Two questions to help your meetings work

Two issues dominate when meetings don’t act on the good intentions in the room

4 comments

A pastor I know had a great idea to add a ministry assistant to the team.  He talked to the senior lay leaders, found a suitable candidate, interviewed, and offered the role.

Sweet.

But he hadn’t actually asked the elders, as a whole, formally, and – understandably, they hit the roof.  The result was an embarrassing climb down, the ministry role was never filled, and one the elders had a permanent question mark over the pastor’s judgement. Quite rightly.

Lots of things go wrong in meetings. Fuzzy agenda, poor leadership, multiple realtime conversations, or no-one actively watching the clock, all contribute, all too often, to the sense of meeting-failure.

But two issues dominate when meetings don’t act on the good intentions in the room. One is not having the action points noted and named, the other is working out the communication strategy.

Or, to put it as questions:

1 What’s the next action? The question of clarity

The simple question, ‘What’s the next action?’ can transform a pointless meeting into a purposeful one.

Getting clarity on this is so important, but so hard.  And it’s frustrating because the next action doesn’t need to be that difficult.

The next action isn’t ‘build a house.’  It’s ‘Fred will buy some screws on Thursday, and Marie will bring her screwdriver on Friday, and screw the thing to the other thing.’

X will do Y, by Z (day). And it’s usually best if that action is really, really easy. Especially if it’s to be done by tomorrow at the latest.

A simple way to get that clarity is that, at the end of the meeting, the chair checks that everyone agrees what needs to happen, by when, done by whom, together. That means that there is progress, because you’ve identified a next step, and it’s the right progress, because it’s the right next step. 

Even better, the minutes state the action points, and the person who will act.

For really complex meetings or long minutes, put them at the end, by name.

But that simple question, ‘What’s the next action?’ can transform a pointless meeting into a purposeful one.

That pastor blew it because he wasn’t thinking in a connected, public way, and so no-one else was able to see the gaps in his thinking. His co-elders needed to challenge him to find the right next step.

2 Who else needs to know? The question ofcommunication

The people in the room may be the right people to take the decision, but they’re not the only people affected by the decision.

We had a spectacular fail recently, in a meeting I chaired, because we didn’t ask that question.  And a critical person wasn’t in the loop, and – when she discovered – was rightly cross with me.

Now I think about it, that has happened too many times for comfort.

The people in the room may be the right people to take the decision, but they’re not the only people affected by the decision.  Two different groups want to use the same kitchen.  Two different groups plan to spend the same money.

Someone pitched a ministry idea to me this morning, and I’ve learnt to say, ‘I’m not saying ‘no’ – I think it’s a great proposal.  But other people need to be consulted before we say ‘yes.’ 

And that pastor blew it because – in his desire to get the team he felt he needed, he short-circuited the decision making process.

With long term consequences.

And, yes, I was that pastor…

4 comments on “Two questions to help your meetings work”

  1. I made a very similar mistake early on in my ministry: I wanted to have a prayer ministry team, so I talked some of the obvious candidates and explained my vision, we had a meeting and decided when to get started – and only then did I realise that I hadn’t mentioned this to the deacons – at all…
    But they graciously accepted my apology, the team got started (and eventually stopped), and I’m still the pastor of the church…

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