Are Your Meetings SMART?
How do you chair meetings well? It’s not something you always learn at College, so here's a tool which may help.
I had been well trained – doctrine, church history, practical ministry skills, and especially preaching.
But there was a gap. How should I lead small-scale meetings with elders and deacons? I had been at many and felt that what I saw was as good as they got.
Suddenly I found myself chairing them and I hadn't had any real training for that at all. I had picked up a thing or two, and although I thought I did an okay job, with hindsight it could all have been done so much better.
Some of it was my attitude to the actual processes. I slightly resented giving up precious time to put together an agenda and then circulate it before a meeting. In a world prior to emails – yes it did once exist – it was quite a hassle. Records of meetings were kept – kind of – but it felt like more time was wasted in writing up what (in my naivety) felt like amiable discussions amongst Gospel co-workers rather than the recording of crucial decisions.
Was that bureaucratic procedure really necessary?
Most decisions after all were ‘here and now’ and achieved through a ‘nod and a wink’ consensus. It seemed to get most things done in a smallish church. Except, over time, with a growing leadership team of elders and deacons, staff, and then many small ministry task-teams which all needed to be run well, my habitual procedures were not fit for purpose.
So I needed to learn about proper agendas and issues like prioritising difficult things, estimating timings, recording agreed decisions, and setting out clear action points. Something called SMART became very helpful.
What is SMART?
S: Specific – Who is actually going to do exactly what?
M: Measurable – How much is going to be spent? What are the ‘costs’ of other inputs such as how many volunteers are needed? What outputs (measurable results) might we be looking for?
A: Attainable – Not in our own strength of course, but given our resources could a task actually be achieved by that person we had in mind? A staff worker, in their 37½ hours might get a task done in a week which would take a volunteer half a year. But then something else wouldn’t get done instead!
R: Relevant – Not just the feedback ‘It was a nice meeting’ but clear – x people came to a five week evangelism course and y people are now moving on to another step of faith.
T: Timed – How long will it take or by when will it be ready? For me this was a big issue. I had been used to a response which went like this: ’Leave it with me.’ I learnt that it might take a lot longer than I had been anticipating! Knowing what timeframe or what deadlines we were corporately working to has really helped. Timings are useful guides even if it is not always possible to make them (remember James 4:13-15 and Acts 20:16).
I learnt that it was wise to take time to write up minutes with the specific action points and timings noted for each and every member present. It was a way to make sure things got done and it has built in accountability. It is a task that leaders of growing churches have to get done, and then people can be held to what was SMART-ly agreed on.
I also had to learn to become smarter/wiser in my people-handling skills such as how to keep an agenda moving, when to call a halt to a discussion and defer a decision to give more time for reflection, or to call a halt and make a decision even if not all present are totally happy.
We have found using the ‘Cabinet rules’ helps – that is once we all have spoken and a decision made, we then present a united front (I know the actual Cabinet doesn’t behave like that any more, but that is the Prime Minister’s problem!).
Chairing Meetings Well
How to encourage candid views but also not let the most determined or assertive person always get their way when others, out of a desire to be polite, kept quiet, isn't easy. As a chair letting creative tension develop can be daunting and sometimes you wonder if you are opening up a Pandora’s Box of trouble. But without it, blandness results.
There is also the difficult issue of knowing how much to say as chair. Too much said vehemently leads to a ‘my will be done’ atmosphere which demands subservience, but too much passivity leads to a lack of decisiveness or creates a leadership vacuum.
So, learning the skill of letting others speak and then summarising well is key. Part of that is enthusing to others’ ideas and not just if they coincide with what I am happy with anyway. Trusting colleagues’ reports on people and situations without having to be fully involved in order to verify them personally is another skill a good leader has to develop.
Finally, I have also learnt not to play down the benefit of the ongoing rhythm of such meetings. Some – who always want the exciting and innovative – play down the significance of the regularity of meetings which have SMART agendas. Of course they do not replace the need go away for a time of reflection and spiritual strengthening.1 But they are not a necessary evil or distraction from the ‘proper work’. It is how all the work is taken forward with good ‘kingly leadership’ skills in a growing church.
I am work in progress in all of this. You probably feel the same way too.
If you need to learn in this area talk to other practitioners and learn to implement the insights of this SMART acronym in the small group meetings you run.
1. See my article on Team Time.