If you're like most people, you're not thrilled with every meeting you attend. That's because producing a great small religious meeting is a lot like producing a great product. You don't just start building. You start by designing, planning, and thinking about what people, equipment, and processes are needed to make the meeting successful.

People meet for a variety of reasons. Generally, we meet to move group actions forward. We call this a task focus. To do this, meeting participants do two things: 1) present information to others; and 2) collaborate — review, evaluate, worship, discuss, solve problems, decide.

But people also meet for fellowship reasons: the need to belong, the need to achieve and make an impact, and a desire to communicate, build, and share a common faith.

Remember that to meet the task needs, you must meet the fellowship needs, and to meet the fellowship needs, you must meet the task needs. Is it possible to satisfy both? Yes! Just plan for both your meeting content and your meeting process. The meeting content will address task needs while the meeting process attends to fellowship needs. And, be assured, paying attention to process ensures that tasks get done.

Meeting Content: Focus on the Task

  1. Be clear about the meeting's objectives

    If participants can't articulate the purpose of a meeting, they will make up their own. If this happens, your meeting will wander in as many directions as there are participants. Declaring a clear objective is not a lofty goal, and it doesn't have to take an hour. Just be sure that the reason for meeting has been clearly stated to all participants.

  2. Create a solid agenda

    An agenda is an outline of things to be discussed at the meeting, along with a time budget for each item. To create your agenda, first look to the meeting objective, since your agenda is a path to achieving it. Then look to the participants, because they will also have ideas about what is important. Two important tips about the agenda:

    • Prioritize items by importance.
    • Assign a realistic amount of time for each item.
  3. Prepare

    Take the time to prepare. This may be a few minutes to collect your thoughts and jot them down, or it may be hours for a formal presentation. Advance preparation will allow the meeting to move forward smoothly and productively.

Meeting Process: Focus on People

  1. Who will participate?

    On a small project team or task force, it will be easy to determine who should participate in meetings. In other situations, it's not always a clear choice. These questions provide a useful filter:

    • Whose input do we need?
    • Who is needed to make a decision?
    • Whose buy-in do we need to move forward?

    Answer these questions and you'll know who needs to be there. You can save yourself — and everyone else — the headache of wasted time by choosing participants appropriately and scheduling meetings to accommodate key participants' calendars.

  2. What ground rules will serve the group

    A powerful way to meet the fellowship needs of team members and keep them focused is to turn the most important process expectations into agreements. Why? Most participants come to a meeting with expectations of how others should act. If expectations are met, people have a satisfying experience.

    How do you turn expectations into agreements? Make them explicit rather than implicit. Some helpful agreements:

    • Start and end meetings on time.
    • Hold one conversation at a time.
    • Honor all points of view.
    • Don't interrupt.
    • Speak openly and honestly.
  3. Clarify the Decision-Making Process

    If you want participants to engage in and commit to the meeting, the decision-making process should be clearly understood. There are three basic methods:

    • Autocratic: a leader makes all decisions unilaterally.

    • Democratic: each participant votes, and majority rules.

    • Consensus: all members “consent” or agree to move forward before finalizing a decision.

    Clarifying the decision-making process is important because nothing saps trust and morale faster than misunderstandings about decision-making authority and process.

  4. Establish the Discussion-Management Process

    Because of its overwhelming importance to the satisfaction of participants, planning for discussion management or facilitation is a critical skill for great meeting leaders. Start with clarity about who is to run the meeting and whether the leader will act as the facilitator. The default choice — that the group leader runs the meeting and calls on others to talk — isn't necessarily the best choice for all meetings. A more participatory format allows the leader to set the meeting objective and then take a seat with the members while another team member facilitates the discussion. This format encourages all to participate.

  5. Use Time Wisely

    People care a lot about how long meetings are and when those meetings are scheduled. You may not be able to satisfy everyone, but some guidelines can be applied. Look to the objective and agenda to estimate how long it will take to cover critical points. Think also about participants' schedules and preferred times. If you are planning a meeting that will regularly take a chunk of time out of participants' calendars, respect their time. Do all that you can to ensure the objective is clear and compelling and that the meeting time is used well.

  6. Plan, discuss, and assign roles

    At least four important roles are played in any well-run meeting:

    • Facilitator
    • Recorder
    • Leader
    • Participants

    Some meeting planners add a fifth role: the timekeeper. Different individuals can take each of these roles, or one person can do all of them. But all the roles have to be accounted for if the meeting is to flow well and produce results. Planning for these roles can be an ongoing process. Determining role assignments at the beginning engages everybody in the process and validates the expectations and contributions.

  7. Communicate Pre- and Post-Meeting

    The best way to create commitment and participation is to be clear about why you'll be meeting. Involve as many potential attendees as possible in planning either the content or the process. Before the meeting be sure to consider:

    • Advance agenda
    • Participants
    • Time and place
    • Preparation of materials
    • List of audiovisual equipment available to presenters
    • Requests for any special needs

    Capturing and reporting the outcomes of the meeting are critical for follow-up activities. At a minimum, be sure to capture these items in your meeting notes:

    • Decisions
    • Action items
    • Open issues

Once the meeting has concluded, post and distribute the recorder's notes to all participants. Post-meeting communication provides form and closure to both participants' contributions and their fellowship needs. A lack of clarity in meeting notes can mean unfinished tasks get dragged to your next meeting, which can unnecessarily slow the group's progress toward its long-range goals.

Tending to both the content and the process aspects of your meetings will go a long way toward making them more effective and productive.

Christopher M. Avery, PhD, has written hundreds of articles for “TeamWisdom Tips,” a digital tip sheet. Check out his suggestions or sign up to receive the tip sheet at www.partnerwerks.com.