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10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings

January 15, 2017

I spent my first five years on staff incredibly frustrated about our staff meetings. We spent the first hour hanging out, eating, and doing team bonding questions (with me constantly looking at my watch).

Since then we have changed the way we run those meetings so that our precious time together can be used the most effectively.

I would have been able to enjoy the games and fellowship in the first hour of staff meeting if I’d known we were going to get to business later.

Here are a few keys to help you run your staff meetings more effectively.

Details = Death

Too much time is spent on details that should be decided outside of staff meeting. I would guess that this is a big killer for most teams.

When I was first on staff, I swear 97.35 percent of our staff meeting was debating the wording of our strategic plan:

Staff 1: “I think our first critical path step should be called ‘launching missional teams.’”

Staff 2: “Technically ‘missional’ isn’t even a word and I think launching implies we are doing all the work when isn’t it God that works?”

Staff 3: “I agree, let’s discuss what ‘missional’ really means.”

Staff 4: “I have a tee time for discipleship in 10 minutes.”

It wasn’t fun.

Looking back at staff meetings I led 15 years ago, this would be the biggest change.

Here I was with the SEAL team of evangelism and discipleship and we’re talking about who was bringing the hot dogs to the bonfire.

Two-thirds of our staff meeting was taken up by evaluating last week’s meetings and planning next week’s meetings. Now we rarely spend any time at staff meeting talking about our weekly meeting.

Tim Norman, Cru Regional Director and former Team Leader at Northwestern:

“I rarely planned events during staff meeting. I felt it was a dishonorable use of the talent in the room. Here I was with the SEAL team of evangelism and discipleship experts for the campus and we’re talking about who was bringing the hot dogs to the bonfire. Empower staff to lead. Delegate to student leaders. Assign staff to tasks. Give people the authority they need to get their job done. Something might flop some day. But, I’d take that and more focused effort on evangelism and discipleship.”

When we do talk about meetings we’re talking about strategic decisions and not details:

  • “You’re in charge of fall retreat. You have 10 minutes in staff meeting on Thursday to tell us the status of fall retreat and what you need from us right now.” (We’re not going to talk through who’s going to give their testimony at fall retreat.)
  • All details can be decided by student or staff leaders outside of staff meeting.

Mark Brown—former Cru Team Leader at Miami, OH—said, “If students are truly leading, you won’t have much to talk about at staff meeting.”

Staff meetings are not an information dump. Think to yourself: “Could I achieve this just as well via e-mail?”

We don’t spend time telling everyone what dates are coming up (prayer is at Julie’s house on Monday), we just have it all on the Google Calendar.

Keep the meeting moving

Many staff meetings are rambling discussions on whatever subject comes along with very little closure or concrete next steps, and even less vision.

Chris Musgrave, one of the Cru Team Leaders at Florida, shares what changes they made on their team to reduce and rein in rabbit trail discussions:

“I got tired of leaving staff meetings frazzled so we made some changes. We changed our bullet points from generic nouns like ‘Weekly meeting’ to verbs such as ‘get input from the team on whether our room is too big for us now.’ That keeps us moving and keeps discussion focused and profitable. We also practice ‘putting things in parking lots and farms.’ Parking lots mean ‘Let’s table that and revisit that at the end of the meeting.’ Farms mean delegating: ‘you three find a time to talk about it this week and get back to us next week.’ These keep the meeting from getting bogged down.”

I would add two things:

  1. In general, only discuss things that require everyone to weigh in. Don’t make your entire staff team sit there while you and Joe Staff discuss what kind of food he’s planning on buying for Cru this week. Give everyone on the team permission to throw the “A-B conversation” flag if you or anyone else drifts into that.
  2. If you (or your co-leader) are not a good meeting facilitator (especially at keeping things moving), have someone else on your team lead staff meeting (and you can lead various parts like Vision and Direction).

Focus on what matters

Now that your staff meeting is not clogged up with all those details or bogged down by rabbit trails you can focus on what really matters—what your team came on staff to do:

  • How’s multiplication/selection going? What are some best practices with helping your people multiply?
  • Are students sharing their faith? What is our next step this week in that?
  • How are staff spending their time? Is the bulk of it being spent multiplying and modeling ministry?
  • How broad have we sown?

You want to find out where people are stuck, and you want to find out early. You don’t want to find that out in December when there’s no one going to Winter Conference.

If you fail to plan…

Do not wing staff meeting! You owe it to the team to be prepared. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing sums it up:

“People’s time is valuable. A meeting without an agenda is like a ship without a rudder. If you won’t take time to prepare an agenda, why should people take time to attend your meeting?”

Most weeks it takes me about 20 minutes to plan staff meetings. How?

The easiest and best way to plan your staff meeting is to copy and paste last year’s staff meeting agenda and tweak it to match your needs this year.

You’ll be amazed at how insightful and on top of things you were last year. Because last year’s notes were an improvement on the previous year’s notes which were an improvement on the previous year’s notes and so on.

Don’t have typed up staff meeting notes from last year? Take good staff meeting notes all year this year.

Take a few extra minutes to write down your devotional for your staff team as well as detailed notes on what you do in staff meeting. That way you’re not reinventing the wheel every year. And in three years, you can recycle that devotional you used with your staff.

Eval early and often

Evaluate throughout the semester, not just at the end of the semester (and take copious notes so life will be easier next year).

This is not a vent session or a three-hour discussion. Spend about 10 minutes and quickly capture things that will help you improve next year.

Start on a positive note with “What went well? What do we want to make sure we remember to do again next year?”

Then more critically, “What do we need to do differently?”

Why eval? Because a small investment now will multiply your effectiveness next year.

After you invest countless hours in the first few weeks on campus, take an extra 10 minutes and discuss as a team what you want to make sure to do again next year, and what would have dramatically improved your outreach to freshmen.

Secondly, we eval because we will remember ZERO details next year.

“What did we do for freshmen scholarships last year for fall retreat?”

“How did we get so many freshmen there last year?”

“Didn’t we say never to do ____ again?”

No one will remember unless you eval and take notes and put them in a folder where you can actually find them next year. Save each eval as a separate google doc in an “Evals” folder in your team’s larger “Fall 2016-Spring 2017” folder.

Set the norm that everyone focuses

“No laptops, no cell phones/texting, no side conversations. All of these things make meetings longer and less productive.”  – Michael Hyatt

Start on time

Be sure to start on time (whether everyone is there or not) and end on time (whether you are done or not).

Solicit input from the staff

Periodically solicit input from the staff by asking questions such as, “How could we improve staff meetings?”

Lead democratically

The Harvard Business Review article “Are You Giving Up Power” summarizes it well:

“The Social Era raises the pressure on leaders to move from knowing everything to knowing what needs to be addressed and then engaging many people in solving that, together. They should frame the challenge and point out the horizon, helping those involved know what matters and why. [It] requires: collaborating rather than commanding, framing and guiding rather than telling, and sharing power rather than hoarding it.”

End meetings on a high note.

Don’t end on details (which is the tendency as the clock counts down). End on two things:

  1. The staff focus for the week. For example:
    • Our #1 priority this week is following up with new people who came to fall retreat (and take student leaders with you on your appointments!)
    • Make sure you meet with your assigned leaders to challenge them to lead Bible studies in the fall.
  2. Vision: college ministry is hard and can tend to zap vision/zeal. Vision leaks so remind your staff what we are trying to accomplish:
    • Why are we going to strive with all our effort for the gospel this week?
    • How is what we are doing significant?
    • Our God is mighty to save. Our mission is sure. No one can thwart his purposes (Job 42:2).
    • The need for laborers and how what we are doing this week will contribute to that. For example, “We are going into the dorms this week to find a freshman who is sleeping with his girlfriend, who has spent his first week in the dorms completely drunk and who will be the next great missionary to Ethiopia.”
    • Tim Norman focuses vision on 4 things with the teams he leads:
      1. Our glorious task in the Great Commission
      2. The greatness of our God
      3. The power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and
      4. The freedom of living and leading under grace
    • You can read more of Tim’s wisdom on staff meetings here. His blank staff meeting template is helpful as well.

What helps your team have effective meetings?