December 18, 2017 Tony Morgan

Bad Meetings: Why They’re Bad & How to Make Them Better | The Unstuck Church Podcast

Lots of organizations are bad at meetings, but churches are near the top of the list of worst offenders. 

Meeting dread—It’s real. For me, at least. And since you clicked on this link, I guess it’s real for you, too. I should clarify. I don’t hate all meetings. Just bad ones.

In this episode, Amy and I share principles for meetings that work (aka: meetings that don’t waste time and money and actually help the organization create positive action), and a quick formula to self-assess your organization’s meeting track record.

In this episode, we’re talking about:

  • The real purpose of meetings, and how to make sure they stick to it.

  • How the “Rule of 8” impacts what you can accomplish.

  • A simple formula to self-assess your organization’s meeting track record.

Join the Conversation:

Is your team guilty of bad meetings? Or, do you have a culture of excellent meetings? We’d love to hear your thoughts on how churches can do better in this area. Comment on this post or share on social media using the hashtag #unstuckchurch.

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Podcast Transcript

Tony Morgan:                       Hey, before we jump into today’s conversation, I want to tell you about our sponsor this week. It’s portable church industries. Our team knows firsthand that launching a new multi-site campus is hard enough to do well, but when you add being portable, it just brings hard to a completely new level. Portable Church understands this and has perfected portability solutions to create excellent worship environments, children’s ministry and first impression solutions that volunteers love and thrive in. It’s hard to believe, but they’ve assisted more than 2,500 churches, launch strong and rented venues over the past 23 years. Churches that partner with portable church are more likely to launch strong and thrive, so focused on building up your team and volunteers, not figuring out portability. You can learn more at portable church.

Amy Anderson:                   Hey everyone. Thanks for joining in on this week’s unstuck church podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan and each week we share conversation our teams been having about getting churches unstuck. And today we’re talking about meetings. Actually, we’re talking about bad meetings. So Tony, you seem to have some passion around bad meetings. What’s behind that?

Tony Morgan:                       Oh, come on, amy, doesn’t everybody have a passion around being in too many meetings? Have you ever talked with and talked with a team that was wanting to be in more meetings once? Right. Well, and I think part of the challenge here is we’ve all been in that meeting, like for example, where the only reason for the meeting was to have everybody go around one by one and share updates on what’s been happening in their work area and those meetings they just drain me because number one, I’m thinking all of this information could have been shared in email message. And secondly, I’m always thinking about everything else that’s getting piled on my plate that needs to be done while I’m sitting in that meeting. So, um, there’s that meeting and then a, everybody’s probably been in this meeting as well. Uh, the specific occurrence I recall, uh, you know, recently we were on the podcast talking about preparing for Christmas services.

Tony Morgan:                       And I remember one particular meeting there were about 25 people in the room and we were kind of, it was the week before the Christmas service and we were all talking about logistical decisions surrounding the service itself and at one moment in the meeting are remember one person on one side of the room having this conversation with somebody on the opposite side of the room and it was just the two of them talking about a decision that didn’t involve any of the [inaudible], some other people in, in, in the, in the room that day. And I started to do the math in my head for how much that decision was costing.

Tony Morgan:                       If I had my computer, I would have built the spreadsheet. But, uh, it just, uh, those are examples of all those instances. And again, I have a feeling, I’m not alone here where we have been in meetings and we’re just struggling with why do we do this? Isn’t it just creating barriers for health in our organization and can’t we do it better? Yeah. The, the role of eight’s pretty simple. Uh, it’s just that anytime you get more than eight people in a room for a meeting, it gets very difficult. And one of the reasons why is every time you invite someone to a meeting, Lo and behold, they actually think they should participate in the meeting. And so anytime you get more than eight people in the room, it just gets more and more challenging for everyone to participate, for everybody to share their thoughts, to ask their questions, to engage in the conversation.

Tony Morgan:                       So more than eight becomes a challenge for that. And then when you get more than eight people in a room, the other challenge that begins to surface is that it gets more and more difficult to get consensus to get alignment around moving forward. And so you get more than eight people in the room and the decision making process tends to come to a grinding halt. And, uh, it’s one of the reasons why we can just figure our Congress for the US. It’s never going to make a decision. Uh, they’re more than eight people in the room and getting to consensus on anything is a challenge for them. And uh, so is it necessarily exactly eight people, maybe not, but the rule of eight just kind of rolls off the tongue. And so anytime I have a gathering with more than eight people, I just recognize this is not a decision making meeting.

Tony Morgan:                       It might be a vision casting meeting, it might be an information sharing meeting, but this is not a decision making meeting. And that’s why, uh, amy, just in practical terms for churches, uh, we have to periodically look at the structure of our teams and then look at who’s invited to regular meetings. And so for example, what I’ve seen how I’ve seen this play out in churches as, as the church grows, they hire more staff, more of those staff members get invited to the regular meeting. And before you know it, it’s not eight people. It’s 10 people, 12, 14 people coming together trying to make decisions. And the team is wondering why they’re struggling, why decision makings coming to a grinding halt. And it’s, I think practically just because they have too many people in the room trying to make decisions. And this is an indication of a season when the church is probably going to have to restructure a change who reports to whom and then ultimately who gets invited to regular team meetings so that it’s easier for everybody to engage the conversation and then it’s easier to make decisions and help the team move forward.

Tony Morgan:                       So really the rule of eight, it’s something we need to pay attention to as our churches grow and particularly as our staff teams grow.

Amy Anderson:                   Well, I happen to enjoy meetings, but I probably was in some good meetings along the way. So I know it can happen. And let’s face it, leaders need to be in meetings because that’s where decisions are made. So what’s the formula, Tony, for healthy meeting?

Tony Morgan:                       Yeah. So, uh, we, there are a few things I think we just need to keep in mind for every meeting in order for it to be healthy in the first. Is this a we just didn’t need to make sure when we meet for the purpose of moving forward and taking action, in other words, making sure that there’s going to be some outcome from this. Now is that to say when a team comes together, they should never talk about what’s happening in each other’s lives and prayed together and encourage each other? Of course not, but the ultimate outcome, there needs to be an ultimate outcome of a meeting that we’re pushing for. In fact, sometimes just making sure that the team has healthy, healthier is the ultimate outcome, but making sure we have that identified if we’re going to be pulling people together and pulling them away from, in our case, what is additional ministry that they could be accomplishing?

Tony Morgan:                       So making sure that the meetings helping us move forward. Secondly, anytime we meet, there should be an opportunity for healthy conflict. Uh, and by the way, there’s a difference between healthy conflict and unhealthy conflict. Um, I view healthy conflict is an opportunity for people to share different perspectives in, to push back on things that we assume to be true. And sometimes just the act of pushing back helps us confirm our assumptions and sometimes it helps us to look at strategies and next steps with different perspectives and we gain new insights in and can make changes that are helpful for the future of the organization. Unhealthy. Um, boy, it’s, it’s a challenge because we never come to resolution and we never circled back to making sure the relationship is solid and that trust still exists. Um, and a lot of times it’s because we don’t actually talk through whatever the conflict is.

Tony Morgan:                       We assume in order for our team to be healthy, we have to Kinda keep the, the areas of dissension. I’m out of the meeting, out of the relationship and not talk about it in, in reality. I’m like with any healthy relationship, you have to talk about the challenges that you’re experiencing in order to eventually find health and resolution and for that relationship to move forward with trust. And so one way practically we engage healthy conflict is as a team just to make the commitment to each other that what we talk about behind closed doors and where we disagree. That’s a good thing for us to engage as a team behind closed doors, but when we leave the room, we leave united and that means that if we don’t have resolution yet on whatever it is we’re discussing, we’re not really ready to process decisions with the rest of the organization.

Tony Morgan:                       So that helps us build trust when we know if there’s disagreement, we’re going to talk about it together in the room and we’re not going to discuss that disagreement outside the room. Um, so that’s, that’s the second thing if we’re moving towards healthy meetings. And then the third step is just to make sure at the end of the meeting we talk about accountability around two things, accountability for next steps and follow through and account accountability for what gets communicated. And there are two things. One involves the actions and the next step. So the people that are on the team. And the second part is around what the team needs to communicate to other people on, in the organization. And, uh, I love, uh, on that topic, Patrick Lencioni talks about cascading communications about those key conversations, those key decisions that are made in the team, making sure that gets cascaded through communication to the rest of the team.

Tony Morgan:                       And, uh, amy, I think this is the type of thing that really you can’t put it in an email message. You can’t taxed a, somehow you need to have face to face conversations with others in the organization, uh, because sin that face to face conversations that you, you get to hear more of the why behind the decision. You can kind of pick up a little bit of the emotion that was driving the decision, which I think is critical. Um, the other thing is you, uh, when it’s face to face, it’s easier for you to read the response of the people that you’re communicating with and gives them an easier opportunity to react and to ask follow-up questions. And many times it’s been through that cascading communication that actually the decisions got better based on the reaction and the questions that somebody else in the organization asked. And so it’s a priority to make sure that when you end every meeting, not only are you defining who is going to do what by when, but it’s also who’s going to communicate what by when as well.

Amy Anderson:                   Yeah. That’s really good. You know, the other thing, just circling back for a minute, when you were talking about healthy conflict, I think it was Patrick Lencioni again who talked about sometimes you have to mine for conflict. Meaning I notice on a lot of the teams that I work with, it’s hard. They want to be nice and they want to keep the peace. In fact, their version of unhealthy conflict is they leave without saying anything and they just go talk to other people about whatever was bugging them. How have you seen teams mine for conflict?

Tony Morgan:                       Yeah, that’s a good question, amy. I think it really begins with the leader. The leader has to invite it, otherwise the rest of the team is, um, is really going to acquiesce and just assume, assume that the leader doesn’t want it. And so the leader has to really take the lead on that and invite those different perspectives. And the questions and the pushback, you need that in ultimately most leaders, most healthy leaders anyways want that because they know it’s going to make them a better leader and help them and their team make better decisions. But then the other thing is you have to remember there were Tony Morgan’s in every meeting and a, Tony Morgan is naturally wired as an introvert and he’s very reflective and he’s always contemplating the impact of the decisions that need to be made. But he’s not very, uh, apt to just voice that opinion unless somebody asks.

Tony Morgan:                       And so they’re going to be people on your team wired up like Toni Morrison where you just have to just ask the question. So, so Tony, what are your thoughts on this? What are you thinking? Will this work where, where do you think we’re going to run into challenges? You actually have to invite that maybe dissenting or different perspective to come out, which, uh, when it first comes out, may not, may not even be delivered with the right words because again, that’s not how I am naturally wired. But you have to, you have to mine for the truth, that’s going to help you make a better decision and help you to move forward in a healthier way. So a leader has to take the lead and sometimes you just have to ask someone, what do you think before you’re going to get what those key thoughts that might help you make a better decision.

Tony Morgan:                       But Amy, I’m just looking at what we’ve talked about and I actually think we have a almost like a bonus round for today’s conversation. Are you willing to go there? So, um, uh, particularly with larger churches, I think periodically it’s good for them to almost do an assessment around the health of their meetings strategy and this is, it’s kind of a relatively simple assessment, um, but being intentional doing this periodically, I think, well help particularly senior leadership teams and larger churches, make sure they, they actually are moving in a healthy direction as a team, especially around the time they’re investing in their senior leadership team meetings. So a, here’s, here’s a, here’s the bonus for today. If you’re a part of a senior leadership team, uh, I would encourage you periodically to pull out the agendas or the meeting notes from your previous month’s meeting and to come together as a team with those agendas and the in those meeting notes and just reflect on your last month of meetings and ask these key questions which get at some of the principles we’ve been talking about today.

Tony Morgan:                       Uh, the first question is this was their healthy conflict around strategic next steps. And really if there was no conflict and you weren’t talking about strategic next steps, then you have to be asking yourselves, number one, do I have the right people in the room that can help us have those types of conversations? Or secondly, do we need to be meeting at or at least meeting as often as we are? Um, because really if you’re going to come together, there should be healthy conflict and you should be talking about strategic next steps. A second key question that you can kind of evaluate your previous meetings is to ask this, did we drift towards execution route a and tactical decisions? Rather than talking about strategic next steps in the future of our team. So it did we drift towards execution Ra rather than strategic conversations. If so, that’s probably an indication of something that could’ve been handled offline outside of the senior leadership team meeting one on one conversation or handled through email or slack or some, some other communication rather than investing the entire time.

Tony Morgan:                       Um, and talking about tactical decisions, a third question is to ask, was there any hint of ministry silos and our conversation, um, and this is just acknowledging that when church senior leadership teams come together, all of us are probably calming as leaders of different key ministries in the church. But when we engage in conversations at a senior level level level like that, we, we have to be able to take our ministry role hat off and put on that hat that represents the overall health of the church, the overall health and direction for where the ministry is going. In other words, we have to remove that siloed focus on what’s best for our ministry areas. And we have to set that aside and in that involvement on the senior leadership team, our priority focus becomes what is the overall health and direction of where the ministry is going.

Tony Morgan:                       A fourth key question to ask is this is decision making being pushed outside the senior leadership team? In other words, are we empowering other leaders, other staff, other way leaders to make decisions? Uh, so, and we’re trying to push decision making as far out into the organization and as close to the front lines of ministry as we can. And when that doesn’t happen, all decisions tend to rise up to the senior leadership team. And many times those decisions become decisions about execution and tactical decisions that really shouldn’t have the time and intention of the senior leaders. And then the final question that you can ask is this, did action items get assigned and then communicated clearly and in a timely manner? And again, that’s just going back to what we talked about earlier. Is there accountability for follow through on next steps within the team? And then also, are we doing everything we can to make sure that, that cascading communications is happening to the rest of the organization. So call it, call it your, uh, your meeting assessment exercise if you want. But that’s the bonus for today for senior leadership teams is to periodically step back and ask how are we investing this time together in a, in the most effective way we can.

Amy Anderson:                   That was a great bonus round Tony, and I’m sure all of us can do something to make our meetings better and stronger. So thanks for all your insights today and thanks again to all our listeners for joining us for this week’s conversation about getting churches unstuck and we hope you’ll tune in again. So be sure to subscribe on Itunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss an episode and we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. So join the conversation on social media using Hashtag unstuck church. Finally, you can learn more about how the unstuck group helps churches get


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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and
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