Getting the Best out of People at Meetings

Next week I get to meet with the Youth and Family Working Group. It is two days of meetings. Maybe that makes you think “ugh” but I love it. The level of engagement, passion, honesty and pushing towards the better that happens makes the time so rich and helpful.
They are my accountability and feedback group. They literally make course altering, major decisions – like whether an event should die, whether we are on track with our vision, what we need to change, what location Tidal Impact (North America’s largest youth mission tour) should be in next, what people really need from us etc.
This isn’t “rubber stamping”, this is high level engagement and sharpening.
I don’t go for agreement and everyone to nod their heads “yes”, I go for lots of discussion, disagreement and push-back, so that together, given the full picture, we can decide the best way forward in this season.

These meetings are so rich.
Yet, I, like you, have been in many meetings that are a huge waste of time or never get to the “meat” of a discussion.

WHY does this matter?
Because I’ve seen too many ministries and churches that are stagnant.
Stagnant, boring meetings lead to stagnant ministries.
I’ve seen too many teams that coast on the surface and just keep things running pretty much the same way it has always been done.
This matters because we’re involved in Kingdom work and we need to invite people into giving their best thinking and listening to each other & God, so that we can join what God is doing to advance the Kingdom around us.
It matters because we’re never going to change Atlantic Canada neighbourhood by neighbourhood if we don’t have places where we can push each other forward.
Yes, I’m passionate about this because we so desperately need change so that more and more churches are joining God’s work in transforming neighbourhoods.
If our meetings just stay at the level of “what closing song we’re going to sing this week” we’ll never get to the heart of our mission together.

How do you create a meeting that invites the best out of people?
I’ve been thinking about how to create an environment to get the best level of engagement from people at meetings.
Here’s some things I’m learning help meetings get to the real issues and invite people to engage at a meaningful level.

1. Trust – in order to have deep level engagement at meetings those around the table have to trust each other, trust each other’s motives and trust their investment in the greater good or goal. It’s the leader that’s got to go first in displaying this trust and inviting others into this trust. One of the gifts I’ve had with my CABC Youth and Family team members is road trips together! We’ve spent entire road trips sharing our life stories with each other, sharing our fears, our hopes and our dreams. You don’t need a road trip to do this, you can create the environment, time and space for a team to understand each other’s hearts and wiring – share testimonies, share one thing that’s disrupting their peace, share what’s giving them the most joy lately, share their shadow mission or share team building activities together. The leader has to go first, if the prayer request or fear you share as a leader is at the surface level, safe or really about someone else, the team will follow suit.

2. Invite and model honesty – let the team know up front that you are looking for, value and expect honesty. You do not want a bunch of bobbing heads. Invite them explicitly to share their true thoughts, hesitations, concerns, hopes and fears. Remind everyone that nothing is sacred but the mission. Be honest yourself about what’s on the table for discussion and what’s not (what’s already been decided and why). Be honest about your thoughts around a topic.

3. Gather around the win and vision – Invite people to know they can criticize anything and change anything if the group is convinced it faithfully furthers the vision. Then mean it, by not taking the criticisms personally and driving everything back to the whether it helps the vison. I go into these meetings, yes with my thoughts and ideas on a discussion topic, but surrendering “my” way to the collective team and the work of God’s Spirit upon us. I truly trust God will lead us together. It doesn’t mean I don’t share my opinions, it just means my opinions are an equal part of the discussion as we discern together the best way forward.

4. Give pre-work – when I haven’t given pre-work for a meeting the team now asks for it! Be really clear what you’re meeting about, the goal of the meeting and the questions they are to work through ahead of time. I’ve found allowing teammates to gather their thoughts and ideas ahead of time means everyone is better prepared, we’re able to get into deeper discussion more quickly and everyone brings their best.

5. Ask good questions – This is the best thing you can do as the leader of the meeting. Keep asking questions until you hear from everyone and get to the heart of issues. This isn’t discussing stuff that could be an email update or a 5 minute meeting, this is digging into the important questions around vision, strategy and the way forward. Ask the what if’s? What if we were to…? How do we reach new people? If were to re-invent an event from scratch that challenges students today to take a springing leap forward in their faith, what would it look like? Keep asking questions that invite deeper reflection. I also like to change up how I engage people in the discussion, sometimes I let them mingle around writing their answers to questions on flip-chart paper and then we discuss them together. Sometimes I like to put them in pairs where they write down all their ideas on post-it notes (one idea per post-it), then we discuss all the ideas together. Sometimes we close our laptops and discuss in a circle. Mix it to help people be creative and give their best.

6. Push for the last 10% – Make sure you’ve heard all the voices. Do what you can to avoid the “parking lot” discussions. Actually say “I want to hear the last 10%. Any final thoughts, doubts, unsettledness or encouragements you have going through your head?” Or “When you walk away from here and you see someone from the meeting or a family member and you say ‘We decided at the meeting that ___, but I think…’ I want to hear the ‘but I think’ now.”

7. Clear action steps – make sure everyone is very clear what they are responsible for doing as a result of the meeting, attach clear deadlines to each action.

The environment and tone of a meeting is critical to having a healthy, fruitful discussion.

If it helps, here’s the weekly agenda we’re using right now on the CABC Youth and Family team with Andrew, Jacqueline and I.

1. Check-in and prayer – this is prayer for each other and what’s going on in our lives and leadership. It’s honest, trust level stuff, but is kept brief because we’ve already had longer trust building times. We pray for each other and for what God wants to do in Atlantic Canada.

2. Vision – as you know we’re passionate about seeing our churches in Atlantic Canada join God in changing their neighbourhoods. So each week we ask, are we on track? Where are we getting off track? Each of us has one big, new piece we’re working on to further this vision, so we check-in on how those pieces are going.

3. Current projects – in what you’re working now, where do you need input, advice or need to toss-around an idea? Any further tweaking needed to line it up with the vision?

4. Long term projects – what needs to be on our longer term radar? How’s that going? What do we need to do for that now? How’s it fit with our vision?

5. People/church stuff – anyone or any church that needs an extra call or visit from us?

That’s it.
It helps keep us on track and holds us accountable each week to making sure our schedules and events are pointed towards the vision.

Hope that helps.
Enjoy your meetings!
I know I’ll enjoy the Y&F working group meeting next week.

Please add your thoughts below on creating meeting environments that invite the best out of people.

-Renée
@r_embree

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6 comments

  1. andrewglidden · March 11, 2016

    Three words and I think you know what they are. Tight, tight, tight! None of this is hypothetically. Ive seen you do every single one of these. Lead on my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Renée Embree · March 12, 2016

      Thanks Andrew! Enjoying the journey as we have these level of discussions together. And you know part of your role is to hold be accountable – to let me know when I’m no longer leading meetings this way or the way I should. Tight! 🙂

      Like

  2. Danny Zacharias · March 11, 2016

    There is also great tools that you can use to move decisions and the necessary-busywork outside of the meetings to stay on task. I work with each of my individual thesis students using AllThings.io. For group conversation, slack.com threads conversations rather than cluttering your inbox. Finally, a great tool for more productive meetings is a shared minutes and agenda, and do.com is the place to turn to. (I’m trying to get us to adopt do.com 🙂

    Like

    • Renée Embree · March 11, 2016

      Great ideas! These tools certainly help. Another tool I’ve used in some circles is Wrike – an online project management tool.

      Like

  3. Dawn · March 10, 2016

    Well written and on the mark! Trust all “your folks” digest this well. Productive, informative and participatory meetings are exciting and add the ” sprinkles” to the topic flavour. Go Youth and Family–GO!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Renée Embree · March 11, 2016

      Thanks for cheering us on Dawn! May all of us get better at leading, for the sake of the Kingdom.

      Like

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