Are You Swirling?

Some time ago I was in a meeting at our church concerning how we were communicating to the congregation. It was a great team made up of very smart people. All of them were experts in various forms and tools used for communication. They were the professionals. These are people I highly value and respect; their feedback is priceless. In fact, I have never been in a church with this many people whose disciplines are in communications. So here goes my story and lesson learned.

We were talking about a particular topic for some time when I saw one of the team look at another and, under her breath, she said, “We’re swirling.” I am not one to let something that I had not heard before get by me so I interrupted the talk going on and said, “What did you say?” And she smiled at me and repeated, “We’re swirling.” I asked, what does that mean? She replied, “We are talking around a subject but not moving toward a solution.” (I love Patrick Lencioni’s book, by the way, Death by Meeting. It deserves a read by every church committee, staff and pastor that leads or participates in meetings.)

This term fascinated me, so here are my thoughts to keep you from “swirling” in your team meetings.

  1. Be creative with your meetings. I always try to meet somewhere outside the normal meeting place. You can’t do this all the time but when you can it makes a difference.

  2. Interrupt when necessary to keep the discussion from swirling. Perhaps say things like, “That is important but how does it relate to what we are talking about?” Or, “Can we come back to that at another meeting? Right now it doesn’t fit with our purpose.”

  3. Be creative with your meetings. I always try to meet somewhere outside the normal meeting place. You can’t do this all the time but when you can it makes a difference.

  1. Agree to rules of engagement. If necessary, read aloud at the beginning of your meeting, rules like:

  2. Make every attempt to stay focused.

  3. Respect one other at all times.

  4. Maintain confidentiality regarding things discussed at the meeting.

  5. Schedule meetings so that they don’t end when the time clock says but that they end when they need to.

  6. Issue a follow up action plan as to who said they would do what.

  7. If it’s a long meeting provide refreshments.

  8. Wrap up well. People want to know they accomplished something when giving up time, energy and resources. Everyone brings something to the table; acknowledge them and value their opinion. You may not use everything they say but they need to know they have contributed in a positive way. At the end of every meeting wrap up by saying, “We got what we needed – thank you for your input!”

Meetings can be fun but it’s up to you. If you’re the leader, keep your eye on participants’ eyes. If they seem distracted it may be that you are “swirling.”

-Bill Nicoson

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