Friday, August 16, 2013

Indispensable Tips for Executing Staff Meetings

I tried to get Rick Warren or Wayne Cordeiro to write about how to make staff meetings as exciting as a movie, but Rick was meeting with the president of Rwanda (who inexplicably wouldn’t defer to the directional leader of Mission Catalyst) and Wayne was with a couple friends paddling around in an outrigger with his cell phone set on “ignore-everyone-but-big-donors” mode. So you’ll have to settle for how we at Epikos Church - Vancouver do it. This is not the right way, the only way, or the best way; it’s just the way we do it. At least for now. Everything we do constantly evolves, so six months from now, all bets are off.

  1. Make sure the right people are at the meetings. Six people attend our staff meetings. As our staff grows, we won’t expect every person to attend. We love it when Christy, our Epic Kids leader, can join us, but if she has to choose between attending staff meetings or leading her own Epic Kids team in tactical and strategic meetings, we obviously prefer she do the latter. If Steve’s other job changes and he needs to adjust his time, we will agree with him on which meeting is better for him to attend, Tuesday or Thursday.
  2. Select a facilitator. I am the facilitator. When I’m out of town, Elizabeth or Sam leads the meetings. When the facilitator and the lead pastor are not the same person, both need to make sure there is frequent and open communication.
  3. Hold the meetings on predictable days at predictable times. We meet every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:15 to noon. Sometimes we end early; once in a while we need more time. When we know ahead of time that we’ll need more time to discuss the new thematic goal or finalize our preaching calendar, we will negotiate that with the staff in advance. When the clock unexpectedly brutalizes our schedule, we will postpone the discussion if we can, or we’ll press on through with those who are able to stay (after a break to snatch a sub sandwich). Once in a while, meeting on Tuesday (for example) is bad for everyone so we’ll do Monday or Wednesday, but those occasions are rare. When some - or all - on staff are bivocational, finding predictable days and times gets interesting, but do the best you can.
  4. Start the meetings on time. We start our meetings on time. Once in a while Sam brings his honey almond granola and vege-milk and finishes breakfast while we start the meeting, or Elizabeth heats up the tea pot, but no one has a problem with that. It allows us to start pretty much on time.
  5. Prepare a printed agenda. Two reasons: First, everyone needs to know what we’re shooting to accomplish at today’s meeting. Second, most of us scribble notes and our to-do list on the agenda sheet. If your church is paying proper attention to all of the details and opportunities, you have too many items floating around to not write them down and hand everyone a copy at the beginning of the meeting. Here is how I prepare the agenda. 
    • The first three items at the tactical meeting are always the same: connection cards (along with prayer and followup), evaluation, and newsfeed. (Newsfeed: what are the three things - and only three - we will announce this week in the gathering? What will we announce or promote on Facebook and by email? What will have priority in the printed program handout?) 
    • I keep a running agenda on my computer. If I’m watching Gunsmoke or Monday Night Football and think of something we need to discuss the next day, I make a beeline for my MacBook and add it to the agenda. Other staff members sometimes shoot me a note asking me to add something to the agenda, or they are free to bring it up on the spot. 
    • The last item on the agenda is: What did we decide today that we need to communicate? To whom? By whom? In what manner (Facebook, phone call, email, program handout, announcement at church, etc.)? 
    • We don’t keep meeting minutes or formal notes. Maybe we should, but we’re not convinced it is worth someone’s time. When we put the next “7-minute Party” on the calendar, or we decide to ask Ernie if he can do an M&M drop from his helicopter for our anniversary gathering, why would we write that down somewhere? We just do it. 
  6. Separate tactical meetings from strategic meetings. 
    • Tactical - When a lot is happening in the church, we have a lot to talk about at the tactical meetings. We found ourselves dealing with a lot of stuff that should be cared for at the volunteer level. Train your tech team, greeter team, setup team (etc.) to evaluate whatever they do and make adjustments without constant prompting from the staff. Remember that when you delegate tasks you create followers, but when you delegate authority you create leaders. So delegate authority when you can. And strive to end tactical meetings early, when possible.
    • Strategic - We almost never have enough time to dream and scheme for the future. Restating our thematic goal and making sure we are achieving it at sufficient speed with proper clarity is never fully done. We spend way more time being strategic than most churches, but we never feel “caught up”.
    • Off-site retreat - Twice a year, we pile in a couple of cars and head for Odell Lake where we spend 2 days (spring) and 3 days (fall) watching and applying an Andy Stanley talk or hammering out our new Connect/Follow/Restore growth process. Our schedule is a 60/40 mix of meetings and down time (movie, game, boat ride, or pelting someone with a snowball). We invite the spouses and kids to the spring retreat and leave them home in the fall.
  7. Work while you talk. The upside to this is that you leave most staff meetings with your to-do list done. The downside is that it’s easy to mentally slip away from group engagement. Some action items require a quick text or Facebook note; others take more time and should wait till the meeting is over. Sometimes the facilitator (that would be me) has to say, “Put the iPad away. Close the computer. We need everyone’s full attention (or highest level of creativity) right now.”
  8. Press forward with the agenda. Our staff meeting doubles as our small group. We allow ourselves to drift a little when a relational issue comes up because we truly like each other and we are determined to nurture our mutual relationships. (“How was your vacation; what was the most fun?” “Give us the blow-by-blow on your speeding ticket! What did the doc say about your ankle?”) But when you’re in meeting mode, make sure you find the balance between giving a topic adequate time and plowing forward toward the finish line. 
  9. Mix up the venue and seating arrangement once in a while. Most of our staff meetings happen at the Epikos House. Five out of six prefer to slouch down in comfy sofas while I am convinced we get more work done when we meet around the table with a flip chart at arm’s reach. So we mix it up. (The rule: If I get there first, we meet around the table. When anyone else gets there first, I’m stuck on the couches. Whenever two of us drive up at the same time, there’s a mad scramble for the door.) Talk everyone into moving to a chair they haven’t sat in for a while and you’ll find that creativity is surprisingly higher. And four or five times a year, we do staff meeting at Stardust Diner or Elmer’s Restaurant over omelets and toast.
  10. In special situations, invite non-staff members to attend a meeting. We have a major planning session coming up in a few weeks. Debbe heard about it and offered to attend. Makes sense to us. When we’re considering a new direction for our compassion team this Christmas, we invite our compassion team leader to spend an hour with the staff.
  11. The buck stops somewhere. We make decisions by consensus. No one pulls the trump card and tries to shut down another point of view. It works for us because we are aligned on the mission. I suppose if we flat-out could not come to consensus and a decision had to be made, the group would expect Sam or me to make the decision.  

I would love some feedback. Of the advice given above, what was most helpful? Can you think of a question or comment you’d like to pass on? Let me know!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Planning and Executing Staff Meetings

First published on Facebook on Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

Lencioni argues - with a straight face - that a staff meeting should be/ could be as exciting as a good movie. If team members truly love and respect each other and each person is amped up about the mission, you might even enjoy a meaningful staff meeting (living out and contributing to a great experience) over watching a movie (passively observing someone else’s life go by). That’s a pretty high bar, but why not give it a shot?

Why do some people prefer root canals over meetings? Three reasons: (a) The staff meetings are poorly planned and executed; (b) The DNA of the group allows for - and even causes - unhealthy conflict (and only sick-in-the-head people enjoy unhealthy conflict), or (c) the organization’s mission is foggy and people have forgotten why they joined the cause. 

Let’s talk about planning and executing staff meetings. 

1. Make sure the right people are at the meetings. A staff meeting with more than seven or eight people is rarely efficient. Not everyone who has the time to be there needs to be there. 
2. Select a facilitator. This person prepares the agenda and leads the meetings. Consistently. Unless s/he is out of town. 
3. Hold the meetings on predictable days at predictable times. Occasional adjustments are necessary, but those have to be unusual. Agree on both a starting time and an ending time.
4. Start the meetings on time. If someone is perpetually late, the facilitator should address it one-on-one. It is unprofessional, frustrating, and disruptive when someone shows up - week after week - in the middle of whatever is going on.
5. Prepare a printed agenda. Give each person a copy. Usually the facilitator prepares the agenda. Be flexible with the agenda when it makes sense to do so.
6. Separate tactical meetings from strategic meetings. If you don’t, strategic will happen poorly if at all. 
       a. Tactical is defense; strategic is offense. 
       b. Tactical is evaluating, responding, making sure details are cared for, assuring that no one slips through the cracks, and proactively protecting the church from anything unhealthy.
       c. Strategic is rising above the details to see the lay of the land (helicoptering). Learning from leaders who are light years ahead of you. Making sure the ladder is leaning against the right wall. Dreaming and scheming for the future. 
7. Work while you talk. If the group decides to post something important on Facebook, do it now. If you agree to send a thank you note to your tech leader, do it now. This allows you to leave most meetings with your “to-do” items already done. Obviously, some action items require more time which means they should wait until the meeting is over.  
8. Press forward with the agenda. A good team recognizes when it’s important to spend a lot of time resolving an issue and when it’s time to decide and move on. 
9. Mix up the venue and seating arrangement once in a while. Creativity comes easier when the flip chart and other team members are freshly arranged. 
10. In special situations, invite non-staff members to attend a meeting. You need their advice or their opinion, and sometimes the best way to get it is for them to interact with the staff. 
11. The bucks stops somewhere. A very high percentage of decisions will be made by reaching consensus, but occasionally the lead pastor needs to make the decision. 

What questions does this raise? What other rules have you practiced for effective meetings? 

Each team will approach the meetings in its own unique way. In my next blog, I will talk about how Epikos Church - Vancouver does it.  

The Four Stages of Healthy Group Development

First published on Facebook on Friday, July 12, 2013.

Churches with healthy DNA are as rare as reindeer in Reno. Most church leaders will never experience it. But there is no reason you can’t be one of the few, the proud, the Marines. And while respecting one another, having fun together, and pouring fuel on each other’s fire is essential, how you choreograph the interactions of the people in your group is vital. The first two blogs address that issue, and I’ll share more wisdom down the road.

Hang this on a hook inside your brain: A team can only be healthy when the individual team members are healthy. Read that again. And make sure you get it. If the leader of leaders is emotionally and spiritually healthy, he/she will attract healthy people - or people who want to be healthy. Unhealthy people don’t last long on a healthy team; they either become healthy or they leave. No one is perfectly healthy emotionally and spiritually, so a healthy team, when necessary, is patient, grace-filled, and affirming to someone whose habits are trending in the right direction and whose heart is right.

Of course the opposite is true: If the leader is unhealthy, you’re in trouble. Expect an ongoing storm that demoralizes people and sends creativity, productivity, and joy into a death spiral (and that assures a pathetic church as opposed to a prevailing church). If the leader and most of the team are healthy but a particular individual is a walking, talking head case and emotional drain on everyone, healthy leaders draw boundaries around them and help them find another place to serve. Remember what Patrick Lencioni says: “The biggest challenge in creating and maintaining healthy culture is the ability of the leader to have uncomfortable conversations in a healthy way.” 

Now that we’re all heathy, let’s talk about the Forming - Storming - Norming - Performing model of group development. It was first proposed in 1965 by a guy named Bruce Tuckman who maintained that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for the team to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results. Since these don’t need a lot of explaining, I will do a little explaining.

Forming: It takes a while to get to know each person’s personality, quirks, stress threshold, hot buttons, and gifts. When people start working together, they are often surprised that she is opposed to my brilliant idea (how can you not be in favor of lamb-shaped communion bread?) or that he has to consider every conceivable outcome - twice - before pulling the trigger on anything. Like a newly-married couple debating whether to spend Christmas with his parents or hers, it takes some time to know how to process things and work together toward the common goal. Add to this the challenge of determining roles and agreeing on the vision, and forming takes time.

Storming: Suddenly the marriage analogy fully comes to life! This is the stage in which different ideas compete for consideration. The team addresses issues such as how they will function independently and together. Team members open up to each other and confront each other's ideas and perspectives. It can feel contentious, unpleasant, and even painful to people who are averse to conflict. Without respect and patience, the team will sink into a pattern of hurt feelings and ever-deepening frustration. On the flip side, when each person is committed to healthy conflict and a God-honoring outcome (and is conscious of the fact that the team is in the Storming stage), respect and patience eventually pay off. The team is poised to enter the next stage. 

Norming: The team settles in. They have learned what fires her up, what sets him off, what dials forward the creativity of the entire team. They have learned that he blossoms when he is affirmed, that she actually craves corrective feedback if it will help the team. In this stage, all team members take the responsibility and have the ambition to work for the success of the team's goals.

Performing: Yes, it is possible to arrive at this holiest-of-stages. Teams that perform are able to function as a unit as they get the job done smoothly and effectively without inappropriate conflict. They are motivated and knowledgeable. Dissent is expected and encouraged as long as it happens within the climate of respect and with the goal of maximum kingdom impact. Team members leave meetings feeling proud of the organization and delighted that they get to work with one another. 

At Epikos Church in Vancouver, we’re in the performing stage. It doesn’t mean we are the perfect model or that we have “arrived,” but we’ve ridden the roller coaster and come through in pretty good shape. Our staff meetings have become our small group. We share stories, chide one another, laugh, cry, and pray together. We love each other. We get it. We know that our friendship with each other is the foundation on which everything we do to save the world is built. We do our best to create a healthy balance between the “soft” side of being together and the “hard” side of tackling the task of leading the church to become everything God hopes it will be. It might sound weird (it shouldn’t), but we look forward to hanging out with each other at staff meetings. Really!

In my next blog, I will share how we conduct our staff meetings each week. 

Bringing Out the Best In Your Team: Part II

First published on Facebook on Monday, June 17, 2013.

Last time, I introduced the topic of strategic synergy, the invisible ingredient that divides prevailing churches from pathetic churches. I defined strategic synergy as the ability of a group to significantly outperform even its best individual member in the shared quest to fulfill the mission. 

Here are a few more thoughts: 

Bringing a team together is vital (you already knew that). Making sure you have the right people on the bus is mega-vital (yes, of course). But leveraging the potential of the team is the defining challenge. It is far more important than most of us realize. Here is another way to say it: Merely assembling the right parts is not sufficient. The relationship and interaction among the various parts is what creates synergy. 

Take a mental snapshot of the people on your staff. Their differences probably outnumber their similarities. They are different in age, gender, religious background, ethnicity, and personality. Some are single while others are married. She has kids; he never has and hopes he never does. That young kid is a people person; the old guy gets excited about job descriptions and numbers. One person was trained as a pastor while someone else worked in the marketplace and slid into ministry through the side door. One person came from a home where mom and dad teased each other and pranked the kids and life was a party; the person across the table was raised by parents who demanded perfection and spooned out heaping portions of criticism. A flip chart page could not begin to contain all of the differences between a staff of people who come together to lead the church. 

Is the diversity good or bad? The answer is YES. How wonderful is the chance to rub shoulders with and learn from someone who grew up threading up his dad’s 16 mm movie projector for Bible studies at the church when he was barely big enough to lift the projector, and - 40 years later - is still reading & experimenting & praying & learning & growing and doing everything he can think of to reach another family for Jesus? And how could you not be inspired by the energy, optimism, and godly naïveté of someone who is 30 years younger, wears studs in his ears, has paraphrased the entire New Testament in his own words, and hangs out with and prays for people whose culture is pretty much foreign to anyone with a job? In other words, everyone wins when each person in the room truly respects, honors, and values the unique perspective and life experience each person brings to the table. Most important, the lost person wins. The kingdom wins. The gospel spreads, lives are changed, and darkness is pushed back a little more. 

The flip side to this diversity is the frustration of working with people who don't see the world as you do. They make decisions so much slower (or faster) than you prefer. Their theology, on some points, boggles your mind. Their church experience is opposite of yours (a long, painful stint in a traditional pew, or maybe sipping caffeine while the preacher teaches from a bar stool). Here is what you need to know: Diversity is good, but frustration is inevitable. But put it all in kingdom perspective: When discussions and planning and working side-by-side grow out a common passion for reaching the next person coupled with a genuine respect for one another, the frustrations actually morph into better decisions, deeper friendship, and greater effectiveness for the kingdom. And more joy than you ever imagined. But each person in the room has to work on the relationship. A lot. Don't underestimate how important it is to keep on working on the relationship. 

The Italian prophet Patrick Lencioni lists six rules for building an effective team. Read his wisdom, and discuss each point with your staff. 
  • The leadership team is small enough (three to ten people) to be effective. 
  • Members of the team trust one another and can be genuinely vulnerable with each other. 
  • Team members regularly engage in productive, unfiltered conflict around important issues. 
  • The team leaves meetings with clear-cut, active, and specific agreements around decisions. 
  • Team members hold one another accountable to commitments and behaviors. 
  • Members of the leadership team put the collective priorities and needs of the larger organization ahead of their own departments.

Did I mention that being part of a well-functioning team is fun? But it is all too rare because too few leaders are spiritually and emotionally healthy or they lack the commitment to look for the best in one another, enjoy the ride, and do whatever it takes to create strategic synergy. It is an unusual honor to serve God with a team that loves God, loves each other, loves the saints as well as far-from-God people, and synergizes to advance the kingdom. What's holding you back from being unusual? 

In my next blog, I will talk about some of the specific things we have learned about working together. 

Bringing Out the Best In Your Team: Part I

First published on Facebook on Friday, June 14, 2013.

Strategic synergy is the invisible ingredient that divides prevailing churches from pathetic churches. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with me. It is. So listen! (And  dissent only clarifies the truth, so please let me know if you see things differently.)
Of course someone will quote Solomon (“Unless the Lord builds the house...”) and inquire, “Isn’t God the invisible ingredient?” No, and here’s why. God is constantly at work; He wants to bless every church; He wishes He could. But when He doesn’t, it is because He rarely overwrites His own laws. For example, God could force an 8-ounce cup to hold a quart of water, but don’t fast and pray in hopes He will do so. Instead, find three more 8-ounce cups and your prayer has been answered. Of course we need God’s intervention, but curiously, He intervenes most significantly in churches that line up the cups. 
It’s like my friend, Steve, who asked me to pray that his church would grow in spite of the fact that his church parking lot has 50 spaces and attendance has hovered around 100 for more than a generation. If you can’t park people, you won’t need to, I reminded him. (The exceptions: (a) If your church is in an urban area where more than half of the residents use public transit to get to work or school, and (b) If the majority of church attenders are first-generation immigrants to America.) Steve’s response: “Buying more land, moving to another location, or offering two services is hard. Just pray that God will grow our church without changing anything!” Reality check: When Americans come to church, they bring their cars.

Or how about my friend, Harold, who decided to start a church without a team. “Someday I’ll write a book called Church Planting for Dummies,” he grinned. “I don’t have a team and I don’t see that changing, so as soon as we hit 1,000 or so I’ll write the book and explain how even a dummy like me can do it!” Maybe his next book will be Skydiving for Dummies for enthusiasts who can’t afford the parachute. (Could God keep someone alive who bails out of an airplane without a chute? Sure. But you try it first, then let me know how it went.)

So back to strategic synergy. Some church leaders pray hard, read books, attend the Catalyst conference, and work so hard they neglect their devotions, their family, and their health, yet their results are so limited you’re not sure whether the church will survive. Other pastors spend every evening with their wife and kids, take two months off in the summer, and spend two hours in the gym five days a week and their churches prevail. The difference is the absence or presence of strategic synergy. 

When God wants to accomplish something, he raises up a leader. And that leader quickly attracts and coalesces a team of people with complementary gifts who tackle the task with the enthusiasm and optimism of a young couple at a marriage license office.

What Is Strategic Synergy?
So what is strategic synergy? Strategy is the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal. Synergy is actually a Greek word that means "working together". It is defined as the interaction of multiple elements in a system to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects.

Strategic synergy, then, is the ability of a group to significantly outperform even its best individual member in the shared quest to fulfill the mission.
  • Synergy happens when you tie your shoes with two hands instead of one. How long would it take you to tie your shoe with only your right hand (assuming you can do it at all)? Next try your left hand. Now tie your shoe using both hands. That is synergy. 
  • Say Judy and Rudy are both too short to reach an apple on a tree. Once Judy sits on Rudy’s shoulders, they are tall enough to reach the apple. That is synergy.
  • Imagine Fran asks Ron to empty the dryer and fold the sheets. Ron can do it, but he has to lay the sheet on the family room floor, pull the corners together, realign the creases - and it takes him forever. When Fran takes one end of the sheet while Ron holds the other, they fold it in no time. That is synergy. 
  • A Belgian horse can pull a cart weighing 8,000 pounds. Two Belgian horses can pull a 24,000-pound cart. That is synergy.  

What are the components? 

First, you need more than one Belgian horse. You need a team at the top. The Lone Ranger never planted a prevailing church, and he never will. I am convinced that you need at least three persons on the staff.  

Second, you need the right persons on the team. I covered that in The Pivotal Design document. 

Also indispensable are healthy DNA and healthy group hubris. Healthy DNA happens when everyone on the team is healthy spiritually and emotionally. It consists, in part, of healthy conflict, respect and admiration for each person on the staff, and clarity of roles. Healthy hubris is when the staff is not intimidated by the most ominous challenge. They lean on God for wisdom, and believe that Together, we’re a genius. The staff must be led by a person with the spiritual gift of leadership. He is not just a leader but a leader of leaders. 

But the epicenter of creating and leveraging strategic synergy is the staff meeting. Once all the ingredients are in place, the staff meeting is place/event/occasion when the strength of every person in the room is leveraged.

In my next blog, I will talk about how to shape and leverage the staff meeting.