Because you’re a leader, chances are you’re almost too busy to read this post.
And yet this is also true: this week you’ll spend way too much time in meetings you don’t need to be in, you don’t want to be in, and frankly, you shouldn’t be in.
The longer I’ve been in leadership, the more I’ve realized most meetings are a waste of time: yours, mine and everyone else’s.
I currently spend less than half my working time in meetings, and every year I look for opportunities to reduce that figure. Why?
Often—not always, but often—when you start meeting, you stop leading.
You stop leading your organization, yourself and ultimately, your mission. For sure, there are times you need to meet (I outline three reasons to meet at the end of this post). But many of the meetings you’re in don’t enable leadership; they kill it.
And yet meetings are a staple of any office culture—church, corporate or non-profit. Sarah Chapple of Tony Morgan’s UnStuck Group wrote an incredibly insightful article about why so many leaders appear to be addicted to meetings. It’s worth your time to read it.
There are at least 5 great reasons to engineer your escape from the endless drone of meetings.Most meetings are a waste of time. Too often, when you start meeting, you stop leading. Click To Tweet
Here’s what happens if you spend too much of your time in meetings:
1. Your real work gets pushed to the margins
The reason you pulled out your laptop on Tuesday after dinner or wrote your message on a Saturday is because you didn’t get your work done during your work day. It’s simple, but it’s true.
Think about that for a minute. Maybe even go back and read that first paragraph again.
Meetings ruin your ability to get work done, even though you have meetings at work.
If your job involves writing, for example (as mine does), any time you spend in a meeting is time you don’t spend writing, researching or creating (for the record, I do some collaboration to brainstorm ideas, but most of my writing is solo).
If your job involves any task (editing video, running spreadsheets, interacting with clients, customers or guests or anything that doesn’t involve sitting around a table talking about things), then you’re not really doing your job when you’re in meetings.
Which is why your real work vacuums up evenings and weekends.
If you stop meeting, you can start working.Meetings ruin your ability to get your real work done. Click To Tweet
2. You create a culture of delay
Too often, leaders meet to make decisions. At the very highest level of the organization, this is wise. You shouldn’t have one person calling the entire future direction of a church or organization solo. And for sure, there are moments when you need a group to make a decision (see the end of this post).
But those should be the exception, not the rule.
As our church launched , we did a lot of our decision-making in our weekly leadership team meeting.
About four years ago it became clear that this was becoming an incredible mistake.
When we were in start-up mode, our leadership team was nimble and sometimes met in the car on the way to another event. A quick decision got made and we were off.
But as we got out of our start-up phase, we started meeting bi-weekly and the meetings grew in length. Our leadership team meetings became a frustration point for the entire organization because people had to wait until the team met to get a decision.
If the team didn’t meet for a week or we didn’t get to an item, it could be a month until a decision was made. That’s awesome if you don’t care about your mission, but horrible if you do.
So we changed the way we make decisions.
We decided that every staff member (and volunteer) has authority to make any decision without permission as long as the decision:
Doesn’t exceed their annual budget (they can even reallocate funds within their budget without permission).
Is consistent with our mission, vision and strategy.
Doesn’t significantly impact another team member (at which point, they should just talk to that team member directly).
We then turned our leadership team into a group that didn’t make decisions, but instead studies together and brainstorms on how to advance our mission.
If a decision does exceed one of the three conditions, that team member just talks with their team leader to approve it.
So much better.
It also leaves the team better empowered to do their job.
If you’re waiting for your next meeting to make a decision, you’re probably waiting too long.
A culture of delay is a culture of decay.A culture of delay is a culture of decay. Click To Tweet
3. You kill courage
In addition to delay, meetings are famous for killing courage.
Why? Because when you get a half dozen people or more around a table, ideas get reduced to their most acceptable version.
Which is another way of saying they get watered down.
Which is another way of saying they’re probably boring.
Given the pace of change in our culture, we need more courageous decisions.
If you sit around tables trying to get consensus on ideas, you will always produce bad ideas.
What about brainstorming you ask? Great question.
Brainstorming meetings can be great ideas. I use brainstorming and masterminding a lot. As a source to generate ideas, meetings can be great. But the magic gets lost when you spend too much time on the ideas.
People start thinking ‘realistically’ and the great ideas die the death of a thousand pinpricks. By the time you arrive at consensus, you have beige wallpaper ideas left.
Consensus kills courage.Consensus kills courage. Click To Tweet
If you need ‘approval,’ a much better path is for a visionary or two to pitch an idea (as crazy as it seems) and get the team to approve it.
Again, the difference is that courageous individuals created the idea in its final form, NOT a committee, team or board. The board, team or committee merely approves the visionary’s (aka crazy person) initiative.
Do that, and you will always have an organization filled with better ideas and a better reality.If you sit around tables trying to get consensus on ideas, you will always produce bad ideas. Click To Tweet
4. You rarely work ON your mission, only IN it
Over a decade ago Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner and Lane Jones taught us about the difference between working on it and working in it—whatever your it is.
When you only work in your mission, you never advance your mission.
In church world, this means most leaders in most meetings are only preparing for next Sunday.
If all you do is prepare for next Sunday, you’ll never be prepared for the future.
What you need to do is spend far less time working on your immediate goals so you can get to some long term objectives. That’s how your mission will advance.
This is likely a combination of individual time for reflection and innovation and team time for reflection and innovation.
These days, I try to spend over 25% of my time working on it, not in it. For me, that means working on things that have more than a one month-ahead time-line and long lasting implications.If all you do is prepare for next Sunday, you'll never be prepared for the future. Click To Tweet
5. You waste WAY MORE time than you need to
My biggest pet peeve about meetings is that most have no set end time or routinely push past it.
Don’t get me wrong, I selectively choose some meetings to have an open-ended time frame. But I ONLY do that if the meeting has the potential to move our mission forward significantly.
If it’s just about getting to next week or routine business, I make sure my meetings have fixed start time and and fixed end time.
If you don’t get the stated business done in the time allowed, finish on time anyway. The world will keep spinning.
If others want to make it go longer, and you don’t think they’ll fire you, leave.
You can simply say “I budgeted 60 minutes for this meeting like we had discussed. I’m sorry, I’m going to head out.” I’ve done this many times, even in organizations I’m a guest at.
And if that means you head out to do your real work (like write your message), so be it. Saturday (and your family) will thank you for it. The mission will also be grateful.
Perhaps the most frustrating and universal rule about meetings is that meetings expand to fill the time you give them.
So give them less time.
A final tip is just to have days where you never have meetings.
Personally, I almost never have meetings on Mondays or Wednesdays. I spend those days doing my “work”.
I have some slots on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I schedule meetings. When those slots are full, I generally don’t make any more time for meetings. I just tell people that I’m sorry, I can’t meet them that week. And if it’s important, we schedule it for the future.
That’s how I get my job done. And ironically, that dynamic also frees them up to do theirs.Meetings expand to fill the time you give them. So give them less time. Click To Tweet
3 Great Reasons To Hold Meetings
So does that mean you should never meet? Of course, not. None of us are islands, nor should we be.
When you’ve minimized the time you spend in routine meetings, you will have more time not only for your work, but for the meetings that really matter.
If you want to make the best use of your team, here are the most energizing and meaningful reasons I know of to meet.
You can do these meetings in the office, but the first two types of meetings get their biggest potential when they happen off-site or in a retreat-like setting. Ironically, most organizations never get to enough off-sites or retreats because…well, they’re too busy in meetings.
I’ve framed the reasons for the meetings as questions to help make them easy to remember.
You should meet if you and your team are wondering…
Devoting meaningful time to meetings is a good idea when you’re trying to dream up new possibilities, imagine new frontiers or do some true long term planning.
Whether that’s trying to get your church or organization out of a rut, brainstorm new approaches or imagine a whole new future, this is the kind of work ON it that’s amazing.
It’s also a good idea to meet when you or your team isn’t in full out dreaming mode, but simply trying to determine your next most important things to do.
When people are clear on what’s next, they’ll do a much better job handling the now.
Confusion is inevitable in any organization. And clarity is the job of a leader.
When you sense your team’s unclear—or when you know you are—it’s a great idea to get people together to clarify things.
What About You?
I hope this advice can help you get hours of your week back and days of your life back. Better yet, I hope this approach can help you further advance your mission.