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 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!


Maintaining the Tension

I recently had my first opportunity to work directly with one of our ministry teams. I led a two-part meeting designed to foster community and encourage collaboration while revisiting the goals and objectives for our ministry to children. Each meeting was scheduled for three hours on a Saturday morning, one month apart. The first session focused on “what” and the second on “how.”

I felt really good after the first meeting. It went well and everyone seemed to embrace the process (Results-based Conversation facilitation method, which encourages collaborative processing and employs exercises that unleash creativity). I asked if they wanted to use the RbC process for the second meeting and all agreed that it was a useful tool.

During the second meeting, I chose to lead the participants through an exercise designed with three objectives: help us re-engage the momentum from our first meeting, think creatively about those we serve, and build the team. After we debriefed the exercise,  I suggested that the team select two objectives for which they would develop action plans. They divided into two groups, with each participant selecting the objective he/she wanted to work on. One group completed their action plan; the other did not.

The next day, one of the participants came to offer me feedback. She said that someone had expressed disappointment that at the conclusion of the meeting there still was not a clearly defined action plan. She talked about how full everyone’s calendar is, the sacrifice the meetings required, and that perhaps I could have better utilized the time by eliminating the exercises.

tensionI have been sewing for years. Early on I learned the importance of maintaining the proper bobbin tension on my sewing machine. If the tension is too tight, the thread will break. If the tension is too loose, the thread forms loops on the underside of my fabric. In either case, the seam won’t hold. My first machine was an inexpensive one; I was continually adjusting the tension. When I purchased a better quality machine, the tension was factory calibrated and I’ve rarely had to make adjustments.

Unfortunately–unlike my sewing machine–ministry teams don’t come with factory-calibrated tension between getting the job done and building relationships. For the ministry leader, discovering how to maintain this balance can be challenging. A healthy team is made up of a mix of people–some who have a “get it done” mentality and others who prefer time to get acquainted and learn how to work together. The trick is figuring out how to balance the two in such a way that the get-it-done folks feel something has been accomplished, and the get-to-know-you folks feel they are developing relationships while engaging in team ministry.

Have I perfected maintaining this tension? Obviously not! But these two things I know:

  1. Each team is unique; the dynamics will vary from one team to another and from one task to another.
  2. It’s counter-productive to sacrifice team-building for the sake of getting the task done, no matter the sense of urgency. Everyone is busy; everyone’s calendar is full. But if we don’t take time to build relationships, the team won’t know how to work collaboratively and ministry will be compromised.

What are some techniques you find useful in maintaining the tension between accomplishing tasks and building relationships?

Recognized Behavior = Repeated Behavior

“You can employ men and hire hands to work for you, but you must win their hearts to have them work with you.” – Tiorio

Here are three simple investments you can make to build a ministry team that works with you, not for you:

1. Be timely in your recognition of your volunteers .

It’s easy to get caught up in the next ministry task or event and forget to recognize the effort expended by your volunteers. I try never to forget that every person who volunteers for a task or event also has a life outside of church! So don’t wait until the annual ministry evaluation to tell them much you appreciate their ministry. Take the time to thank them for their contribution in as close proximity as you can to the actual event or act that you are recognizing.

2. Make a list of things you can thank your volunteers for and do it regularly and often.

Foster an attitude of gratitude for the people God has brought to your team. Each week make it a point to affirm at least one volunteer for who they are, not just for what they do. Think of a task a volunteer has done. What attributes of that volunteer contributed to the accomplishment of the task? For example, Was he generous? Was she hospitable? Be specific and intentional.

3. Make sure your volunteers feel like what they are doing is relevant and important.

Making a clear connection between each task and the ministry it accomplishes is vital to building a team and retaining volunteers. My favorite example comes from a church that had a lot of windows in their worship area. This church didn’t employ people to wash windows; they had volunteers who saw this as their ministry! The ministry leader had explained to his team that there are people who would come to worship and be distracted by the dirt and smudges on the glass, preventing them from hearing the word of God. Those who washed the windows saw it as their ministry to remove any obstacle that would keep someone from having an encounter with God during worship. Chances are if your volunteers see what they are doing as effective ministry, they will keep doing it!

Ridiculously simple, right? Nothing difficult about executing any of these. Simply recognizing behavior and expressing appreciation for ministry will go a long way towards winning the hearts of your team members and building a happy, healthy ministry team!

(Adapted from Franklin University Leadership Center’s Invest a Minute a Day to Become a Better Leader blog, original post by Nicole Shiring)