Sunday, February 19, 2017

Seminary PL35: Leading Meetings

This is the fourth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-fifth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post was on project management. This on is on leading meetings.
1. I have often said that only people who do not like meetings should lead meetings. Meetings that go on and on without accomplishing anything are torturous to many and probably a waste of people's time.

Of course, if it's fellowship you're going for, then that is a valuable purpose. But you have to wonder if there are better ways to accomplish it. Church board meetings often take place on a weeknight after people have had a full day's work. It's unlikely that most people are looking for hours and hours of time given where nothing is accomplished.

Different people also have different personalities. An extrovert may thrive on lots of personal interaction in a business meeting while the introverts are suffering in silence and the task-oriented personalities are going crazy. In most cases, meetings for fellowship should be kept separate from meetings meant to accomplish things.

2. Again, some people love to schedule meetings. But in an organization, a meeting that does not accomplish anything or move toward accomplishing something robs the organization of time that could have been spent accomplishing something. If you do not have any business, cancel the meeting. Most people will thank you.

The leader calling a meeting can forget that the other people may not be as invested or focused on the domain of that meeting as he or she is. The people in the room may be sitting there dreaming of all the other things they need to do while the oblivious leader of the meeting is obsessed with his or her world. Again, this will be perceived as a waste of time.

3. So there are ad hoc meetings that are called to address a specific task or purpose and there are regularly scheduled meetings. A specially called meeting can help bring the right people into a room to address a specific concern or project. In such cases, you want the right people in the room--the people with the best ideas and the people who are in a position to get something done. You'll have to use your judgment on people who might be offended if they are not invited or consulted.

A friend of mine once said, "If there are more than six people in the room, then the decision is being made elsewhere." Groups of a certain size are not well-suited to formulate plans or draft policies. In most cases, some smaller group will have come together to draft a proposal that is then only modified in a larger context. A church board or organization's board should thus not be too big, unless smaller committees are doing the heavy lifting and the larger board is only amending or ratifying the proposals drafted elsewhere. Ten is a round number.

4. Regularly scheduled meetings ensure that the normal operations of the church or organization are moving forward. Sometimes such meetings serve as a check in, a time to report and keep the different members connected. Again, such sharing can get out of hand, but keeping connected as a team is a significant function. Sometimes the function of such meetings is to keep the boss informed of what the organization is actually doing, what its successes and problems are.

I have been on several committees where the purpose was not so much to make decisions but to keep communication flowing between separate parts of the organization. For example, I am on a "coordinating council" whose current purpose is to keep the three different ministry units of the university aware of what the other units are doing, even though they are organizationally separate from each other. At one time I was on a council whose main purpose, I thought, was to keep the Provost of the university informed about what all the different academic units of the school were doing, although occasionally to seek advice. So there are other legitimate purposes for a meeting, not only to make decisions.

5. An agenda should be sent out before a meeting, and then minutes should be kept of the meeting. Minutes are a record especially of the motions and votes taken at a meeting, perhaps including who made motions and who seconded them. A person is usually elected or designated as a secretary to keep the minutes. They can be more or less detailed. Some items can be left out of the minutes or only referred to obliquely, if they are sensitive. The most important aspects of minutes are the motions and decisions made.

A typical agenda consists of:
  • Opening prayer
  • Approval of minutes
  • Reports
  • Old Business
  • New Business
  • Adjournment
A good leader of a meeting (the "chair" of the meeting) will try not to let things get bogged down at any one point. Some people like to talk, for example. Others probably do not talk enough. I knew one group that had a stuffed animal that you held if you were speaking. Then someone else could take it away from you if you went on too long. I personally felt that approach was unnecessarily demeaning, but it seemed to work for that group.

Reports can especially sap a lot of time. You might ideally then distribute them before the meeting so that they only need to be summarized at meeting time. Getting materials to a committee several days in advance is extremely helpful in minimizing the actual amount of time you need to spend on matters when you are together.

Assigning time limits to each part of the agenda is especially helpful in moving the meeting along.

6. If you get bogged down at some point of the agenda, you will need to make some decisions. What really needs to get done at this meeting for the organization to move forward? What can wait for the next meeting? You might arrange the schedule to get a number of small tasks done quickly so that the remainder of time can be given to a larger item.

There is one meeting I go to where I know I will be deferred to the next meeting if we hit any snag with my proposals. I would say that the leader of the meeting has an internal clock and if I don't have my ducks in a row, I will get postponed. I would say that is the sign of a good leader of a meeting.

Old business is of course business carried over from a previous meeting. Usually you will address such matters first, but it is generally the prerogative of the person leading the meeting to order the agenda in such a way that the most urgent items get taken care of. New business is of course business being introduced for the first time.

Many meetings last an hour, a nice duration. Many others go an hour and a half or two hours. The more important the meeting, the more appropriate for it to go a little longer. But meetings shouldn't waste people's time.

The chair of a meeting usually does not participate in the debate but serves to make sure it runs smoothly and that the proper rules are followed. If a chair wishes to participate in debate, he or she might ask someone else to chair the meeting or might relinquish the chair for a brief period of time. The goal of a chair should be to be objective, like a judge.

7. It is conventional to use Robert's Rules of Order as the basis for running a meeting because they provide a framework for maintaining order. Otherwise, especially when there is disagreement, a meeting can descend into chaos. Many organizations have "by-laws" or "standing rules" for the way they conduct business. Often one of these by-laws will state that Robert's Rules of Order serve as the basis for how business is conducted. These rules are also called, "parliamentary law."

Of course some personalities can go overboard. It's almost comical, but also quite frustrating, when debates over parliamentary law erupt in the middle of a meeting. In such cases, an organization sometimes has a "parliamentarian" to give a ruling on who is in the right. Process oriented people can especially get obsessed with the way things are done and lose sight of what you are trying to get done.

It should go without saying that the goal is the goal, not the process to get there. Good practice in process serves the purpose of getting to goals smoothly with everyone on board and with proper ethics observed. Obsession on process that goes beyond moving toward the goal smoothly and ethically is just plain unhelpful, perhaps even neurotic.

8. Parliamentary law follows the pattern of 1) motion, 2) second, 3) discussion, and 4) vote. The idea of a "second" is that more than one person has considered the idea worthy of discussion. "Seconding" a motion does not necessarily mean you will vote for it. In fact, you do not have to vote for something even if you motioned it. Something can be worthy of discussion even if it is voted down in the end. Motions that come from another committee are considered already to have been seconded.

Usually you do not discuss a motion until it has been seconded, but common sense is in order. If you know you are going to discuss and vote on something, then taking the motion and a second is a bit of a formality. Remember, the purpose of the rules is to get you to the goal. Man was not made for parliamentary law, but parliamentary law for man.

Most votes require a majority vote, and you need to have a quorum for the vote to count. A quorum usually means that one more than 50% of the voting members are present at the meeting. If it is an important issue with strong feelings and a divided committee, it is most ethical to defer consideration until a substantial number of the committee are present. However, if appropriate notice has been given and the meeting is normally scheduled, then any decisions technically stand. [1]

9. There are some subsidiary motions that are sometimes used in more formal settings. Here are just a few:
  • If discussion is dragging on and on, such that the discussion has reached a kind of stalemate, you can "move the previous question" in order to end debate. Simply saying these words does not end debate. You need a two-thirds vote to end debate. The motion is not subject to discussion but must be taken immediately. If two-thirds vote in favor of ending debate, then you must then immediately take a vote on the motion that had been under consideration.
  • The motion to table a motion means that the topic will go away indefinitely until someone moves to take off the table that item. Both motions require a simple majority vote. Neither of these motions is debatable. A vote on whether to table or take from the table should be taken immediately. [2]
  • You can move to amend a motion. That motion must be seconded. Then you discuss the amendment and vote on it. It is common for people to get lost in what you are voting on. Good leaders usually then clarify, "We are voting on the proposed amendment now, not the original motion."
  • A point of order is when someone wants to point out that the process has somehow gotten off track. A point of clarification or information asks for the leader to clarify what's going on.
  • Other motions include to postpone, to refer to committee, to call for a "division of the house" (that is, to count the votes rather than simply go on the impression of a voice vote), to "reconsider" something already voted down (someone who voted for the motion needs to make this motion), to have a "point of personal privilege," to appeal the chair's decision, and to "divide the motion" into parts to be considered separately.
Here's an online "cheat sheet" for Robert's Rules. Many of these rules are unnecessary for a smaller, less formal situation where everyone is on the same page. For example, if everyone is ready to adjourn, taking a vote seems a bit overkill. Similarly, most will be in complete agreement to "postpone" an item to the next meeting. Why waste time taking a vote? However, if in doubt, do it right.

10. A colleague of mine tells a story from Wesleyan Church history to impress on students the value of knowing parliamentary law. In the 1970s, there had been a study committee to explore a merger between The Wesleyan Church and the Free Methodist Church. The committee recommended merger.

But at the general conference, the crafty general superintendent asked for a motion to "receive" the recommendation with heart felt thanks, not to "adopt" the recommendation. A motion to receive was made, seconded, and the majority of the body voted to "receive" it. I personally left the conference thinking that we had just merged denominations.

But they had only voted more or less to thank the committee for their work. No motion to adopt the recommendation had taken place, and the two churches remain separate to this day.

Next Week: Pastor as a Leader 36: Risk Management

[1] Although see the motion to "reconsider."

[2] I heard a story recently about a motion that had been tabled, but a certain group was so insistent that it be killed that they voted to take it off the table. The motion then went on to be passed. If they had just left it alone on the table, it might have never been brought up again. :-)

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

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