The perfect meeting

Recently the Harvard Business Review published a list of seven ways to have a ‘perfect meeting’:

  1. Keep it small. No more than seven people should attend. In a large group it is impossible to pick up body language and subtle cues.
  2. Ban devices. They are unavoidably distracting for everyone.
  3. Keep it short. They should last no longer than an hour. The shorter the meeting, the more focused people will stay.
  4. Stand up. Research has shown that stand-up meetings achieve the same solutions as sitting-down meetings but in less than two thirds of the time.
  5. ‘Cold-call’ non participants. People like their opinions to be heard but some won’t speak unless they’re asked to.
  6. Never just update. The ultimate time-waster. Why take up valuable time saying something you could just email.
  7. Set an agenda. Be clear about the meeting’s purpose, lacking a clear plan of action is why decision-making gets derailed.

Although the Harvard Business Review didn’t have churches in mind, I believe that church leadership teams have much to learn from these findings. Let me elaborate

  1. Effective leadership teams are task-focussed, and as a result work best when they are limited to seven people. Any larger, the ‘team’ becomes a meeting. As the Australian church consultant, John Mallison, convincingly showed, the larger the team, the less individuals contribute and the more likely that a group is dominated by a few powerful individuals. In my first church, the my leadership team was made up of the minister(s) and twelve deacons; in my second church, at one stage the my leadership team was made up of the ministers and fifteen deacons together with two or three other co-opted individuals. The task of the leadership team is not to be ‘representative’ of the church – in a Baptist setting that is the role of the church meeting; rather it is there to implement the vision of the church, developing appropriate strategies and goals.
  2. Precisely because leadership team meetings are not social occasions, but demand the attention of everybody, concentration on the part of every member of the group is vital. Mobile phones should be switched off, and tablets should only be used for the purpose of the meeting..
  3. An hour may be too short, but certainly well prepared and chaired, leadership team meetings should not last more than one and half-hours maximum. Alas, horror stories of leadership team meetings which go on to 11 pm – if not later – abound! Ministers who allow evening meetings to go on are being unfair to those of their lay leaders who have to get up early the following morning to go to work.
  4. I have no experience of ‘stand-up’ meetings, but I do know that meetings in the comfortable surroundings of a home tend to last much longer than meetings conducted sitting around a table on church premises.
  5. Before any key decision is made every ‘voice’ should be heard. Apart from anything else, this ensures that there are no ‘misunderstandings’ – it is all too easy for the leader of the meeting to presume that everybody is in agreement, but sometimes a failure to speak can indicate unease.
  6. Updates can be circulated prior to the meeting, but that requires that every team member comes to the meeting have carefully read the previous minutes and the subsequent updates. Particularly where there is a large leadership team the temptation is for some members to come to a meeting having failed to do their homework. That is an abuse of the trust put in them by those who elected them.
  7. An agenda should not just be a sheet of paper with a few headings which give no indication of the decisions that need to be taken. Agendas need careful preparation on the part of the leader of the meeting. I have sometimes produced agendas of five or more pages in length, and as a result the decision-making has been more effective – a long agenda normally makes for a short meeting.

One final point: in a ‘perfect’ leadership team meeting, ministers need to be held to account in implanting the agreed vision, strategy, and goals!

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