Have you ever endured a pointless or even painfully contentious meeting? Dn. Michael Hyatt, author of No Fail Meetings shares how you can make your meetings more engaging and productive by:
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Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. I'm excited to be interviewing Dn. Michael Hyatt, author, podcaster, blogger, speaker, and the CEO and founder of Michael Hyatt and Company. He has written several books about leadership, productivity, and goal setting. Dn. Michael has been a deacon in the Orthodox Church for over 30 years, and serves as the Executive Chair of the Board of Directors for St. Vladimir's Seminary. Welcome, Dn. Michael, so thrilled for our conversation today!
Dn. Michael Hyatt 0:42
Thank you, Hollie, I'm excited to be with you.
Hollie Benton 0:44
Let's just jump right in. Let's talk about your book, No Fail Meetings, a really important book for any priest or parish council member. In fact, we promote it on our website and our Doulos module for Building Effective Parish Leadership Teams. So Dn. Michael, what are some of the common problems that make church board meetings fail?
Dn. Michael Hyatt 1:04
Yeah, you know, it's kind of funny, because when I wrote the book, I really didn't have church leaders in mind. I was writing it for business owners and business leaders, but it's found a huge home in the church, because I think so many church meetings, I mean, if we're honest, are just run really poorly. Some of the biggest problems I see is no agenda. So you don't really know when the meeting is over. It just kind of keeps going. And as I've talked to different people who are on parish councils and serve on boards of our institutions, you know, they're frustrated because the meetings go longer than they were advertised. And that's frustrating. There doesn't seem to be accountability. These same meetings, you know, people keep making the same decisions over and over again. There's not follow through. So there's a lot of problems, particularly in the church. We tend to not handle conflict well. We don't have a good framework or model for conflict. So when it happens, it kind of freaks people out, and can shut down the meeting, or the meeting can go off on a tangent or become just, you know, kind of an unpleasant experience for everybody. And that makes for people really not wanting to participate in meetings.
Hollie Benton 2:07
I think it is the experience of some of those tangents, long and painful meetings that can keep even qualified people away from joining the church board. They just don't have patience for those boring, pointless conversations about changing the lightbulbs or fixing the lawnmower. So how could we eliminate some of the pain we encounter at church board meetings?
Dn. Michael Hyatt 2:26
Well, I think one of the first things to do and I start the book, in this way, my book, No Fail Meetings. And that is you got to decide if the meeting is necessary to begin with, because sometimes I think we meet because we don't really know what we want to accomplish. It's a way to procrastinate action, it's a way to kind of punt to a committee rather than having to make a decision for ourselves. One of the first questions to ask is, is this meeting necessary? And is it something that needs to be handled face to face? You know, now that we're on this side of COVID, hopefully, in person meetings are once again possible, but they're not always the most efficient. Sometimes, a zoom meeting can get you 90% of the results with 10% of the effort. So I think asking whether the meeting is necessary is really important. I think another thing too, and this is a rule at Michael Hyatt and Company, that is: no agenda, no meeting. So you know, unless you have an agenda that clearly identifies the purpose of why you're meeting, you're not going to know when the meeting is over, you're not going to know if the meeting was successful, you're not going to have a way to follow up. So I think in advance, whoever's the meeting organizer, or the meeting leader has to determine what the purpose is. And in the form that we use, we encourage people to literally write that down and review it at the beginning of the meeting. You know, we're here to make a decision on whether we're going to build a new parish hall, for example, or we're here to make a decision on whether we give the pastor an increase in his salary, or whatever it is, there's got to be an agenda. And maybe it's just an update meeting. You know, maybe these typically happen in parish councils, or, you know, in my case, at St. Vladimir's Seminary board meetings, where you have an update on, you know, various reports from various committees, and so forth. And you're trying to exercise oversight, and just keep everybody aware of what's happening in the ministry. So those are legitimate too, but identify a purpose, and then have a clear agenda, and even identify how much time you're allocating for each agenda item, to know how long you're willing to discuss it. That doesn't mean you have to follow it legalistically but it does give you a track to run on. And then you can note when you're off track, and can sort of do the calculus on how you're gonna make up the time so that you can end the meeting on time, which by the way, that's critically important: starting and finishing on time are critical.
Hollie Benton 4:36
Yeah, I so agree. You stress preparation as a way to run an efficient no fail meeting. Preparation aligns really well with the notion of doulos or servant leadership taking responsibilities seriously for the sake of serving others within the body of Christ. So what can a priest or board chair do to prepare to lead a meeting? And then is it all on that meeting leader or can every parish council member prepare for a no fail meeting?
Dn. Michael Hyatt 5:04
Well, definitely every member of the board or the organization can prepare. But it's up to the leader to identify the agenda. He might, for example, I have an executive committee meeting for St. Vladimir's Seminary tonight. And so I solicited agenda items. I knew there were some things that I wanted to discuss. And there's some things that are on our agenda every time, financial reports and so forth. I just asked our members, our executive committee members, I said, "Are there any items that you want to discuss?" and I got several responses back. But it's my job as the leader to collate those responses and put them into an agenda. That makes sense that gives us a track to run on, and then circulate the agenda in advance of the meeting, so that people know what we're going to be discussing. So they have an opportunity to prepare. And even in the case of when we do a big board meeting at the seminary, we have the committees prepare their reports, submit those about three to four weeks in advance, then we compile those into what we call a board book. And then we send it out to our board members two weeks in advance. So they've got a chance to read through the reports and you know, be able to be prepared for the meeting. Because the last thing we want to have happen, and we've all been to meetings like this where somebody reads through a report they've previously submitted, and you're like, so why did I read through that report to begin with, if you were just going to regurgitate it here at the meeting? So I always lead at the seminary by saying, "Look, you've all had a chance to read these reports." So we don't want you as committee chairs to read the report. We're here to make decisions, for people to ask questions about the report, but not to go back over the report again. That's just boring and tedious.
Hollie Benton 6:41
Yeah, would you address some of the ways to have good conversations and even constructive conflict to get to those decisions? What are some of the servant leader behaviors and practices to adopt in church board meetings?
Dn. Michael Hyatt 6:55
Well, I can tell you what I do. And one of the things that's important, I think, is to create an environment where it's safe for dissent. And I think as a leader, you have to model this. In other words, when you get blowback, you can't be offended, you can't be defensive, you got to be curious. And that's a completely different posture, than trying to defend your position. So if I take, for example, the premise that the people that are in this meeting are not here by accident, that God is at work, putting people on committees and moving the chess pieces around. And the people that are here are the people that I've got. And even if there's dissent, that may be the very thing I need to hear as a leader, because the last thing you want, is everybody agreeing with you as the leader. And boy, I've seen that so much in the church, because we get these kind of goofy notions of authority, you know, like, just because somebody is an authority doesn't mean they're always right. Right? And a wise leader, a servant leader, knows that. And he knows that he needs the perspective of everyone, even if that's a different perspective, or a contrary perspective, to keep the organization in line and on task. So I think it begins with your attitude as the leader. I mean, everything that a leader does, everything a leader models, gets replicated in the lives of the people that he's trying to lead for good or for bad. And so I think having an opening, welcoming kind of attitude toward dissent. But more than that, I literally would state it in the meeting, and just say, "Look, we're going to be talking about something that could possibly be contentious today." You know, so set it up like that. "But I just want to say before we begin this conversation, that vigorous debate is a good thing." Because as we give people an opportunity to present perspectives that are different than our own, we all learn, we keep ourselves from, you know, making big colossal missteps, because there are people in this committee or there are people in this meeting that are going to see things that some of us miss. Like, I just take into account different personality types. So I tend to be, you know, a quickstart. One of the assessments that we use at Michael Hyatt and Company, when we're doing hiring is something called the KOLBE.. And it's a phenomenal assessment, but it basically talks about how people initiate work. And one of the types is called a quickstart. And we're sort of the ready-fire-aim people that are sometimes impulsive, and we can get to decisions very quick. But we're not always right. Usually never in doubt, but not always right. So we need people that are more thoughtful, that are what KOLBE calls, fact-finders who do their research who think it all the way through, or the follow-through people, which is another KOLBE type, the people that really want to make sure that there's a plan that is coherent, that it makes sense that it's comprehensive before we embark upon anything. So we all need each other and fortunately, God has put in the body of Christ, in the church, people with various gifts, and all those gifts need to be respected. And I think invoked. Oftentimes the people that are the quietest are the people that have the most breakthrough ideas, or the people that have the wisest thing to say. And so I think as a leader, you just can't be so caught up in the moment and unaware of the conversation, that you leave those people out and just let the more chatty people dominate the conversation, right? So you've got to typically call them out. I'll just say, you know, Hollie, you've been kind of quiet tonight, but we know still waters run deep. So what do you think about this issue, and then shut up, because sometimes those people just need a little bit of time to get their thoughts together. And you don't need to fill the dead air or the silence with more conversation. Just be quiet, let people talk.
Hollie Benton 10:46
Right. Speak a little bit about consensus as well. You know, constructive conflict, people aren't always going to agree. But then what does consensus look like?
Dn. Michael Hyatt 10:56
Yeah, consensus is probably the most damaging worst idea known to man. It's not even an Orthodox idea. So there's not always been consensus, in ecumenical councils or whatever. But here's the problem of consensus. You're basically held captive by the least agreeable member, huh? Right. So you can have everybody sees clearly what we need to do as a group, we're united on the action, but you got one person dissenting. And if you have to have consensus, then you're going to either end up with very long meetings, or very frustrated situations where you don't take any action. So what I like to do is debate it all the way through, you know, make sure that everybody's got a chance to speak. For example, if there are people that are dissenting, I want to say, "Man, give us your best arguments, we want to hear from you," and then affirm it in real time, you know, so that if they make an argument, maybe completely different than your own point of view, but to say to them, "Thank you for having the courage to share that. We appreciate that. That informs the conversation. We need you to do that. So thank you." But then at some point, as a leader, you have to call for the vote. Now, here's what's better than consensus: alignment. And alignment and agreement are two different things. So it may not always be possible, particularly in a crisis, or particularly in a sort of high risk situation to get agreement. Maybe not everybody's going to agree. But I want to make sure that we don't leave the meeting until we're all aligned. And here's how that might look. So back when I was the CEO, Thomas Nelson Publishers, I remember one specific meeting where we were looking at basically upgrading our warehouse software. It was a big decision; it was about an $8 million decision. And we had one person who was dissenting. They didn't want to go with a vendor that the rest of us were excited about. And so I said, "Look, we've taken a vote, we decided to move in this direction. I know you don't agree with this decision. But can you align with it?" Now, what I've found is that if people feel that they've been heard, if they had an opportunity to give voice, and make their best argument, and if it doesn't go their way, they will still align with the decision. And in that particular case, at Thomas Nelson, the person who was dissenting from the majority opinion just said, "Oh, yeah, absolutely, I can totally align with it. You know, I made my best case, you guys didn't buy it. No problem. I'll align." Now, what that means is that when you leave the meeting, you have each other's backs, right? We never allow for the meeting after the meeting. That's like one of the worst things you can do is have the meeting after the meeting where the people who dissent and feel like they were heard, and so they have another meeting. And then that ends up in all kinds of political problems down the road. So we want to walk out of the meeting being aligned. So if it's a high stakes meeting, I will literally ask the question, can we all align around this decision? And generally speaking, I can't think of an exception, people say yeah, if they've been heard.
Hollie Benton 13:52
Right, the key is feeling like you've been heard that you've made your best case and, people have understood your stance, and generally, I absolutely agree, that's how alignment is built. So finally, let's talk about follow up and accountability, something we're not always so good at in the church. What's one or two things that we can do to promote action and results, after so much time is invested in saying and deliberating, deciding what we're going to do, to actually doing what we said we would do?
Dn. Michael Hyatt 14:24
This tends to be, Hollie, a cultural situation, you can build a culture of accountability, but it's based on some behaviors. So one of the documents that you need for every meeting, in addition to the agenda is the minutes from the previous meeting. Now, obviously, if it's the first time you've had the meeting, you're not going to have minutes. But if you've had the meeting before, if you're on a standing committee or something that meets on a regular basis, you need minutes. Now the kinds of minutes that you need are not sort of the blow by blow narrative of who said what. Nobody cares, and every lawyer I've ever talked to said, that's actually not helpful, if you ever get a lawsuit. So you don't want all that detail. What you do want is a record of the topics that were discussed and the decisions that were made. So literally in the form that we have, in the book, No Fail Meetings, we have a place at the end where we talk about accountability. And we simply have the person, we always have two people running the meeting, so there's the leader, and then there's kind of the timekeeper or the assistant, the people or the person that's helping us keep on track, and taking minutes and so forth. So I will ask, as the chair of the meeting, I'll say, "Can you review for us the decisions that we've made?" So that provides accountability. Every action should have one owner, not two, not three, not a committee, but one person. You want to have one person to blame if it doesn't get done. And so what you don't want is finger pointing because you've got two people responsible, and neither one of them did it. So you want to have one person responsible, put their name on the action item. You want to have a by when date, in other words, a due date of when that item is due. And I let people volunteer, you know, "When do you think you can get this done?" Okay, but here's the kicker. So you've got that recorded, you circulate the minutes after the meeting. So everybody's clear on exactly what they committed to. Really the next thing you're going to do is in the next meeting, that's going to be one of the first things that you review. Okay, so here are the minutes from last time. First of all, do we approve them? Yes. Okay, here are the commitments, let's just go through each one of these one at a time. Did these get done? Now, I'm not too hard on people. You know, like, if somebody didn't get it done, I get that, you know, I've been in meetings where I've committed to get something done, and then life happened, and I didn't get it done. And that's okay, if it's a repeating pattern, then it's a problem. But here's the thing about it, just calling on people publicly, to give an account for what they said they were going to do sort of becomes self-policing, because nobody likes to look like the person that was lazy, or the person that was irresponsible, especially in front of their peers, right? So I just do it very matter of factly. And if somebody says, "Oh, I totally forgot about that I didn't get done." "Hey, no problem. When do you think you can get it done?" And then record that as an action for the next meeting. Now, if that becomes an issue where this thing just drags, you know, from one meeting to the next meeting to the next, there's a couple questions to ask. One is, is this really important to be done? But I would take the person aside, I would never embarrass him publicly. But I'd pull him aside and say, "Hey, help me understand what's going on here. This has been on our list for three weeks in a row. You haven't gotten to it yet. And I just want to know if, in the spirit of Doulos, is there something I can do to help? Is there a place where you're stuck?" And then, as a leader, become the coach, not simply the administrator of the meeting. How can I help coach this person to get this done? Maybe it's simply too big of a task. Maybe they need to break it down into its component parts and just start tackling those one at a time. You know, maybe they need you to make a phone call or to set them up to win or something else that they weren't able to voice or to articulate until you pull them aside and ask them. So you're just basically doing troubleshooting. I think people want to follow through, they want to be accountable. But after you establish this culture, it's amazing what happens, because things get done. And then all of a sudden, when meetings have an agenda, when they start on time when they stop on time, when there's accountability, then people stop dreading meetings. They actually look forward to them because they know meetings are a great way to actually get stuff done.
Hollie Benton 18:28
Absolutely. So for many of us was so much of the day scheduled with meetings. This book, I think, can really help us be more intentional and productive with our meetings, including even parish board meetings. It's like a practical guide for being good stewards of our time. Our listeners can find a link to No Fail Meetings on our podcast page or go to MichaelHyatt.com where folks can order not only this book, but an entire course on no fail meetings. Thank you, Dn. Michael, for this great conversation and our productive meeting today!
Dn. Michael Hyatt 19:00
Thank you, Hollie.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai