Meetings, Schmeetings!

Don Johnson, erstwhile pastor in Minneapolis and now in Santa Barbara, connects us to this NY Times article on meetings. How about you, what do you think of meetings?

Part of the problem at such meetings is that the leader has not set
clear objectives or an agenda, and didn’t assign pre-meeting
preparation tasks. Instead, the leader seems to hope that magic will
occur, producing a serendipitous solution to some of the problems
addressed. Of course, that doesn’t happen. As a general rule, meetings
make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels.

This doesn’t mean we should always avoid face-to-face meetings — but it
is certain that every organization has too many meetings, and far too
many poorly designed ones.

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  • RJS

    Come now Scot,
    Meetings are where things get done. Can’t have too many faculty meetings.

  • I found the article to resonate with my experience. Our church staff meetings are practically painful. So are our new member classes. So are our administrative board meetings. I dislike ALL meetings.

  • Rick

    Is this about meetings or church services and functions? 🙂
    I’m not saying he is totally wrong, but there is a sense here that his goal is to have people perform in the meetings, rather than having meetings to help you perform.

  • Far too often, I have found many, many meetings to be exhausting and at times pointless. At times there doesn’t seem to be a clear objective as to the reason for the meeting. Are we pooling information? Are we together to express how we think or feel about a particular situation? Are we there to attempt to solve a problem? Are we together to plan a course of action regarding a particular situation?
    Far too often, in these meetings, we end up being all over the place, leaving many feeling frustrated and drained.
    If we are clear, in regard to our purpose and if we stay focused on that purpose, we can meet together and actually make a difference. Now that is satisfying.
    There is one meeting in our church that I do not like to miss. This is a meeting that occurs each Monday afternoon at 5:30 PM. For one hour, some of the key leaders of our church meet to pray. We pray for members of our church, people in our community, and other concerns. This past Monday evening, this group met with a young family in their home to pray for the husband’s cancer. This kind of meeting is also very satisfying.

  • Scot McKnight

    Thanks Jim. I shall have to stop using the word “prayer” and “meeting” together because of the solemnity and importance of the former is cheapened by the latter!
    What’s the best word with “Prayer” instead of “meeting”?

  • David

    Meetings…ugh, after time in administration in Higher education where meetings ate up my 10 hour days, it has been a great relief since I started my own business to have not been to a single meeting in 10 years. They, from a time perspective are a waste, from a productivity perspective a complete waste of time, and overall, they really accomplish very little. So many other better ways to run a company, a church a business.

  • RJS

    David, Scot, …
    Ok, In all seriousness. I have sat in on my fair share of unproductive or apparently unproductive meetings.
    But … I have to tell you, I cannot think of a better way to run a church or a University. Enlighten me – how can it be done? Bear in mind that we are not talking about authoritarian organizations here.

  • Scot McKnight

    OK, RJS, I’ll post back on this one:
    If you mean a more centralized authority, I’m not for it.
    If you mean an opportunity for all to make contributions and have a voice, I’m for it.
    But, the ONLY way meetings work is IF the leader/chair clearly outlines what will happen, what he/she expects of each person, and if the meeting concerns something significant to the persons meeting.
    ANY meeting that has a list and then gathers folks to see what they think about the items on a list is an absolute waste of time, though it might be fun to be with one another.
    If the point is to disseminate information, e-mail or the postal system works even better. If it is to gather opinions, e-mail or the postal system works even better. If it is to discuss something substantive that requires some back and forth, meetings can work well.
    Most meetings are held because they’re scheduled, not because there is a pressing reason for gathering folks together.
    I stake my claim.

  • RJS

    The NY Times article is pretty good – because it aims toward effective meetings. Now – how to see that the right people read it…

  • Jim Martin

    Good question! It is interesting isn’t it that meetings have such a negative connotation for so many of us (myself included) that it almost seems strange to refer to meeting for prayer as a “meeting.”
    Yet, in our church situation, this is deliberate on my part. This is because we(our leadership group)have two occasions a week in which we come together. One occasion is entirely prayer and the other occasion is talk. My concern in our situation is that I don’t want us to see the “talking” meeting as the real deal and the “praying” meeting as something added on to the schedule but not as significant as the real meeting.
    No. On Monday afternoons, we meet to pray and then at the other gathering, we meet to pray and then talk. At times we have met to pray through both of these gathering.
    It is a challenge. I’m with you though. I still struggle with the value of many meetings that I have been a part of through the years.

  • Eric

    I think it helps to offer to propose a draft agenda and objectives yourself even if you aren’t the leader (the leader and others will probably appreciate it). My context is probably different from others (I’m a junior partner at a law firm — there are many people both above and below me in the hierarcy), but it has been an effective strategy in my situation. At least sometimes.

  • As I told Don, the book “Death By Meeting” will transform the way you look at meetings. It centers around the issue of what is the function of the meeting? Not all meetings are created equally. If it is simply informational or tactical it ought to be quick, to the point and possibly with everyone standing so make sure it does not last all that long. Check it out. It is possible to have good, productive meetings.

  • If we’re talking about business meetings then his article is right on the money. Meetings are the bane of my professional existence. there are plenty of great examples of collaborative business models that don’t rely on meetings. Oh that more firms would adopt these!
    If we’re talking about churches then meetings are, perhaps, some of the most important features.

  • Phil Niemi

    I second “death by meeting”, or anything else from patrick lenceoni as being wonderful. You must have a reason for meeting (a goal) and clear outline of what can wait for later so you don’t get side tracked.

  • Glen

    “Death by Meeting” is genius!

  • Heather

    We call our morning prayer get-togethers “gatherings”, or simply refer to them as “morning prayer”. In response to the post, however, I would agree that the trouble with meetings is a lack of focus and participation. If the leader of the meeting does not communicate his or her purpose, it is nearly impossible to discern in time for it to make any difference in the progress of the meeting. However, when the purpose is communicated in advance, all those present are better able to contribute and it is possible that such meetings can accomplish much. Meetings are important for ensuring that everyone is on the same page and is aware of all of the goals and/or projects of the group.

  • Pat

    AMEN! One of my frustrations are meetings in which a lot of ideas are thrown out on the table, with very little to no action plans being implemented.