DETROIT. Like all leaders, I have participated in neverending staff meetings that wasted everyone’s time. I am also guilty of leading some useless meetings. Occasionally I find myself in a meeting that actually saves time and accomplishes much.

No matter what industry you are working in – business, sports, education, entertainment, government, church – here are four essentials for making your staff meetings more effective and more efficient, or better and shorter.

1. FOCUS. Before the days of film-less auto-focus smartphone cameras, I had a Nikon FM. (I miss real cameras, and real film.) I remember looking through my viewfinder at a blurry subject, then with a deliberate twist of the lens, my subject would snap into focus and the perfect picture would be captured. The staff meeting is a time to eliminate the blur and refocus the team on the mission, values, and culture. The leader’s task is to keep everyone focused on the right subject, and to frame the picture by eliminating background distractions.

2. UPGRADE. I am writing this blog from the Detroit airport. In two hours I will board my Manila flight. Long international flights are more productive and enjoyable when I am able to get a mileage upgrade from coach to business class. Like long flights, weekly staff meetings are more productive and enjoyable when the goal is to upgrade not just to update. When in Nashville, I led a Tuesday 59-minute local church staff meeting that is divided into three 20-minute parts: prayer, update, upgrade. After quick “popcorn” updates from each major department, we then try to upgrade what is sub-par, what is average, and what is excellent. Updates are about what we are doing. Upgrades are about how to do it better. Use your staff meeting to upgrade, not just to update.

3. SIMPLIFY. I read an interesting article about simplicity  in the Wall Street Journal  this morning. Here’s the opening sentence:  From Silicon Valley to Wall Street, simplicity is the new watchword. Books with titles like “Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity” and “The Laws of Simplicity” are must reading in boardrooms. Companies aim for the elegance of Apple’s design and Google’s search box. Then there’s Obamacare.  As I read this I wanted to add, then there’s the church staff meeting. Simplification is not a simple task. It requires time and effort. But it is worth every minute. Jesus was the master of simplification. He made complicated spiritual truths so simple that a child could understand. And He had a simple organizational structure based on relational discipleship. Wise leaders use the staff meeting to simplify the complicated.

4. COMMUNICATE. Once we have focused, upgraded, and simplified, we now must communicate. It accomplishes little if we have a great meeting and fail to communicate when the meeting is over. Even if your organization has a communications department, as the leader you are the CCO, the Chief Communications Officer.

Staff meetings do not have to be a necessary evil or a waste of time. They can be productive if we use them to focus, upgrade, simplify, and communicate.