After watching this video, I’m realizing the problem was probably related to how willing my team was in pushing and prodding one another’s ideas.

The main problem with this comes back to the first dysfunction of teams found in Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” – Lack of Trust. If you haven’t read that yet, put it up high on your list of books to get and read.

So check out this short (2 1/2 minute) RSA video with Journalist & author Jonah Lehrer talking about this problem. 

Application: Why not show this video at your next team meeting and ask the question, “Do we trust one another enough to engage in this kind of constructive criticism when we brainstorm together?”

Image by Caitlin Applegate.

Running Great Meetings Summary

I love the title of Patrick Lencioni’s book, “Death by Meeting“. It can be so true . . . sometimes it feels like a slow death that somehow turns minutes into hours. In the mid 2000’s I was asked by my boss to begin leading our weekly staff meetings. Although I was honored, I was also quite intimidated. Up until that point I just had to show up and participate. Now I was in charge. I have vivid memories of the insecurity I felt after each session as I tried evaluating how it went.

Fast forward to today, hundreds of meetings later. I am still mildly intimidated, but not nearly as insecure. I don’t always hit the home run, and I suspect some of the meetings I lead can seem boring to the participants, especially Tactical meetings. That said, I think I’ve learned a lot as well.

In an effort to help all the pastors and church leaders out there that still struggle in this area, I have put together a series of posts that may prove beneficial. Enjoy!

On Leading Meetings:

  • The Meeting Professional
    A link to a great article by Seth Godin asking the question, “What would our meetings be like if we hired a meeting fairie?”

On Trust & Teamwork:
  • Creating A Trust Culture
    An exhortation from Matthew 5 and a link to Andy Stanley’s podcast entitled ‘Trust vs Suspicion’.
  • The Tunnel of Chaos
    A discussion about a very important principle that is the key to developing and maintaining trust among team members.
  • Teamwork and Trust
    I just had to find a way to fit this video clip into my blog. It overwhelmed me. These young men express a visual illustration of what unity and teamwork can look like (obviously, not literally).

On Kinds of People and Kinds of Meetings:
  • Strategy Kickstart: Team Meetings
    This is a short video clip encouraging your team to discuss the idea of splitting strategic discussions from tactical discussions.
  • The Seats of the Bus
    In this article I break down the three different ‘kinds’ of teams you should have. 
  • The Four C’s
    A detailed explanation of the ‘Four C’s’ every leader should consider when hiring or looking for new leaders to join a team.
  • The Strategic Personality
    This article explains the most ideal temperament/personality of a big picture, back seat of the bus leader.

Exploring Team Dilemma’s
  • The Sacred Cow
    What is a sacred cow and what does it look like in the context of the local church?
  • The Smelly Cow
    A dangerous idea on how you might discover where your sacred cows are hiding.
Check out my Resources Page to see more summaries of past series! 


Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” 

The Meeting Professional

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com

The last few weeks I’ve explored the idea of teams; specifically getting the right people on them. But what about leading teams? What would happen if hired a professional to lead your meetings. How would it look compared to how YOU lead them?

Seth Godin wrote a blog about this recently entitled “Making Meetings More Expensive“. He didn’t suggest hiring a professional though. He recommended a meeting fairie.

Click this link to see what he had to say. You’ll be stretched.