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!

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