What Makes a Great Staff Meeting? This May Surprise You.

Staff meetings…a necessary part of the ministry and the workplace. I’ve led hundreds. Some went well. Some, well, didn’t. My friend Tim Stevens just wrote a great book to help leaders not only lead great staff meetings, but become better leaders as well. It’s called Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace. I highly recommend it. He graciously offered to write today’s guest post to share his insight on what makes a great staff meeting. He calls this snippet from his book, the 3 S’s of a great meeting. You’ll appreciate his insight.

The 3 S’s

If I were only allowed to give one reason why the organization where I served for twenty years was often described as having a healthy culture, it would certainly be a decision we made many years ago to meet together on a weekly basis.

You might be saying, “Uh, you have a staff meeting? Congratulations. Every organization has staff meetings.” But this was different, and let me explain why.

This was a meeting we had every week that was for the distinct and single purpose of creating culture. We called it our weekly “SWAT” meeting—which is a cheesy acronym for “Staff Working As Team,” but within this title is the purpose of the gathering.

This wasn’t a meeting to make decisions; it was not a meeting to share prayer requests or worship (I know you think church leaders do this at every gathering); and it was not a meeting to fix things that were going wrong. None of those are bad, and they all help create culture to some degree. But instead, we focused solely on three areas we believed were the most effective at creating a healthy culture.

Stories

We spent the first fifteen to twenty minutes of every gathering sharing stories. We began the conversation by saying, “Where have you seen God at work in and through the church in the past seven days?” And then it was an open floor. We heard about changed lives inside and outside our walls. We heard stories from student ministry, small groups, and children’s ministry. We found out about the person in Canada who wrote in after watching an online service. We heard about the experiences of people who attended for the first time, and the baptism of someone who had been away from church for decades. We learned about the woman who walked into the building lonely and afraid on a Monday afternoon, and who left having found encouragement and hope. We heard about the guy who was delivered a box of food in last year’s food drive, and who came to help others receive food this year.

You can’t underestimate the power of a story. It is so easy for people to get caught up in the micro-purpose of what they do: cleaning floors, organizing small groups, rehearsing lyrics, or preparing to teach kids. And sometimes you can work week after week and never see any tangible results from your work. But when you have an opportunity to gather every week and hear stories from your area and others, it does three things:

  1. It keeps you from a silo mentality, or thinking you are the only one getting anything done.
  2. It gives you a reason to celebrate what is happening all across the organization.
  3. It gives you hope and reenergizes your vision when your team may be going through a tough season.

If I were running a company, I would do exactly the same thing. I would orient the story-telling segment of the meeting to share reports of great customer interactions or feedback. What are our customers saying? Where is our product helping better people’s lives?

Spotlight

Following stories, we spent time putting one individual in the spotlight. With no warning ahead of time, we asked someone to sit up front and field questions from the rest of the team. We found out about his or her childhood, likes and dislikes, faith journey, spouse, hobbies, and history. This gave us an opportunity to get to know someone on a level we never did before. It took us out of the subculture of our individual departments, and it communicated that we were all on the same team, caring for one another as individuals.

Following the Q&A, we stopped and said, “Now let’s tell [Jill] why we are so glad to have her on the team.” And one after another we told her how her life added joy and meaning to the rest of us. People who were very close to her got to voice in front of others how significant she was to the team. The executive leaders got to communicate the value she brought to the entire organization. People who barely knew Jill got to tell her how they had been encouraged by her presence, smile, or attitude.

Stuff

The final segment in our meeting was used for sharing inside information. It added value to the team when they knew stuff ahead of time. Sometimes we talked about upcoming events; other times we were throwing concepts out that hadn’t been decided on but that needed input from the team. They had ownership when they knew stuff before others, and it equipped them to answer questions and carry the vision.

Occasionally our “stuff ” section consisted of one of the leaders talking about vision, teaching values, or sharing a spiritual lesson. These tended to be unprocessed thoughts. They felt more as if the leader was sharing off the top of his or her heart rather than delivering a prepared talk. Sometimes it was a bit raw, as it hadn’t been written for a larger audience, but the staff really appreciated the authentic nature of being able to hear from their leaders as they were learning—not when it was all finished and packaged.

These weekly gatherings kept everyone on the team energized and focused. We realized, It’s not just about me or my department; I’m part of something bigger. Even if we were having a tough week, for a few minutes we were pulled above that and realized again why it mattered. By the way, I would start this even if my business were brand-new with only one or two paid staff. And in the church setting, this would be fabulous to do regularly with a room full of volunteers. So I’ll say it again: if I were going to do one thing to create a positive culture, I would start with a weekly gathering and the three Ss. With our team at Granger, this ritual was hugely effective in keeping us focused in the same direction.

Tim Stevens is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.

Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

Learn more about his new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

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