Every college ministry team has staff meetings, but not every team has effective meetings.
Look at your staff meeting and ask yourself – does how we spend time during staff meeting reflect our overall values and goals? Does our staff meeting reflect what we want to be about and what is important?
So what is the purpose of staff meeting? Ask any staff and you will get a different answer. A few things to consider:
- You likely only have one dedicated time a week where all your staff are face to face. How can you make the most of that time?
- What can you ONLY accomplish in staff meeting (that can’t effectively be done via email, text, one-on-one coaching)?
- A helpful way to ask- state it negatively: “What do we lose if we don’t have staff meeting?”
Whatever you decide on, communicate that purpose clearly to the team throughout the year: “We are spending the first 30 minutes of staff meeting connecting relationally and this is why. . .” Otherwise you’ll have some very frustrated staff (who have their own very strong opinions on how to better spend their 3 hours a week).
I spent my first five years on staff incredibly frustrated at our staff meetings. We spent the first hour hanging out, eating, and doing team bonding questions (and me looking at my watch dreaming about all I could be getting accomplished out in the free world). I would have been able to actually enjoy the first hour of staff meeting if I’d been mature/insightful enough to understand the importance of having good team relationships.
For our team, our staff meeting is split into two halves.
For the first half (9-10:30am), all of our teams are together –
- CFM staff (focused on the general population at the University of Arkansas)
- Athletes in Action
- Bridges (International Students)
- Impact (focusing on students of African descent).
From 10:30-noon we split into teams to plan specifically for each movement.
This is what we try to do every week:
- First Half:
- Time to celebrate what God is doing
- This is easily the best thing we do every week. We spend the first 30-45 minutes of staff meeting sharing: “How have you seen God at work on campus this week?”.
- It could be a student coming to Christ, a girl breaking off a bad relationship, a guy making significant steps to break his addiction to porn, a new Bible study in the Music building, etc.
- It never fails. Every. Single. Week. It launches our staff meeting on a high note. We recount the wondrous deeds of God (Psalm 75:1) and He gets the glory.
- Nothing inspires your team like:
- Hearing that the Creator God is present and working mightily on your campus
- Knowing that we get to be a part of it – we get to be used by God!
- Don’t rush celebration to get onto ‘more important’ business items. Give time for people to share. Some people might be quiet, and you can’t force them to share each week. But hopefully a non-rushed space will help the team know that celebrating is important and not something to rush through.
- Devotional from the Word or from a book we are reading together (a few I’d highly recommend:
A Praying Life, Living the Cross Centered Life, Dangerous Calling, The Dangerous Duty of Delight)
- Staff Development (MPD, reading ministry/leadership articles together)
- A little prayer (though not much – we have a different morning dedicated to staff prayer)
- End on vision
- Second Half
- Focusing on what matters (discipleship/evangelism/Strategic Plan) – see more below
- Clearly communicate staff focus for the week (all weeks should not blend together and look the same)
- End on vision
OK – Now some practical details – here’s 10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings
10 Keys to Effective, Engaging Staff Meetings
1) Details = Death
I would guess that this is the number one killer for most teams – too much time is spent on details that should be decided outside of staff meeting.
When I was first on staff, I swear 97.35% of our staff meeting was debating the wording of our strategic plan:
Staff 1: “I think our first critical path step should be called ‘launching missional teams’ ”
Staff 2: “Technically ‘missional’ isn’t even a word and I think launching implies we are doing all the work when isn’t it God that works?”
Staff 3: “I agree, let’s discuss what missional really means”
Staff 4: “I have a tee time for discipleship in 10 minutes”
It was fun.
In looking back at staff meetings I led 15 years ago, this would be the biggest change: we used to spend the vast majority of our meeting talking about meeting details, specifically two meetings – our weekly training/leadership meeting and weekly Cru meeting. 2/3 of our staff meeting was taken up by evaluating last week’s meetings and planning next week’s meetings. Now we rarely spend anytime at staff meeting talking about our weekly meeting.
Tim Norman, Cru Regional Director and former Team Leader at Northwestern:
“I rarely planned events during staff meeting. I felt it was a dishonorable use of the talent in the room. Here I was with the Seal team of evangelism and discipleship experts for the campus and we’re talking about who was bringing the hot dogs to the bonfire.
Empower staff to lead. If you are in charge of the bonfire, you are in charge. Delegate to student leaders. Assign staff to tasks. Give people the authority they need to get their job done. Something might flop some day. But, I’d take that and more focused effort on evangelism and discipleship.”
When we do talk about meetings we’re talking about strategic decisions and not details –
- For the summer project dessert after our meeting, we are asking the team “Should we open it up to all of our sending partnerships or just on one of them” instead of “should we have cupcakes or cookies?”. We’re getting specific input on mission critical things instead of dealing with tiny details.
- “You’re in charge of fall retreat – you have 10 minutes in staff meeting on Thursday to tell us the status of Fall Retreat and what you need from us right now” (we’re not going to talk through who’s going to give their testimony at Fall Retreat).
- So for any area of responsibility:
- Give the team an update on where we are at
- What do you need from the team?
- All details can be decided by student or staff leaders outside of staff meeting.
- Let this nugget of wisdom sink in from Mark Brown, former Cru Team Leader at Miami, OH – “If students are truly leading, you won’t have much to talk about at staff meeting.”
Staff meetings are not an information dump. Think to yourself: “could I achieve this just as well via by e-mail?” We don’t spend time telling everyone what dates are coming up (prayer is at Julie’s house on Monday) – we just have it all on the Google Calendar.
2) Keep the meeting moving
Many staff meetings are rambling discussions on whatever subject comes along with very little closure and concrete next steps, and even less vision.
Chris Musgrave, one of the Cru Team Leaders at Florida, shares what changes they made on their team to reduce and rein in rabbit trail discussions:
I got tired of leaving staff meetings frazzled so we made some changes.
- From nouns to verbs
- We changed our bullet points from generic nouns like “Weekly meeting” to verbs “get input from the team on whether our room is too big for us now.” That keeps us moving and keeps discussion focused and profitable.
- Putting things in Parking Lots and Farms
- Parking lot- “Let’s table that and revisit that at the end of the meeting. If we don’t have time – we’ll talk about it next week.”
- Farms= delegating – “you three find a time to talk about it this week and get back to us next week.
- Those gave us language for anyone on the team to say “let’s put it in the parking lot”- to keep the meeting from getting bogged down.
I would add three things:
- In general, only discuss things that require everyone to weigh in on. Don’t make your entire staff team sit there while you and Joe Staff discuss what kind of food he’s planning on buying for Cru this week. Give everyone on the team permission to throw the “A-B conversation” flag if you or anyone else drifts into that.
- If you (or your co-leader) are not a good meeting facilitator (especially at keeping things moving), have someone else on your team lead staff meeting (and you can lead various parts like Vision and Direction).
- Sometime rabbit trails can be fun. We’re not running a business meeting. Have fun with your team! Ministry as a whole is very serious business. Sometimes what your team needs most is levity. Leave room to laugh together!
3) Focus on What Matters
Now that your staff meeting is not clogged up with all those details or bogged down by rabbit trails, you can focus on what really matters – what your team came on staff to do-
- How’s multiplication/selection going? What are some best practices with helping your people multiply?
- Are students sharing their faith? What is our next step this week in that?
- How are staff spending their time? Is the bulk of it being spent multiplying and modeling ministry?
- How broad have we sown?
You want to find out where people are stuck, and you want to find out about early. You don’t want to find that out in December – when there’s no one going to Winter Conference.
4) If you fail to plan…
Do not wing staff meeting! You owe it to the team to be prepared. Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing sums it up:
“People’s time is valuable. A meeting without an agenda is like a ship without a rudder. If you won’t take time to prepare an agenda, why should people take time to attend your meeting?”
Most weeks it takes me about 20 minutes to plan staff meetings. How?
The easiest and best way to plan your staff meeting is to copy and paste last year’s staff meeting agenda and tweak it to match your reality and needs this year. I see how it’s the easiest, but how is the best? Because you’ll be amazed at how insightful and on top of things you were last year (“I hadn’t even thought of ____ that we need to start talking about this week in the year!”). Because last year’s notes were the improvement on the previous year’s notes which were…
Don’t have typed up staff meeting notes from last year? Be the change you want to see in the world. Take good staff meeting notes all year this year – take a few extra minutes to write down your devotional for your staff team, to write pretty detailed notes on what you do in staff meeting. That way you’re not reinventing the wheel every year. And in three years, you can recycle that devotional you used with your staff.
5) Eval early and often
Evaluate throughout the semester, not just at the end of the semester (and take copious notes so life will be easier next year). This is not a vent session or a 3 hour discussion. Spend about 10 minutes and quickly capture things that will help you improve next year.
Start on a positive note with “What went well? What do we want to make sure we remember to do again next year?”
Then more critically: “What do we need to do differently?”
Because just a small investment now will multiply your effectiveness next year. After you invest countless hours in the first few weeks on campus, take an extra 10 minutes and discuss as a team what you want to make sure do again next year, and what would have dramatically improved your outreach to freshmen.
Secondly, we eval because we will remember ZERO details next year. “What did we do for freshmen scholarships last year for fall retreat?” “How did we get so many freshmen there last year?” “Didn’t we say never to do ____ again?” No one will remember unless you eval and take notes AND put them in a folder where you can actually find them next year – save each eval as a separate google doc in a “Evals” folder in your team’s larger “Fall 2016-Spring 2017 folder”.
6) Set the norm that everyone focuses –
“No laptops. No cell phones/texting. No side conversations. All of these things make meetings longer and less productive.” Michael Hyatt
7) Start on time (whether everyone is there or not) and end on time (whether you are done or not).
8) Periodically solicit input from the staff: “how could we improve staff meetings?”
9) Lead democratically
The Harvard Business Review article “From Chief of Answers to Leader of Co-creators” summarizes it well:
“The Social Era raises the pressure on leaders to move from knowing everything to knowing what needs to be addressed and then engaging many people in solving that, together. They should frame the challenge and point out the horizon, helping those involved know what matters and why. [It] requires: collaborating rather than commanding, framing and guiding rather than telling, and sharing power rather than hoarding it.”
10) End meetings on a high note.
Don’t end on details (which is the tendency as the clock counts down). End on two things:
- The Staff focus for the week – For Example:
- “Remember – our #1 priority this week is following up new people who came to Fall Retreat (and take student leaders with you on your appointments!)”
- or “If you don’t do anything else this week, make sure you meet with your assigned leaders to challenge them to Lead Bible Studies in the fall”
- Vision – college ministry is hard and can tend to zap vision/zeal. Vision leaks. Remind your staff what we are trying to accomplish.
- Why are we going to strive with all our effort for the gospel this week?
- How is what we are doing significant?
- Our God is mighty to save. Our mission is sure. No one can thwart his purposes – Job 42:2.
- The need for laborers and how what we are doing this week will contribute to that: “We are going into the dorms this week to find a freshman who is sleeping with his girlfriend, who has spent his first week in the dorms completely drunk – who will be the next great missionary to Ethiopia”
- Tim Norman focuses vision on 4 things with the teams he leads:
- our glorious task in the Great Commission
- the greatness of our God
- the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives and
- the freedom of living and leading under grace
- You can read more of Tim’s wisdom on staff meetings here – and his blank staff meeting template is helpful as well.
What helps your team have effective meetings?
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