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!


Questions for Conflict

I’m writing this as I sit in the airport waiting for my flight home. I’ve had the joy of speaking to the leadership team of another church today, casting vision for them to become known in their community as the church that equips people to live their true vocation in all of life. More than 25 people came out on a cold Saturday morning, giving up the better part of their day, to consider why and how they should spend their time and energy helping their church grow.

We opened the scriptures to carefully consider Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, particularly 2:10 and 4:11-16, and how it is relevant to their church today.

We examined the institutional church model with its clergy-centric, hierarchical culture, contrasting it to an equipping church model that values the priesthood of all believers. I strongly encouraged them to trade in their old church paradigm for a new one—one that is actually ancient in comparison to that institutional paradigm!

We examined their culture, asking the tough questions, “Are we who we say we are?” and “Who does the community say we are?”

Leadership was another important topic of our conversation today. What does an equipping leader do? How is that different from any other kind of leader? What makes a leader anyway? One older gentleman who had been in executive leadership prior to retiring was refreshingly honest in confessing that he liked being the “top dog” who had all the control. It was less messy that way. But he learned that he didn’t have all the right answers and, in the end, he came to value the messiness of collaboration over the control of the one-man show. He found that it yielded far more satisfactory results!

And lastly we explored doing ministry as a team. What’s the difference between functioning as a committee—long the pattern in their denomination—and serving together as team? What makes a team? We identified some of the sacrifices that developing team ministry requires, such as time and ego, and how their people might benefit from making those sacrifices.

In parting, I told them that becoming an equipping church is not easy. It’s really hard work. It will cause conflict at times, which will be painful. It takes time. Sometimes it will feel like they are taking two steps forward and one step backward…and that’s on a good day. But, in the end, they will have the satisfaction of knowing that they are choosing to be the church God is calling them to be because they are equipping others to be the ministers God designed them to be.

question markThere are lots of questions in this post. I encourage you to ask them of your church and of yourself. Even if you’ve asked and answered them before, you may find it’s a good idea to ask them again. The questions may well produce conflict, and this is a good thing. Conflict causes us to look at the choices we are making and evaluate whether they are the right ones. Conflict properly handled is a critical step to becoming an equipping church.

Something old may just be something new!

I haven’t blogged in well over a month. I haven’t felt like I had anything new to say. Maybe I don’t. But in the past two weeks I’ve had two conversations with ministry leaders from two churches in two states, each of whom sharing with me something that set off my equipping alarm! I have been reminded that each person learns at their own speed, implementing what they can, when they can. In other words, when someone attends a training or reads a book or blog, there may be only one or two points that grab their attention and around which they take action.

Case in point: in the first conversation, the ministry leader shared that their church had enthusiastically encouraged gifts discovery, providing curriculum and a class for those who were interested in learning. Many of their members went through the class and were excited to learn their spiritual gift. However, there was no follow through. No follow up. No process for helping those folks find a serving opportunity that would utilize their gift in fruitful ministry.

This reminds me of the first Christmas we gave our son an electronic toy. He squealed with excitement when he opened his gift, then cried with equal fervor when it wouldn’t work because we had neglected to purchase the necessary batteries. I saw the same frustrated disappointment on the face of my grandson just a few weeks ago when, after gleefully ripping the wrapping paper off a Christmas present, he was told he couldn’t open the box to play with the toy because his momma was concerned that the small parts would be lost in all the empty boxes and wrapping paper. What’s the fun of opening a gift that you can’t use?

In the second conversation, a ministry leader shared that they had at one time offered a discovery process, but it had now been years since spiritual gifts was a topic of conversation around the church. New folks who had come since that time had not been provided an opportunity to discover their unique design for ministry, and those who had participated previously had not been encouraged to re-visit the process to see what new thing the Holy Spirit might be doing in their lives to birth new ministry.

In each of these cases, a discovery process was implemented–probably in response to a new idea gleaned from a book or a training–but the process was incomplete in the first instance, and relegated to a program (with a predictable end) in the second. I’ve no doubt that the intention of each of these ministry leaders was to encourage their congregation to serve, but they had only a partial understanding and implementation of what is necessary to equip their people for fruitful and fulfilling ministry.

These conversations lead me to believe that I may not have anything new to say, but the stuff I’ve said before bears repeating. With that said, I will focus the next few posts on casting the vision for what is necessary to create and sustain an equipping culture. For those of you who have heard it all before, I hope you will share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions to make that which is old (to you) into something new for others…and perhaps for yourself, too!

something old made new

Rearranging the Bones

A couple of years ago, I read Seth Godin’s book, Tribes. It really stirred my perception of leadership. I was fascinated by the way Godin presented a new leadership paradigm that–in my mind, at least–opened the door for folks who don’t fit the traditional leader mold, yet they effectively lead others.

Previously I posted a blog about leaders who “drip vision.” * As I was writing the blog, I envisioned this person as having a more traditional leadership style, someone who is charismatic, dynamic when sharing their vision and very eager to do so. But I recently had a different experience of “dripping vision” as I worked with a leader whose style reminds me more of Godin’s paradigm than John Maxwell’s…

I spent two days last week with a team whose mission was honing the identity of an annual conference. Our team leader’s approach to guiding us in this process was refreshing. I believe that Tim has a vision for this ministry, but he wasn’t concerned so much with sharing his vision as with hearing about our vision. In fact, I don’t know that I ever heard Tim state his vision clearly and succinctly during the two days we worked together. However, I’m confident that I will hear it soon, and that it will sound familiar!

Tim came well prepared to facilitate conversation among the nine of us. He asked questions, suggested scenarios to ponder, and led us into activities designed to draw out our creativity. But mostly, Tim listened. He invited us to enter into the visioning process with him, without first influencing us with his own ideas. That Tim came with a vision I have no doubt, but he seemed more interested in what this team could contribute to that vision.

This approach to leadership is unlike the stereotypical model of visionary leaders who “cast vision.”  These leaders often develop their vision in a vacuum. Because they don’t have the skill set to convert the vision to reality, they find it necessary to enlist the aid of others who can more readily see how to put flesh on the bones, so to speak. However, those “others” typically aren’t invited–much less encouraged–to re-arrange the bones! The vision has been cast ( i.e., set in stone) by the leader and those who have been called alongside are charged with the task of developing a strategy for the vision. (This is, of course, a necessary step in any vision → reality process.)

So, did Tim “drip vision?” He did… and without a lot of rhetoric on his part. I think we each left the planning retreat with a vision for the ethos of the conference. When Tim does articulate the vision, I believe we will each recognize a bit of ourselves. It will feel familiar.

Moreover, there is another way in which Tim dripped vision. He showed us a different model of leadership, one that is highly collaborative and values the input of others. Tim dripped a vision for true team development and unselfish leadership as he invited us to rearrange the bones of his vision.

There is a time and place for each of these leadership styles–and others, too, of course. Perhaps the measure of a true leader is in knowing which style is appropriate for which situation…and being willing to adapt accordingly. In other words, are you willing to let someone rearrange your bones?

*This phraseology originated with Wil Mancini in his Clarity Evangelist blog post of Sept. 7, 2010.

Dripping Vision

The idea of Disneyland is a simple one. It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company: a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education. Here the older generation can recapture the nostalgia of days gone by, and the younger generation can savor the challenge of the future. Here will be the wonders of Nature and Man for all to see and understand.

Disneyland will be based upon and dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and hard facts that have created America. And it will be uniquely equipped to dramatize these dreams and facts and send them forth as a source of courage and inspiration to all the world.

Disneyland will be something of a fair, an exhibition, a playground, a community center, a museum of living facts, and a showplace of beauty and magic. It will be filled with the accomplishments, the joys and hopes of the world we live in. And it will remind us and show us how to make those wonders part of our own lives.

Excerpted from the book, Walt Disney: An American Original, by Bob Thomas (pg 246-247), this is evidently the original pitch to bankers for the financing needed to construct Disneyland. I must admit that I haven’t read the book–I borrowed the quote from Wil Mancini’s Clarity Evangelist blog post of Sept. 7, 2010. And I will get back to Mr. Mancini’s blog in just a moment…

What a vision Mr. Disney cast that day! Though we have the benefit of knowing the wonderland Mr. Disney did in fact create, can you imagine being a potential financier, listening to this dreamer share his bold dream? Would you have caught the vision? Would you have pulled out your checkbook? Would you have climbed on board to make this dream a reality?

I’ve had two conversations recently with ministry leaders who are struggling with participation–one from the congregation as a whole and the other from a team. Both situations seem to beg the question, “Has the vision been caught?” Which in turn begs another question, “Has the vision been adequately cast?”

Who is the best vision-caster I know? Jesus is the first that comes to mind. People are still following him 2000 years later! So, how did Jesus get the first disciples to follow him? Reading about the calling of the first disciples in Matthew 4, it looks pretty easy. Jesus simply said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” However, there is a bit of information left out of that Matthew 4 passage. Apparently, Jesus had been preaching in the area. My guess is that Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John had heard some of that preaching and were compelled by the vision Jesus cast as he spoke of the kingdom of heaven being near. Perhaps Matthew assumed we’d get that and understand, then, how they, having caught the vision, would have dropped their nets and followed Jesus.

Do you, like Walt Disney, have a bold dream? It could be anything from ministry to families in an age where family values are challenged to caring for the homeless… from creating a worship experience that truly engages people and blesses God to providing water for villages in Africa. Whatever your bold dream is, how well can you articulate it?

The vision-casting competition is tough–just watch a couple of TV commercials or peruse the glossy ads in Sunday’s newspaper. If people aren’t buying into your bold dream, could it be because you subconsciously believe that casting vision is as simple as walking along the Sea of Galilee and saying, “Come, follow me”? Maybe for some it is; but for most of us, it is going to require more effort.

Wil Mancini ended his blog post on September 7 with this: “Who do you need to ‘drip vision’ to this week?” It’s a good question.