Meeting Phobia: The Cure

I began my last post with the admission that I have a healthy respect for well-facilitated meetings, unlike most people I know. But please notice I did specify that I appreciate meetings that are facilitated well. Sadly, many are not…which is why so many folks suffer from meeting phobia.

There is a direct correlation between meeting phobia and the abundance of leaders who have neglected to hone their facilitation skills. Those of us who appreciate face-to-face communication can overcome the resistance by consistently leading efficient and effective meetings. There’s one critical key to doing this well: be considerate of those who will participate in your meeting.

1. Create an agenda

  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the allotted time. Next, subtract one thing from the agenda.
  • Share the agenda with participants prior to the meeting so that they have time review material and come prepared

2. Control the flow of the conversation

  • Introduce the concept or problem, then allow the participants to interact with it.
  • Create space for people to think, particularly those who tend to craft their speech carefully.
  • Listen. Let me say that more emphatically: be quiet and listen to what others are saying. Their idea or solution may be better than yours!
  • Don’t be afraid of conflict. It’s healthy to wrestle with concepts and problems. It goes without saying that verbal abuse is off-limits.
  • If the conversation gets off-topic, suggest putting the distraction in “the parking lot.”* Come back to it later or make it the agenda for a future meeting.

3. Be sensitive to time

  • Simply put, start and end on time. No excuses.
  • If an exception has to be made–e.g., the group has nearly accomplished its task/purpose and can complete it in a few more minutes–ask if everyone agrees to extend the meeting 15 minutes.

4. Summarize

  • If a decision has been reached or a problem solved, re-state the decision or solution to be sure everyone leaves the meeting with a clear understanding.
  • If action items have been established, review them at the end of the meeting.
  • Follow up within a few days with a written summary of the meeting.

In speaking of Christ’s humility, Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.   -Philippians 2:3-4 [ESV]

Every one of the bullet points above requires the leader to consider the time, thoughts, and feelings of the meeting participants ahead of his/her own. It’s definitely a challenge–especially when you have a great idea to share or a perplexing problem that must be solved quickly–but doing so will go a long way to curing meeting phobia!

good meeting

*This concept is taken from Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a must-read for anyone who regularly facilitates meetings!

 

Meeting Phobia

Meetings… I’m one of the few people I know who has a healthy respect for well-facilitated meetings. I think they are the most efficient way to dream and strategize and problem solve when more than just me is involved. However, I’m definitely in the minority. Many of the people I know just groan at the mere suggestion of a meeting!

Email seems to be the communication method of choice these days. I admit that I like email. I can check it when it’s convenient for me, answering correspondence even if it’s 6am and the person I’m emailing isn’t out of bed yet, much less thinking about work! But when working with a team of people, email is inefficient. Everyone else shares the same privilege of looking at email when it’s convenient for them–which may not be convenient for me! Days can be wasted waiting for everyone to respond and some will inevitably miss bits and pieces of the conversation thread.

Conference calls are less popular but, in my opinion, a step up on the efficiency scale. At least everyone is present at the same time for the conversation… Or are they? I was on a conference call not long ago when one of the participants was walking down the city street. The traffic noise and his heavy breathing were so distracting that the facilitator asked him to mute his phone so that the rest of us could converse! I doubt he could hear much of what was being said.no show meeting

Does your team groan when you mention having a meeting? Do you find that some say they will come but don’t, and others just blow it off completely? If this sounds familiar to you, here are three questions you need to ask:

1. What’s the purpose?

  • Information impartation? Email, letter, or phone call will suffice.
  • Delegation of tasks? Email, letter, or phone call will suffice.
  • Collaboration? Good reason! Call the meeting!

2. What’s your motivation?

  • Vision casting… Is the vision complete in your mind? Can you see it perfectly?
  • Problem-solving… Do you already have the solution for the problem?

Too often we invite people to a meeting ostensibly to develop vision and pathway or to solve a problem, when what we really want is a platform to share our idea and enlist people to get it done. That’s information impartation and delegation of tasks. No meeting required; send an email, letter, or make a phone call.

3. Who are you inviting?

The people who feel valued when they are invited to participate in planning and problem-solving are potential leaders. There will always be people who are happier with an email or phone call asking them to do a task, and that’s perfectly fine. Find the people who want to be involved and who are eager to collaborate. Listen to them, sincerely value their input, invite them to wrestle with your ideas and be willing to entertain theirs!

Work on answering those questions, then come back tomorrow for more about the cure for meeting phobia!

 

Re-think Your Next Team Meeting!

I often hear volunteers and staff alike bemoaning meetings. I never know quite how to respond. To be honest, I like most meetings. I am definitely one of those “people persons” who is happy to get together with others to share, brainstorm, strategize…team collaboration is my idea of fun!

Notice anything about the kind of meetings I enjoy? You probably aren’t surprised that a meeting where I can contribute my thoughts and ideas and where I can hear the thoughts and ideas of others is the meeting I’ll be sure not to miss. No need to send me an email reminder or set a ringtone alert on my phone. I won’t forget, and I won’t be late!

Years ago I heard Bill Hybels speak of folks he encountered regularly who were unhappy in their jobs, people who found little or no joy in going to work each day. He told stories about how those same people shared with him that serving in a ministry through Willow Creek was the highlight of their week. Perhaps–similar to those folks of which Hybels spoke–your team groans about meetings because their marketplace meetings leave them bored out of their minds.

When you get right down to it, meetings are necessary. It’s helpful to get the team face-to-face when there are important decisions to be made, perplexing problems that elude the easy fix, or ministry successes that beg a celebration. Meetings can be a great place to identify emerging leaders and spot unfulfilled volunteers. They can serve you well. So… how do you get your team to respond with enthusiasm when it’s time to call a meeting?

Don’t call a meeting. Schedule a conversation instead.

A blog by Tony Golsby-Smith caught my attention a few months ago. Mr. Golsby-Smith makes a good point that too many business meetings are data-laden, issue-avoiding, unproductive, and generally stifle imagination and creativity. The end result is that people cringe at the term “meeting,” which can wreak havoc with your ability to draw a team together for creative, fulfilling ministry.

What makes a conversation different? According to Mr. Golsby-Smith…

  • A conversation is informal. As the great German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer said, you only have a conversation when you don’t know the outcome at the beginning.
  • A conversation is a creative process. A conversation is not about walking through an agenda. It is a journey that takes people through the full range of thinking, not just a problem at hand.
  • A conversation is democratic. In a conversation, no single person holds forth while everyone else nods sleepily.

Read the post in its entirety at http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/02/hold_conversations_not_meeting.html and discover some great ideas for creating conversations that will transform your team into eager, impassioned, engaged volunteer ministers!