How2: Avoid the 7 Pitfalls of Ineffective Meetings

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The church is notorious for having ineffective meetings. Several times during my career, I felt physical pain prior to heading to the weekly staff meeting knowing that I was going to waste my time and be bored and frustrated. As youth ministers, we are responsible for leading meetings and for participating in others’ meetings. The only thing worse than participating in an ineffective meeting is leading one. Let’s take a look at the pitfalls that lead to ineffective meetings:

Pitfall #1: Why are we here?

If you or one of your meeting attendees is asking the question, “Why are we here?” then the meeting has fallen face first right out of the gate. All meetings should have a clearly defined purpose, objectives, and an agenda. An agenda with specific meeting topics should be distributed in advance. Agendas that include sections like “discussion and review” do not motivate or inspire action. Agenda items should clearly define the objective: choosing a retreat location, brainstorming 10 new potential volunteers, or finalizing details for the car wash.

Front view portrait of four business executives sitting in a linePitfall #2: The wrong people are in the room

The people invited to the meeting should have a reason for being there. Their responsibilities, wisdom, insight, knowledge, or skills are needed for the objectives of the meeting to move forward. When the wrong people are in the room, decisions do not get made because we need to ask someone else, agenda items are not accomplished because participants do not know the answers, or people are disengaged because they do not have any responsibility for implementing the plan.

You may need to invite people to join your primary team for certain parts of your meeting that directly impact them. Some folks who regularly attend may not need to be included that week or might be able to leave early. Having the right people involved in the conversation and decision making process is essential to productivity because it reduces the need for another meeting later.

Pitfall #3: People don’t know what’s going on

You should not have to spend part of your meeting sharing information so that you can make a decision. Give participants information to process prior to the meeting (instead of during the meeting) so that the meeting can be about gaining clarity and making decisions. By communicating pre-meeting information and prep work in advance, participants will come already engaged in the process.

As a rule, sharing information for information’s sake should not take place in meetings. Information shared at meetings should directly impact others who are present. Sharing what you are working on that does not impact anyone else is not a productive process. If you want to build in a time of celebration when participants are invited to celebrate with the team, you can do so as a part of your agenda. The purpose of sharing celebrations is to bear witness to the fruit of your team’s labors.

Pitfall #4: Am I necessary for this conversation?

Ever been in a meeting where you did not feel like your were necessary for the conversation? A common pitfall is two to three people in the group hijacking the overall meeting to discuss something they specifically are working on, but that doesn’t involve everyone else. You will see the rest of the members disengage from this conversation quickly. Simply encourage the group to set a time to meet later or to huddle up after your meeting. Pay close attention to when you are one of the three people and require the same of yourself as the rest of the group.

Pitfall #5: No decision is made.

We gathered, we discussed, we talked, and we made no decisions to do anything. At best this should be called a brainstorming session and they can be useful; however, if the objective (named or not) is to make a decision about something then the meeting is a failure if no decision is made. You might make a decision to gather more information before making a decision. Your team will feel like they wasted their time if you only talk in circles.

Pitfall #6: Who is going to do it?

Another major pitfall that goes hand in hand with number five is not assigning ownership to the next steps and action items. If you make a decision, but no one does it, then it’s only slightly better than not making a decision. At the end of each agenda item, be sure that the next step(s) is assigned to someone. At the end of the agenda, go back over action items and review who has ownership over each next step. If the tasks are not assigned to anyone, then they will all end up in your lap.

Pitfall #7: No one follows up to make sure

Finally, you have had a productive meeting and everyone feels good about the decisions that were made. Folks have their action items and then they head back into their regular worlds. Most of your attendees are volunteers and they quickly forget their assignments in the midst of children and work responsibilities. Be sure that someone sends out a reminder of all decisions, action items, and assignments shortly after the meeting. Also, the team leader (you) should take responsibility for checking in and making sure things are moving forward as needed.

Climb out of the frustration pit.

If you’re tired of feeling like you are falling in a pit every time you lead a meeting, or you are frustrated and want to help a meeting be more fruitful, then follow these steps:

  1. Have a clearly defined purpose, objectives, and agenda for the meeting
  2. Have the right people in the room
  3. Distribute information in advance so that everyone can be prepared
  4. Keep meeting focused on tasks and discussions that impact everyone
  5. Be sure to assign tasks and action items to someone
  6. Follow up on action items to keep them moving forward

Follow these rules to help eliminate ineffective meetings, but remember that it takes practice to get to the level of effectiveness you desire. Our CYMT staff meetings usually have one or more of these pitfalls happen in each meeting, but we keep working on being more efficient.

What other advice do you have for meeting leadership?

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