This is a guest post by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, authors of Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, which is out today.
Certainly meeting advice is ubiquitous; our goal is not to repeat that here. Instead, we just want to report the meeting practices that differentiated thriving teams from underperforming teams in our recent study of nearly 150 church leadership teams. As you read what follows, notice what’s missing: the number of meetings or the number of hours spent in meetings. Thus it appears that “too many meetings” or “too much time spent in meetings” aren’t the scapegoats for poor team performance. Our data shows that there are many different ways to do effective meetings, but a few key practices make a great difference.
1. Teams do more than formally “meet” together. They collaborate continuously.
On top teams, meeting times don’t bound their teamwork. Instead, senior leadership teamwork is ongoing, not just occurring during meetings. In fact, we found that meeting informally for more than one hour per week was a contributing factor to differences between top and mediocre teams.
Two key strategies best enable continuous teamwork. The first is to fight like crazy against overwork and busyness. The second strategy is to develop office environments where it is easy for team members to bump into one another. Shared conference rooms and break rooms, stocked fridges, shared administrative support staff members and offices in close proximity to one another encourage team members to frequently bump into one another, creating additional opportunities to continue the team’s important work outside of the boardroom. This active engagement carries over in the boardroom as well.
2. Meeting agendas are distributed to all team members, preferably at least one day in advance.
Distributing meaningful agendas is so powerful for several reasons. First, it forces the meeting facilitator to spend time planning out the priorities and flow of the meeting beforehand, to an extent that it can be shared with others. Second, it informs all participants of the meeting’s purpose and content, which enables each participant to come prepared. Third, it provides structure to the meeting that encourages the team to stay on task and focused throughout the meeting.
3. Meeting agendas are not solely developed by the lead pastor.
Top teams get the whole team involved in setting the agenda. While most senior team meetings were convened and facilitated by either the senior pastor or executive pastor, top teams offered opportunities for other team members to shape the team’s agenda.
This input can be offered in a few different ways. First, meeting conveners can directly ask team members for items to include on the agenda several days prior to the meeting. Second, conveners can offer a standing invitation to send agenda items. Third, conveners can develop the agenda in such a way that a place to discuss the typical issues is slated on the agenda each week.
For instance, each week an agenda may have a slot for “personnel issues,” during which each team member is invited to broach discussions or to bring a decision to the group regarding personnel matters. To make this option work, however, conveners must create space for team members to bring up and discuss important issues, rather than overwhelm the meeting time with other agenda items.
4. Agendas clearly delineate the work for the meeting.
For top teams, the agenda is thoughtfully developed enough to truly guide the team’s discussion and progress through the meeting, rather than agendas that are so vague and routine that no one pays attention to them. Such agendas include:
- implicit or explicit time periods for each agenda item
- intentionally ordered items, often leaving the most important discussion items in the middle of the agenda
- consistent format so that participants know what you expect in each meeting and can find necessary information quickly
- enough detail to discourage participants from wondering what is coming later in the meeting
Agendas provide a forum to capture what has been decided during the meeting, individual expectations for followup and a framework to develop the agenda for the next team meeting.
Excerpted with permission from chapter 12 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.