Lecture 11: The Respected Chairman

Lecture 11 – The Respected Chairman: A Man with a Gavel

“Our best estimates — and these are pretty educated — are there are 11 million formal meetings every day in the United States. That tallies up to about four billion a year,” says Nancy Koehn, who teaches at the Harvard Business School. “Over half of the people surveyed say about half the meetings they attend are unproductive.”

“So maybe a little more than two billion meetings a year that most people regard a very poor use of their time — that seems like a real waste,” she adds.[footnote]Nancy Koehn, “Half Of All Meetings Are Unproductive,” marketplace.org, accessed 5.21.14, http://www.marketplace.org/topics/business/half-all-meetings-are-unproductive-there-fix[/footnote]

Meetings; love ‘em or hate’ em you’re going to have them. The question is how to have them profitably. We’ll look at three areas that we can work on to make meetings more profitable: pruning, planning, presiding,

I. Prune Them

Question: How can I cut back on meetings?
We have to prune our trees and bushes of the excess branches in order that stronger branches can grow stronger and more fruitful. There may be a proliferation of meetings in your church that are actually weakening the whole church, and need to be pruned back to make for a stronger and more fruitful church.

  • Ask “What meetings are necessary?” Just because “we’ve always had these meetings” does not mean that we need to have them forever.
  • Can we cut any meetings entirely or partly?
  • Can we reduce the frequency or length of some meetings? (Marissa Mayer held 70 meetings a week at Google by scheduling multiple 10 min meetings).
  • Can we combine with other meetings?
  • Can we reduce the number of people (including yourself) attending meetings?
  • Can the same be achieved by phone conference or Skype call?

However, in our crusade to prune meetings, we must avoid the temptation to view all meetings as unnecessary evils. They are an essential part of any ministry, and in fact provide ministry opportunities. They are certainly sanctifying opportunities (hopefully not backsliding opportunities!).

II. Plan Them

Question: What’s the best way to plan for meetings? How do I get ready for a meeting?
Having decided what meetings you are going to have, you have to plan for them. You will either do this yourself, or, preferably, in conjunction with a clerk or secretary.

1. Plan the place

  • If small group and informal then perhaps meet over lunch.
  • Larger groups will need larger and quieter space.
  • If papers or reports are distributed, then a large central table is ideal.
  • If discussing confidential matters, ensure the timing and location will protect all parties.
  • If more of a conversational/fellowship type meeting, then less formal (lounge/living room?) area is best.

2. Plan the agenda

  • Review previous minutes.
  • Review running checklist of issues, recurring events, and diary events to see what is relevant for this meeting.
  • Give participants opportunity to add items to the agenda (check place and time suits participants at this point).
  • Send out agenda in plenty of time together with any other relevant documents.
  • State beginning and end-time on the agenda (with perhaps some target time marks along the way).
  • Request apologies for planned absences.
  • Ensure reporting people are ready to present.

III. Preside Over Them

Question: What tips can you give me for conducting meetings?

1. Be prepared

Get well organized beforehand by having and reading all the relevant documentation, and by getting to the meeting in time to get everything set up for a prompt start.

2. Pray and read the Bible

Do not skip this nor skimp on it. But don’t prolong it either with a long chapter, prayer, or mini-sermon. Set the tone of the meeting with a relevant chapter and a prayer that asks for wisdom and guidance.

3. Agree the agenda

Agree the agenda, the timetable, and the priorities. It’s best not to start with complicated or controversial matters, but it’s best not to leave them until the end either. Ask at the beginning if anyone has any major items for “Any other competent business,” or “Customary Questions,” so that sufficient time can be left for such items.

4. Stick to the agenda and timetable

Start on time no matter who is there or not there.
Ask someone to remind you of the time targets you have set as the meeting proceeds.
This gives you extra motivation to move the meeting along and also allows you to be more objective when interrupting or shortening discussion. Group short and less important items together and make sure they do not push out the far more important matters. After 90 minutes, meetings usually start going downhill.
Put a large clock on the table or on the wall?

5. Know the rules of order and keep to them

Every meeting should have an agreed procedure for introducing items. Usually it involves the following steps:

  • Proposal: person explains the issue and his opinion and presents a motion.
  • Seconder: someone else seconds the motion and may be permitted a short time to add a few words.
  • Questions: The proposer should then be ready to take questions or negotiate amendments to his motion.
  • Motion: The proposer reads out his motion.
  • Counter-motions: The chairman invites any counter-motion that follows the same pattern as above.
  • Discussion: once motions have been made, you should invite discussion from everyone else with time limits on speeches.
  • Vote: Once the time has run out or once there are no more speeches, the chairman calls for a vote
    • Usually the vote will be by hand, but consider private card vote if sensitive matter.
    • Place similar motions against each other until there are only two left.
    • Allow for “dissent” to be recorded if a serious matter of conscience
  • Review: Some churches will also have a method of taking/appealing important decisions to another body for review.

Make sure you know the rules, or make them and agree them if there are none – and stick to them.

6. Read the meeting

Try to look out for negative and positive signs in the course of a meeting. Try to interpret the tone of voices, the facial expressions, and the body language. You will eventually be able to anticipate potential flashpoints and take the heat out of situations before it gets too hot. You will also be able to see if there are any personality clashes that need to be addressed.

7. Listen patiently

Try to listen carefully to everyone that speaks. Try not to lose concentration and miss something important. Don’t switch off when certain people speak. Try not to read documents relating to other business, when someone else is speaking. Rather, ask for time to read before that item is introduced.

8. Involve everyone

Obviously some men are going to take more prominent roles than others. However, you should make every effort to involve everyone in the meetings. Sometimes you can sense that someone has something to say, but is hesitant. Encourage them to speak. Ask people for their opinions. Be aware of the different characters you will run across and devise strategies to make their contributions profitable:
Jackie Yeaney lists The Top Ten Meeting Personalities:[footnote]Jackie Yeaney, “The Top 10 Meeting Personalities,” fastcompany.com, accessed 7.8.16, http://www.fastcompany.com/1460895/top-ten-meeting-personalities[/footnote]

  • The Multitasker: When asked a question, the Multitasker frequently responds with, “Sorry, I missed that. Could you repeat that?” It’s important to keep this personality engaged and call on them often. Keeping them on their toes may decrease the amount of time they spend multitasking.
  • The Mobile Meeter: The Mobile Meeter thinks nothing of conducting or attending meetings in the airport lounge or in the carpool line.
  • The Disrupter: Changing the topic or taking people down a side street, the Disrupter can sometimes uncover new thinking or creative ideas. But the Disrupter can also blow up an agenda and make other meeting participants irritable and cranky.
  • The Overbooked: Doesn’t know how to say no to a meeting invite so they attend them all. And are late to them all! The Overbooked generally greets team gatherings with “Sorry, I had a meeting that ran late… “
  • The Interrupter: When a good idea comes to mind, the Interrupter can’t wait to present it to the group. And does … right at that moment!
  • The Socializer: Always prompt, always interested in where you live, how many children you have and what the weather is like in your town. This individual is a great asset most of the time, because the Socializer establishes rapport among participants and is willing to connect and collaborate.
  • The Maestro: Consummate professional, never starts a meeting without establishing a clear agenda and proper perspective. At the end of a meeting clearly recaps the discussion, outlines next steps and identifies action items.
  • The Timekeeper: No matter what is happening in a meeting, the Timekeeper is aware that someone “has a hard stop” and tries to motivate the team to complete the meeting at the predicted close. The Timekeeper doesn’t always blend well with habitual late-comers like the Overbooked.
  • The Snacker: Can you hear the Snacker crunching over the phone? Kudos to the person who will work through lunch, but mind your table manners, please! And for those noisy phone eaters, learning about mute features is a requirement.
  • The Social Networker: (not to be confused with the Socializer, #6 above) Many professionals are Tweeting or Facebooking live from a meeting. Note to self: bad form to tell your social network that a meeting sucks, especially if you have befriended the meeting host!

Here are some others I’ve come across and how I’ve tried to deal with them:

  • Dominators: Credit their knowledge, stress the benefit of other opinions, ask for others’ reactions, do not let them speak every time they want to speak.
  • Ramblers: Summarize what they said, regularly stress time, refocus if meeting is diverted.
  • Arguers: Ask them to make another proposal rather than just argue against the existing one
  • Volcanoes: Some people just seethe silently, then explode a few days later. Try to take some of the steam out of them by asking them to speak
  • Chatterers: If participants are speaking in the background when someone else is speaking, ask for order, look at the person, ask them to share, stress benefits of hearing all views

9. Don’t abuse your position

If you are chair, do not abuse your position by advocating for a particular view. If you feel strongly enough about a subject, then vacate the chair and have someone take your place for dealing with that business.
The pastor will usually enjoy a degree of status in a church meetings. He will sometimes be more educated and be more fluent in speech. He will gradually gain a lot of experience and skill in church meetings. Elders will often want to prove their loyalty to the pastor. All this combines to create the potential for a huge abuse of power. If you do abuse your advantages and privileges, some people will detect it right away and you will lose respect.

10. Defuse tension

There will be tense meetings and even hot meetings. Prayer can often be useful to relieve tension and cool temperatures. Humor can also be helpful, if used sparingly and carefully. Or you can take a short break, or suggest a change of subject and come back to it again at another time, when passions are cooled.

11. Press towards decisions

While allowing sufficient time for discussion, you have to avoid just wandering around in circles. Try to detect when the discussion has run its course and press towards clear decisions.

12. End meetings at the agreed time

Unless the circumstances are exceptional, end the meeting on time. That will build discipline for future meetings, allow officebearers to plan their time, and also prevent late-night decisions that may be regretted.

13. Submit to decisions

In exceptional matters it may be necessary to register a conscientious dissent to a majority decision. However, that should be really a last resort.
If at all possible, submit to the decisions you disagree with by casting yourself upon the Lord, acknowledging your own ignorance and lack of wisdom, and your own pride and need of forgiveness. Try to avoid a confrontational “me v them” attitude

14. Assign work

Before the meeting ends, make sure that ongoing work is assigned and that everyone understands who is doing what, and when the deadlines are. Pray for the Lord’s blessing on what has been decided and for help with assigned work. As someone once said: “Nothing matters until it gets a budget, a deadline, and an owner.”

15. Ensure minutes are quickly written up and agreed

It is best for someone other than the chairman to be clerking the meetings. Try to get someone who is competent, efficient, and reliable. And try to ensure that minutes are written up promptly and emailed out to everyone for adjustment as soon after the meeting as possible. This mailing could also include the specific tasks assigned to each person.
While at the meeting, you will want to take your own notes. This video presents a helpful way of taking smart meeting notes and covers the four types of information you will get at any meeting:

  • Facts you want to remember or new things you’ve learned
  • Questions you want to ask after the meeting or follow-up in Q&A time.
  • Tasks assigned to you
  • Tasks assigned to others

16. Follow-up with relationship issues

If you have been involved in any significant disagreements with anyone at a meeting, make sure you contact them later or the next day and make sure all is well between you, and that there are no hard feelings. Try to make sure others do the same with each other.

17. Have non-business meetings

Make sure that you sometimes meet without any business to discuss. Have prayer meetings, seminars, training, brain-storming sessions. Such meetings encourage social interaction, keep everyone in the loop, and make people feel valued.

18. Practice Accountability

Have the clerk/secretary follow-up prior to next meeting to ensure execution of work. Call to account at each meeting. Have a way of ensuring that if work is deferred or delayed that it doesn’t slip off the agenda and that it doesn’t happen again.

IV. Conclusion

Although I probably fall too much on the anti-meeting side, I must say that, when well-conducted, meetings fulfill spiritual needs as well. In my last congregation we sometimes had 10 elders and 12 deacons in the same meeting. And although we often had controversial issues to deal with (like building a new church!), these meetings were actually much more like spiritual fellowships than board meetings. Spiritual bonds were deepened and appreciation for each other grew as we saw the various insights and gifts God had blessed different men with. I usually arrived home with the sense that God had once again kept His promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst. Ultimately that’s what makes a meeting good.

Further Reading

The letter you wish you could write to your boss
How to conduct a virtual meeting
Run Your Meeting Like A Boss: Lessons From Mayer, Musk, and Jobs
REST Meetings