Death By Meeting

dbmI just finished listening to Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni. There is not an organization I know that couldn’t benefit from this book. Like Lencioni’s other books, this is written in fable form, using fictitious characters running a fictitious business to tell a story. The book is an easy read with many relatable characters and scenarios to keep you interested.

My biggest takeaway was that the danger is not in “too many” meetings, but mixing the types of decisions that need to be made within a single meeting. When you combine tactical agenda items with strategic with long-term planning and try to address them all in the same meeting, the tendency is to:

  • spend too much time on the wrong items
  • people don’t come prepared to weigh in on the most important items
  • time runs out discussing trivialities
  • decisions don’t get made
  • everybody gets frustrated.

If I can put this into David Allen’s Getting Things done language, you have to know what you are trying to accomplish in your meetings and what horizon of focus level of conversation you are having.

1. Runway –  Next actions
2. 10,000 ft – Projects, near-term
3. 20,000 ft – Areas of responsibility
4. 30,000 ft – 6 month to 1 year desired outcomes
5. 40,000 ft – 3 to 5 year goals/objectives
6. 50,000 ft – Purpose, Vision, etc.

Lencioni proposes four kinds of meetings: Daily Check-in, the Weekly Tactical, the Monthly Strategic and the Quarterly Off-site Review. (Summary and graphic from The Table Group)

The Daily Check-in is a schedule-oriented, administrative meeting that should last no more than five or 10 minutes. The purpose is simply to keep team members aligned and to provide a daily forum for activity updates and scheduling. dbm_model

The Weekly Tactical is what most people have come to know as staff meetings. These should be approximately an hour in length, give or take 20 minutes, and should focus on the discussion and resolution of issues which effect near term objectives. Ironically, these work best if there is no pre-set agenda. Instead, the team should quickly review one another’s priorities and the team’s overall scorecard, and then decide on what to discuss during the remainder of the meeting. This will help them avoid wasting time on trivial issues and focus only on those issues that are truly relevant and critical. The key to making these tactical meetings work is having the discipline to identify and postpone the discussion of more strategic topics, which brings us to the third kind of meeting.

The Monthly Strategic is the most interesting kind of meeting for leaders, and the most important indicator of a company’s strategic aptitude. It is the appropriate place for big topics, those that will have a long-term impact on the business. These issues require more time and a different setting, one in which participants can brainstorm, debate, present ideas and wrestle with one another in pursuit of the optimal long-term solution. Each strategic meeting should include no more than one or two topics, and should allow roughly two hours for each topic.

The Quarterly Off-Site Review is an opportunity for team members to step away from the business, literally and figuratively, to reassess a variety of issues: the interpersonal performance of the team, the company’s strategy, the performance of top-tier and bottom-tier employees, morale, competitive threats and industry trends. These can last anywhere from the better part of a day to two full days each quarter. More>>

Lencioni’s premise is that business meetings that are inherently interactive, relevant with real world consequences should be more interesting than movies. But the opposite is true, Why?

The problem with most meetings is a lack of conflict. To quote another of Lencioni’s books, “You have to weigh in before you can buy in.” The benefit of robust dialog around a group of trusted team members is that you get all the ideas on the table for the group to evaluate. Everyone has the chance to feel heard and you get to probe assumptions. Collectively the groups makes a better decision with multiple perspectives in mind. This also helps eliminate some of the “politics” that happen in organizations, because you get to hear what everyone is thinking and since disagreements are encouraged, the focus is on the ideas and not the personalities involved.

Death By Meeting is the perfect book that any team could work through together. I highly recommend it.


Mind Map Your Roles and Responsibilities

One of the most helpful ways to get a grasp of all your roles and responsibilities is with a Mind Map. “A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added.”  More>>

I find mind maps very helpful when you are gathering your thoughts and want to see the “big picture.” Often in the process, you’ll see areas of strength as well areas that need some attention. If you have that nagging feeling that you’re “missing something”, creating or reviewing a mind map can be a great way to jog your memory.

While there are ways to do this with software, my favorite is with the a simple pen and paper. Some people use colored markers for each branch and others use sketches or doodles as part of their thinking process. I’ve also seen this done in a group environment…with different people adding branches and ideas on a whiteboard. It can become very interactive and you see the mind map unfold and people have to clarify their thinking to their peers.

Mind maps can bring order out of chaos, give you a sense of control…and they look pretty too. Here is one of mine.

IMG_3464 copy

Typed out if you have trouble reading my writing : )

BRANDING of the church, ministries and events.
Ensure “creative continuity” between media (web, print, PowerPoint, etc)

Event Planning
Special Projects
Pop-by (a lot…make sure I’m readily available to get and give input)
Weekly staff meeting
Pastor Retreats

Worship Folder (weekly bulletin)
Connections (Monthly magazine)
Event Flyers
Mail merge ministry postcards

Banners (3ft x 12 ft)
Posters (tabloid)
A-Frame (22×28)
Sermon Series
Plaza Booths (banners, tables, etc)

Pass on “good news” as I find it

Find & purchase
Script & Film
Coordinate with Videographer
Event Promo / Event Celebration

E-mail Newspapers press release
Channel 3 (free community channel)

PowerPoint / Announcements
Narrow what’s going to be highlighted
Choose presenter
e-mail slides and suggested text

Internet / Web
Keep Current (#1 Priority!)
Design & Innovate
RSS Feeds
All Church e-mail

Local Magazines
Local School Sports
Welcome Wagon

Department Budget and Accounting
Coordinate volunteers
Purchase Paper
Take photographs of events
Create and Maintain Department Budgets
Purchase and maintain printing & finishing equipment
CD/DVD Ministry

Vision Is Like A Windshield

I was watching an interview by Don Miller on World-Class Customer Service with the Canlis brothers and this quote struck a cord with me.

“When it comes to casting vision, the car manufacturers have it right…the windshield has to be bigger than the rear-view mirror.”


This reminds me of a similar quote from famed Strategic Coach entrepreneur Dan Sullivan:

“Always make your future bigger than your past.”

Wisdom says honor the past while building the future.…but the past isn’t the future, and that can’t be your main focus. You’ve stopped wearing your high school letterman jacket because you’re no longer in high school. Know when to leave the past in the past, so you can concentrate on the future by building strategic plans in the present.

Two Pieces of Advice for Generation Z

A colleague of mine and I were having a conversation this morning about some of the challenges we’ve seen with a new generation of young people entering the workforce. It got me thinking about two pieces of advise that I would give anyone who wanted to volunteer, intern or work with our organization.

1) Ask questions when you don’t know the answer.

People have always been afraid of looking “dumb”. In the information age, it’s easy to think every answer can be found on Google. It’s simply not true…especially when others are counting on you and it’s about something you’ve committed to do.

I have tremendous respect for someone who says “I don’t know.” (In many cases you’ll be the only honest person in the room.) Everybody has to learn something the first time and you not fooling anyone if you come across that you know it all and don’t need any help.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15

You need a organizational “Sherpa”, a counselor….someone that can guide and direct you. Hopefully it’s your boss or supervisor. If not, intentionally seek out a more experienced coworker. Better to ask for help early, then try to fix a mess later. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

2) Write down the answer when you get it.

It’s OK to not know the answer the first time. But still goofing something up after you’ve been shown multiple times is a no no.

It is sign of respect when you pay attention, take notes and ask clarifying questions. 

TIP: Don’t try to take notes on your phone. It looks like you are texting. Always have a pen and paper handy.

Commit to mastering your craft. Put in the time and the hours. Don’t be the last to arrive and the first to leave. Read the manual. Go to the conference. Take the extra training.

Rarely are things cookie cutter. Ask for feedback and input down the road. There will be things you missed the first time around and you’ll learn the subtle nuances that a true professional will be able to identity.

Quality Comes Through Quantity

What are you going after…quality or quantity? The underlying assumption is that it’s an “either or” proposition. I remember reading this story years ago and the lesson it teaches brought a new perspective on the debate.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay. More>>

Quality Comes Through Quantity…

The more you do, the better you get. Now it doesn’t mean you need to showcase everything you do…that’s where careful content curation come into play. But the underlying principle holds…practice (with reflection, correction and coaching) makes perfect. Don’t get so hung up on making your work perfect, that you never deliver.

As the “scariness” and “newness” of the process of production wears off, I found you are able to mentally turn your focus more on the work, then the process of doing the work…and there is a natural uptick in quality.

There will always be “one more” thing you can adjust, tweak, make “better.”

Don’t be afraid.

As one of my favorite bloggers and authors Seth Godin says, at some point you’ve got to “Ship it!”

Shut Up And Sing…

chris-wagner2My brother-in-law, Chris Wagner, is an Assistant Pastor at Calvary Chapel WestGrove. One of the areas he oversees is Worship Ministries. When our families got together over the Christmas holiday, he was sharing some of the statements he often repeats in conversations with his team. I thought they were pithy, practical and full of wisdom. With permission, I share them with you…

  1. don’t lie to me
  2. give bad news ASAP
  3. always work as a team
  4. less is more
  5. shut up and sing *
  6. remember, you get the credit, I get the crud
  7. when saying no, be compassionate but unyielding
  8. mediocrity and messes are caused when you avoid difficult conversations
  9. the lack of a clear vision leads to settling for whatever happens
  10. don’t let criticism or praise get to you or get caught up in either one
  11. don’t defend yourself by defaming others – Spurgeon
  12. when in doubt, do without
  13. if you put someone in a leadership position, let them lead
  14. when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail  (confirmation bias)
  15. good, fast, cheap – pick two…you can’t have all three

* this one is my (Bruce’s) favorite. Often times, worship folks start getting wordy and talking in between songs. QUIT IT…we already have a preacher. You’ll never get in trouble if you keep the flow, transition nicely and move on to the next song. Those hands raised high you see in the audience?…that’s actually people reminding you of rule number 5.

Know Your Personal Bandwidth


bandwidthThis last week I had the privilege of attending the Sticky Teams Conference 2014 in Vista, California, with speakers Matt Chandler, Mike Erre, Larry Osborn and Chris Brown. The focus of the conference was building great teams.

Matt Chandler mentioned the concept of “personal bandwidth” more than once and I’ve been thinking about the concept a lot. As PR consultant Stephanie Shirley put it “Just like the bandwidth on your internet determines the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time, we each have our own bandwidth for the amount of work we can individually take on in a single day.” More>>

The same goes for our teams, our departments and other key individuals in our lives. This is not an issue of righteousness or godliness or even niceness…it’s “the energy of mental capacity required to deal with a situation.” Some jobs in key roles need the capacity of “high bandwith people.” This is especially true of growing organizations or during times of transition. Some people thrive in smaller, simpler environments…and that’s OK. But we do a disservice to ourselves and our teams when we put low bandwidth people in high bandwith areas. The person will eventually become frustrated, overwhelmed, burnt out and their areas of responsibility will suffer. This isn’t good for anyone.

Part of the bandwidth issue is training, skills and gifting. For example, if you put me in accounting, I know that I would get overwhelmed fast. As business author Jim Colins says, It’s not enough to get the right people on the bus…you have to get the right people in the right seats. More>>

I’m a big believer that people can increase their personal bandwith with strategic organization and planning. Personally, following the ideas contained in David Allen’s book Getting Things Done has been a big help for me in handling more work with less stress. Knowing yourself is a key ingredient in maximizing your bandwith. Are you a morning person or an evening person? Do you prefer bright lights or softer light. What kind of work environments do you thrive in. How do you get more of that?

Another way to increase your “capacity” is to simply work harder and put in more hours. (I know from what I’ve seen working in a church the last eight years, the lack of work ethic on some people “in the ministry” is an issue that I’m repeatedly amazed at.)

Appropriate “bandwith” cannot be assumed. The best predictor for future capacity is past performance.  People who get things done, have gotten things done in the past. That’s why this saying rings true, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.”

In reflecting on my work situation, the team I have in the Communications Department is filled with a high capacity, skilled hard working people. It allows our department to get more done in less time. And for that, I’m grateful.

Me and a colleague taking a selfie with the speakers : )

Why You Should Schedule A Church Field Trip Today

One of the things I like to do is take tours of large churches in our area. Not only is it a great way to network, you have a chance to get out of the office and see how others churches structure their communications.

Setting a tour is not as hard as you think…

Call their Director of Communications, introduce yourself, offer to take them and a few of their key team members to lunch to pick their brain. Most folks in this position are very friendly, would be flattered and would love to share what they are doing and give a tour of their department. Make sure to bring a few members of your team. By the way, this is a great team building exercise. The time in the car there and back is some of the best relational time you’ll get. It’s also nice to have a second pair of eyes. Often they will catch things you missed.

It’s fun to get insights into what other churches are doing and there is no doubt that you will pickup some good ideas. You’ll also gain perspective on your role (your not the only church in the world that gets requests last minutes) and sometimes you’ll get a new appreciation for the structures, people and procedures that you have in place.

Thou shalt not covet they neighbors Facilities, Department or Leadership Team.

It’s easy to comeback and think “only if I had their __________” we could do better. While this is probably true, dwelling on it won’t help. If it helps you plan and envision the future, that’s great. God has placed you in your church context for a reason. Be a faithful worker as you pray and plan for the future.

What it Really Takes To Succeed In Church Communications


When most people think of what it takes to succeed in the role of church communications, they think you need a “creative type” that has a good eye for design. While that is part of it, after 8 years of being in the church communications drivers seat, there is much more to it than making pretty graphics. Here is a list that I came up with…no particular order. Please note, some of these I have in my current role, some of these I wish I had. But I know from experience, ALL would be helpful.

Be In The Meeting – Not every meeting…but the one where big decisions are being made. If you are not in these meetings, you’ll always be getting information second hand. As a trusted member of the team you need to be a good sounding board and help influence the decisions that are being made. When you know both the what and the why a decision is being made, you’ll be able to better communicate to your team what the goals and expectations are.

Support From The Top – This is true especially when you are trying something new or changing a long-held practice. You need an advocate who will help keep things calm as you are busy making waves. Eventually, as  people get use to the “new normal” things will subside. In the meantime, someone that can give you the permission to try new things and hold the hounds at bay, while you get the kinks out, is a tremendous gift.

Adequate Funding – It was the Israelites, as slaves in Egypt, who were asked to make bricks with no straw. It shouldn’t be you. While it will never be as big as you like, you do need an adequate budget to get what you need done. It’s hard to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. Never forget…what is a priority gets funded. Period. People can talk a good game about how important good church communication is, look at the ones that do it well and you will see churches that put their money where their mouth is.

Responsibility AND Authority – If you have been given the responsibility for church communications, you need to make sure you have been given permission to say NO when things are not right or don’t meet your standards. Of all the people on staff, You should never be the one surprised because you should be on the “inside” information loop and one of the first ones to know about big decisions that are going to be announced.

Tools & Technology – While tools don’t dictate your creativity, they can help improve your productivity. Having access to industry standard hardware and software is non-negotiable. In this day and age, a smartphone & tablet has to be considered standard gear for the creative professional. You may not need the latest and greatest to do well, but you can’t afford to lag too behind if you want to attract good talent.

Talented Team – Whether the work is being done by you, a paid staff person or a volunteer, you will rise and fall on the material you create and distribute. The job of your graphic designer, photographer, videographer, writer/editor, production coordinator, etc is to make you and your church look good, without having to pull teeth or loose your sanity in the process. Having a team that that has talent, that trusts you and has good working dynamics is a big step in the right direction.

brain123Relational Smarts – In this position you are going to be dealing with a cross section of the entire church, from the Senior Pastor, volunteers, ministry assistants, etc. You have to learn to  communicate ideas and vision with grace and humility. Not everyone will “get it” at the same time…some people will need to taught and be brought along gently.

Clear Vision and Direction – It’s not the Communication Department’s job to set vision. We can help craft and polish the verbiage once it has been determined, but it is critical that Senior Leadership (especially the Senior Pastor) buys in. Communications is the megaphone of the church…we amplify what is being said by leadership. The saying is still true, “If it’s foggy from the pulpit, it’s cloudy in the pew.” The last thing you want is the Communications Department blowing smoke.

Reasonable Explanations – You need to develop a philosophy of communication that helps people understand why you are saying yes or no to a certain promotional requests. It can be as simple as an “A, B, C” priority list or whatever your calendaring system dictates. You don’t want to be seen as unreasonable or giving favoritism. Over time your people and pastors should learn to trust that you are there to support them and that they will get what they need to succeed.

Cultivated Curiosity – The world we live in is constantly changing. What worked five years ago, might not work today. While you don’t  need to be on the bleeding edge, you should be looking at the cutting edge to see what’s going on…and what’s coming down the pike. This way you won’t be caught flat-footed. You’ll be ahead of the curve and have a much better idea when it’s a good time to try something new.

The Ability to Prioritize – Things will be coming at you fast and furious. Deadlines are looming. Sunday is coming week after week. Don’t let your department be the bottleneck. Get things out of your court as soon as you can.

An Objective “Big Picture” View – Because it’s so people-centric, in this role there will be lots of opportunities for you to get distracted. It’s easy to get bogged down is politics and petty decision making. You are a professional and don’t have time for this. As long as you keep the forest in view and you will do what’s best for the trees.

The Dangers of Clear Communication

DANGERThere are DANGERS to being clear in your communication? 

Absolutely! Here are seven…can you think of more?

  1. People might not like what they hear.
  2. You have a higher level of accountability to the commitments and promises you make.
  3. You will expose the “weak links” in your organization.
  4. It’s harder to shift the blame.
  5. You will have to share credit where credit is due.
  6. You can’t just “wing it” anymore.
  7. You have to come up with good reasons explaining what you are doing.

Being clear IS hard work. You can see why so many people hide behind poor communication as one of their primary “dodging” strategies. But, being clear is the kind of work that builds TRUST that allows you to accomplish much more in the long run.