Moving the mental furniture

I strongly dislike meetings that waste time. In churches, a high percentage of time in meetings is wasted. My usual coping strategy is to check out, fiddling with my email or updating 7WD. Sometimes that won’t work. I found an article that describes the problem of wasted meetings, and it even offers some solutions. Slow Leadership describes it this way:

One of the most frustrating and irritating experiences at work is not just the number of unnecessary meetings — although they test anyone’s patience — but the endless talk, conversation and sharing of thoughts that takes place and leads to nowhere.

Human nature being what it is, during many meetings folks have an inherent and insistent — though often unconscious — need to ‘educate’, ‘fix’ or otherwise ‘one-up’ and hijack others’ experiences. Somehow, they have to get their $.04 cents in. They need to be seen and heard, even if that means expressing thoughts that have no direct bearing on the subject of the meeting or its outcome.

I was at such a meeting recently. After a few blog postings and some answered messages, I began to engage a bit (frustrated by the furntiture-movers, but trying nevertheless). I wish I had read this article, which goes on to offer some concrete suggestions. I might have been more effective at helping us to return to our task at hand. Or I might have been in a better mood.

As I read the linked article, I remembered some great advice I received long ago. When I was in high school, I was elected as the student representative to the local school board. I had seat and voice (including an official name plate, just like the real board members! Before my first meeting, the superintendent pulled me aside and said something like, “Watch the members carefully. See who has power and how they use it. Observe the ebbs and flows of the group relationship. If you can learn something here, it will serve you well.”

Of course, he was right. Understanding group interactions is helping — and even essential to running a meeting well. When I manage to stay engaged, rather than dragging out the Interwebs or poking at my eyes with a sharp stick, it can be interesting to observe a meeting in progress. Even better, of course, is an effort to redirect things. I saw a great example of this recently, which I can’t describe to protect the innocent. Anyway, this article has caused me to commit anew to being a better meeting attender, not checking out so quickly.

Now I’m going in search of an article on how to chair meetings. Why is almost no one in church life good at this? But that’s the subject of another post…

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3 Responses

  1. Ann says:

    Some good stuff for any gathering that has an alleged task. I find this happens most when there is some unspoken “elephant” or if the goals and tasks are not clear. I found Six Hat thinking a good way to stop meetings that go no where. Good leadership and agreed upon norms help meetings accomplish their goals.

  2. peter vajda says:

    Thanks Scott for pointing to my article, Talk, Talk, Talk…on SlowLeadership.

    Peace,
    Peter Vajda

  3. BillyDinPVD says:

    Sometimes I’m tempted to think that “meetings that waste time” is an oxymoron. Too many administrators confuse meetings with taking action, and assume that as long as you’re talking about a problem in meetings, steps are being taken to solve it. Meetings then become substitutes for action.

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