Many leaders spend a fair amount of hours sitting in meetings which are always mentioned in surveys as the biggest time waster.
For the most part, meetings I have experienced over 49 years of Christian ministry are poorly prepared, poorly executed, with poor follow-up.
One of the key issues is that we spend too much time discussing and not enough time pulling the trigger and making decisions. We can discuss something to death, but seem afraid to make the necessary decisions.
There are a number of reasons that meetings have a well-deserved bad rap. Here are a few:
1. There is no clear purpose for why we are having this meeting in the first place. Some are held simply because they have always been held…the first Monday of every month.
2. There is no agenda so people are not prepared by having thought through some of the issues to be discussed, getting their problem-solving skills cooking and their creative juices flowing. Additionally, it’s easy to go down rabbit trails with no clear pathway for the meeting
3. Some of the people who need to be there (for whatever reason) are not there and some who are there don’t need to be there.
4. The meetings start too late and take too long, often eating up more time than is actually necessary and that was originally agreed upon.
5. No one is taking notes so there is a lack of clarity on what (if anything) was decided, who is responsible for executing the decision(s), what the time-line is for the execution and how this person(s) will be held accountable?
6. We optimistically think we can accomplish more than is realistic, so go longer or leave with a lot of unfinished items which is always frustrating
Do any of these sound familiar to you? What can you do (whether you lead your meetings or not) to address some of these common reasons for “Poor Meetings?”
In my thinking, there are three kinds of meetings:
1. MEETINGS WHERE THE BALL IS MOVED DOWN THE FIELD
The agenda is followed without allowing things to go down rabbit trails. It is clear from the get-go what needs to be discussed and what needs to be decided. It is clear who has authority to make certain decisions. If it is not clear who can and will make the final call, not much will happen, to most everyone’s disappointment.
2. MEETINGS WHERE WE SIT ON THE BALL
In meetings where you are striving for consensus, it takes only one person to hold everyone hostage. I was in a meeting once (as a consultant) where the same topic came up yet again and was voted down by one individual. I was told afterward that this same person has been doing this for a number of years and they have never been able to make this decision because they feel they need to have 100% unanimity. Lord, have mercy!
There is a difference between taking your time and patiently waiting before making a decision and simply procrastinating because you feel you need more time or more information. In many cases you will never have all the information you would like to have, but more than likely have enough to make an intelligent, God-honoring decision.
3. MEETINGS WHERE WE ACTUALLY ALLOW THE BALL TO MOVE BACKWARD
In some meetings we can actually move the ball backward by second-guessing ourselves and reversing a decision which has already been made because we have thought of more reasons not to make it; among them, caving to the fear of what others may think or the fear of making a wrong decision.
Here are some simple, but helpful, ideas on making decisions in your meetings. These are from the little book “Managing Your Time,” by Ted Engstrom, which I purchased for 95 cents in the 1960s. What follows here is as relevant today as it was when first written in 1967–for sure an oldie-but-goody.
- Don’t make decisions under stress
- Don’t make snap decisions
- Don’t drag your feet
- Consult other people
- Don’t try to anticipate everything
- Don’t be afraid of making a wrong decision
- Once the decision is made, go ahead to something else
Readiness to risk failure is probably the one quality that best characterizes the effective leader. Never vacillate in making a decision. Indecision at the top breeds lack of confidence and hesitancy throughout an organization.
Indecision ranks high among the time robbers, frequently resulting from fear of failure. Failure to make timely decisions can result in significant long-run waste of effort and loss of time.
It has often been observed that a less desirable decision made in a timely fashion and implemented with discernment may result in far more progress than the best decision which is first delayed then implemented with hesitancy.
The risk of decision-making is inherent in the executive position. Those unwilling to take the risks involved do not belong in this position. Most important, yet perhaps least recognized, is the factor of time allowed for corrective action by a decision made and implemented in a timely way. Even if it is not the best decision, prompt action often provides the added margin of time for correction.