Building Buffers Increases Production in Your Marathon Meetings

Meetings are a powerful tool for organizations. Secretly, though, you enjoy those Dilbert comics that feature the pain and frustration of poorly run meetings. It seems as if Scott Adams, the brilliant author of Dilbert, was a part of your last meeting!

Let’s face it; meetings can be a real drag. We all hate doing them, but we also feel they are a necessary evil to ensure people work well together. For such a straightforward concept – essentially a group of people gathered to discuss an idea – we really do make a mess out of it sometimes.

While statistics vary widely on the amount of time spent in meetings, successful organizations know their teams spend so much time in meetings that turning meeting time into sustained results is a priority. Actions that make meetings successful require direction by the meeting leader before, during, and after the meeting.

Whether you are organizing meetings or simply attending them, you owe it to yourself to become more effective at this skill – especially if you are the team leader!

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Herding Tigers by Todd Henry

Doing the work and leading the work are very different things. When you make the transition from maker to manager, you give ownership of projects to your team even though you could do them yourself better and faster. You’re juggling expectations from your manager, who wants consistent, predictable output from an inherently unpredictable creative process. And you’re managing the pushback from your team of brilliant, headstrong, and possibly overqualified creatives.

Leading talented, creative people requires a different skill set than the one many management books offer. As a consultant to creative companies, Todd Henry knows firsthand what prevents creative leaders from guiding their teams to success, and in Herding Tigers he provides a bold new blueprint to help you be the leader your team needs. Learn to lead by influence instead of control. Discover how to create a stable culture that empowers your team to take bold creative risks. And learn how to fight to protect the time, energy, and resources they need to do their best work.

Full of stories and practical advice, Herding Tigers will give you the confidence and the skills to foster an environment where clients, management, and employees have a product they can be proud of and a process that works.


Do you feel like your meeting schedule is overwhelming, often containing back-to-back meetings? Even with those, do you often feel like you can’t get everything done? Here’s a simple but effective technique: block out time in your schedule without specifying what it’s for, so you have time to work on unexpected issues.

Avoid waiting until the last-minute to schedule a time buffer. The more time you wait, the less available time and/or wiggle room you’ll have to actually drop in that time into your calendar.

Get into the habit of adding a time buffer both to the beginning and end of meetings and appointments as soon as you schedule them. Physically schedule or write-in the buffer into your calendar so you can see it.

As leader, you are uniquely positioned to help the team avoid “meeting pinball,” just bouncing between meetings all day in reactive mode.

One strategy is to establish buffers between tasks or events that allow you ream to reset, consider what’s next, and catch its breath between commitments.

Rather than stacking commitments back to back, you are giving each commitment that you schedule the amount of time it needs and no more, and you’re ensuring that every commitment has a little breathing room blocked off around it so that there is margin for participants.

If you truly want the people on your team to bring their best thinking to a meeting, don’t chain meetings back to back, especially if they are about different projects. Give them five or ten minutes to recollect themselves between meetings, to check in with their other commitments if necessary, and to refocus on the next topic.

Who decided that meetings should be an hour by default? Consider changing the default meeting expectation for your team by making each meeting precisely as long as it needs to be to finish the conversation. Then, take a break for the appropriate amount of time needed to regroup and refocus before the next meeting.

Also consider building buffers at the beginning and end of the day. While there are some situations that require such meetings, limit them as much as you can. By doing so, you’ll allow your team members to settle in, prepare, and bring their full attention and energy to the matters at hand. Also, you’ll allow them to wrap up any important matters at the end of the day before going home so that they can be refreshed and ready to go the following morning.

Todd Henry, Herding Tigers


Time buffers are not just “fluff,” they are extremely valuable units of time! They are what keep meetings from running into one another.

You could think of time buffers just like the spaces between words in a sentence. It’s the difference between reading: “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow,” versus “Maryhadalittlelambitsfleecewaswhiteassnow.” The spaces help keep things properly separated.

Think about what value your time buffers could bring you and your team when it comes to meetings. Could your buffer bring you: peace of mind, a little less stress, or time for you to grab a snack and a drink of water?

Evaluate your current slate of recurring meetings and consider eliminating or adapting them to better your team’s time.

How can you better structure your current meeting schedule so that there is less wasted time and energy and more white space for your team to recollect and refocus on the work?

Are there any commitments or expectations that bookend your team’s day that need to be adjusted so that they have more margin around the edges of their schedule?

Once you have created buffer space around your meetings, have conversations with your team to help them take full advantage of it.

Excerpt taken from Remix 90-2, released April 2018.



Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<



Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash


Visionary Communicators Develop an Authentic Voice

Don’t see yourself as a visionary communicator and instead prioritize the maintenance of week-to-week ministry?

Are you finding yourself on a ministry treadmill, where the busyness of ministry creates a progressively irreversible hurriedness in your life? Today’s demands can choke out needed dialogue for tomorrow. When this occurs, your multiplied activity prevents you from living with a clearer vision of what should be.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to call a timeout and evaluate the obstacles that keep you from focusing on visionary communication about God’s preferred future for your church.

Solution: Develop Your Authentic Voice



THE QUICK SUMMARY – Louder Than Words by Todd Henry

There has never been a better time to build an audience for your idea or product. But with so many people clamoring for attention online and offline, it’s also more challenging than ever do work that deeply resonates and creates a true and lasting effect.

How do you set yourself apart in such a noisy, crowded world? How do you do work that is truly remarkable?

The key is to develop your authentic voice. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a writer, a designer, or a manager building a brand, the more clear and compelling your voice, the more your message will connect with your audience. The result will be more impact and greater personal satisfaction with your work.

Louder Than Words offers a strategy for uncovering, developing, and bravely using your authentic voice to create a body of work you are proud of, that resonates deeply with others, and that ultimately impacts the world.


One role of today’s leaders can be seen as clarifying what is already present and helping people perceive what has gone unnoticed.

What is clarity really about? Clarity means to be free from anything that obscures, blocks, pollutes, or darkens. Being clear as a leader means being simple, understandable, and exact. The leader helps others see and understand reality better.

In order to bring clarity, a leader must first develop their authentic voice.

Your authentic voice is the expression of your compelling “why.” It defines the space that you are wired to occupy, and the unique value you are contributing, which means that if you don’t use it, then that contribution is unlikely to ever be seen.

If you set out to build a bridge between two points on a river, you’d better first determine:

  1. The purpose of the bridge and the kind of vehicles that will be crossing it
  2. Whether you have sufficient resources and materials to complete the project
  3. Whether or not a bridge is even the right solution to the problem of crossing the river

To apply this metaphor to your work, it’s important that you are able to articulate the kind of effect you wish to have, and how you want the world to be different through your efforts. You should at least have a sense of how you wish to connect with your intended audience, and how you plan to impact them. Though you don’t want to become paralyzed with inaction out of fear of getting it wrong, your vision provides you with a set of guiding principles to help you stay aligned and measure your progress.

Even though they may not have all the steps mapped out, most great leaders have some sense of where their work is leading and the ultimate impact they want to have. They have a “north pole” toward which to navigate, even if only in a general sense. This vision is what guides their efforts as they continue to refine and develop their voice.

Todd Henry, Louder Than Words


One aspect of speaking with an authentic voice requires a precise focus on whom you are trying to reach – you have to define your intended audience.

In his book Louder Than Words, author Todd Henry advises leaders to ask the following questions when preparing to discuss vision:

  • Who is my intended audience for this?
  • What impact or outcome am I trying to achieve for them?
  • What expectations will they have of me when I talk with them, and how can I meet and surpass them?
  • How might I surprise and delight them by over-delivering in unexpected ways?

As you are preparing for your next opportunity to communicate vision in front of a team or group, walk through each of the questions above.

In advance of the talk, ask a trusted colleague to sit in on the presentation. Following the presentation, schedule a debrief time with your colleague, covering the four points listed above. Ask your colleague for candid observations on how well you covered the four points. Discuss improvements in the next opportunity you will have to talk about vision.

Repeat this exercise at least once per quarter for the next year.

When you find yourself on a ministry treadmill, constantly in motion but going nowhere, step off and learn how to connect with your team and organization with clarity by developing your authentic voice.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 28-1, published November 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.

Waiting is a Less Risky Form of Saying “No”

A few thoughts from the intersection of Seth Godin, George Harrison, Alice in Wonderland, Dr. Seuss, and Todd Henry…

Auxano’s Founder and Team Leader, Will Mancini posed the following question in a morning text to our team:

Where could you use breakthrough clarity on your leadership team? 

The question is intended to be asked by our Navigators to the leaders they are connecting with in churches – but it’s also appropriate for leaders everywhere. Most leaders can immediately identify a barrier or roadblock that stands in their way of moving forward to better future. Many leaders also have some idea about how to break that barrier.

It begs another question: What are you waiting for?

That question was on my mind as I began my day’s reading, researching, curating, and editing – and over a period of a few hours, the following came together:

Excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing. It’s a personal, urgent, this-is-my-calling way to do your job. Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them.   – Seth Godin

Mapmakers are those who can effectively circumnavigate constraints in order to make things happen. We all deal with constraints, especially if we are working inside an organization. There will always be organizational charts, reporting structures, budgets, and defined career paths of some sort. The question isn’t whether constraints exist, but whether persist in finding our way around and through them.

Where in your life and work are you waiting for permission? Don’t anticipate that someone is going to hand you a map. You’ll probably have to make your own. The good news is that once you get moving, the terrain becomes more visible and navigable. It’s only when you’re standing still, unaware of what’s over the next hill, that the path of progress is opaque and frightening.

Say yes, then figure it out along the way.

Todd Henry, Die Empty

A quote often wrongly attributed to The Cheshire Cat:

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.   – George Harrison, from his song “Any Road”

The actual conversation between Alice and The Cheshire Cate:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

And, from everyone’s favorite graduation gift book,

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…

   – Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

A closing challenge from Todd Henry:

When you look back on your life, the moments you will be most proud of will likely be the ones where you stepped out of your comfort zone in the pursuit of something you believed in. Don’t allow the lull of comfort to keep you trapped in a place of complacency and subpar engagement.

You must own your own growth and take responsibility for your own progress.

inspired by, and adapted from, Todd Henry’s Die Empty

 Die Empty

with a little help from Dr. Seuss, Seth Godin, George Harrison, and Lewis Carroll


Developing Your Creative Rhythm

A lot of leader conversations I’m having these days center around the concepts of innovation, creativity, and ideation. The past two days’ posts here and here dealt with the concepts found in the book “The Idea Hunter.” Continuing in the same vein but with a little different focus is the book “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry.

The author’s quote from the book flap sets the stage perfectly:

“You go to work each day tasked with (1) inventing brilliant solutions that (2) meet specific objectives by (3) defined deadlines. If you do this successfully, you get to keep your job. If you don’t, you get to work on your resume. The moment you exchange your creative efforts for money, you enter a world where you will have to be brilliant at a moment’s notice. (No pressure, right?)”

To attempt to be perpetually brilliant and increasingly productive, without changing the basic habits and structure of your life to accommodate that undertaking, is a futile effort.

Henry develops the following elements as a structure to guide your creative potential, providing you with the stability and clarity to engage your problems head-on.

Focus – in order to create effectively, you need a clear and concrete focus

Relationships – if you want to thrive, you need to systematically engage with other people, in part to be reminded that life is bigger than your immediate problems

Energy – to make the most of your day, you need to establish practices around energy management

Stimuli – if you want to regularly generate brilliant ideas, you must be purposeful about the kinds of stimuli you are putting in your head

Hours – you need to make sure that the practices that truly make you a more effective creator are making it onto your calendar

Practices in each of these five F-R-E-S-H areas provide the foundation for a life that is prolific, brilliant, and healthy.

Wait a minute – you’ve got a problem with the “creative” label? Call yourself anything you want, but if you’re responsible for solving problems, developing strategies, or otherwise straining your brain for new ideas, you are a creative – even if you end up being one accidentally.

– Todd Henry, “The Accidental Creative”