Yes, I do have control issues!

There. I’ve said it (well, typed it) out loud. Of course, friends and family will not regard this as a startling admission. They are more likely to ask why I’m just now figuring this out! Actually, I’ve known it for a long time and I’ve been working on trying to control it (pun intended!) for years. But as is so often the case with self-awareness, I just came to another threshold of understanding.

During a conversation with a friend yesterday, I was hashing out how to schedule volunteer ministry orientation. In just six weeks our church will move to a new urban location. We will again be renting space, this time from a faith-based non-profit organization. There is much to do to figure out how to create a worshipful atmosphere each Sunday, organize all our “stuff,” and orient teams so that they can set up/take down efficiently.

And that word efficiently is what trips me up. It is like waving a flag at my control issues!

ducks

Because our parish is made up of people, there is a wide range of tolerance among us for messy. Some don’t mind it at all, just as long as we gather together for worship and fellowship on Sunday. Others find messy to be a distraction from that worship and fellowship, and prefer some semblance of order. (You an probably guess where I am on that scale!) Finding the balance is critical, and that means respecting the individuality and diversity of our little community of believers.

In defense of order, it is necessary for efficiency. And we live in a culture that places a high value on efficiency. Our demand for software that integrates all our mobile devices seamlessly, our frustration when technology doesn’t move fast enough or maintain a connection, and our outrage over stalled traffic are all evidences of our desire for efficiency. Our dependence on technology has conditioned every one of us to desire efficiency in at least some area of our life.

Back to yesterday’s conversation and my control issues… In attempting to work out a schedule for orientation, I was trying to take into consideration how many of our volunteers serve in more than one ministry area, how many families of young children have both parents serving, and the realization that we are entering into the busiest season of the year for most folks. I was making myself crazy trying to problem-solve for everyone! That’s when my friend posed two critical questions: “Do you expect others to problem-solve your calendar issues? Did you expect someone else to problem-solve your childcare issues when your kids were little?”, which led me to the aforementioned threshold!

God has ordained that the body of Christ be interdependent (1 Corinthians 12). That means we have to respect each other and learn to work together. We all have to be willing to give, to flex, to accommodate as needed, always keeping in mind that we are one body. (The body can’t work efficiently when the right foot heads south and the left foot goes north!)

While I need to be aware of all the variables when it comes to organizing an orientation for our volunteer ministers during the Christmas season, I also need to accept that I am not in control of each person’s calendar or family situation. My attempts at problem-solving for everyone won’t help us learn to work together efficiently. It will surely lead to frustration for all of us, and likely to burn-out for me.

Crossing that threshold is trusting that the volunteers who can make room on their calendar will attend the orientation. And it is accepting that our first few Sundays may be a little messy…and that’s OK. I’m not in control.

But I know who is.

 

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!