Archive for August, 2013

A Simple Knock at the Door (Staff Team Communication)

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

I spend a lot of time on airplanes.  It is one of the side effects (benefits?) of being a national consultant.  We all know that flying is a high tech endeavor.  Commercial aircraft are complex machines guided by sensors, backup systems and safety features that boggle the average mind. The process of checking in and boarding is a carefully coordinated series of steps that rely on the help of scanners and detectors.  All of these devices produce lots of beeping thatknock at the door guide or block the way.

With all that is high tech in the flying experience I am amazed by one small task at the end of each journey that remains decidedly low tech and high touch.  At the end of the flight, when the jet bridge has been extended and the passengers gather in the aisles awaiting their escape, the flight steward stands poised at the door awaiting an “all clear” signal. Finally, the signal arrives.  It’s not a radio signal, not a flashing light, not an intercom alert, and not a text message.  There are no special sensors or alarms indicating that it’s safe to open the door. It’s a simple knock on the outside of the plane door by the gate agent.  The steward flings the door open and the gate agent and steward greet one another with words of welcome and brief instructions about the special needs of some guests on board. Apparently, nothing has yet been invented that improves upon this simple communication exchange between two human beings.

Large congregations are complex organizations with many features that parallel a sophisticated aircraft.  Increasingly, we rely on technology to manage our communication processes as we shepherd people from point A to point B. Challenges related to communication are among the most frequently cited problems that a large church consultant hears about; particularly as it relates to communication within the staff team.

I have spent countless coaching hours with pastors discussing how they might structure their staff meetings to get the right people in the room at the right time so that key staff is in the know.  Congregations are increasingly working with software supported calendaring systems, room assignment systems and membership data bases so that all staff members can access data on a need to know basis.

Most large congregation’s today function with a full time Communications Director on staff.  This individual works to create a branding image for the congregation, carefully utilizing social and print media to facilitate the flow of information. In spite of this technology, and the presence of these amazing people, communication is still our number one stumbling block!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of employing technology, organizational design theory and specialized staff to help us improve our communication efforts. But, perhaps we can learn something from the airlines on this one. At the end of the day, staff teams with the clearest channels of communication demonstrate one remarkable traitPeople talk to each other. Every member of the team is proactive in thinking about what they need to communicate and to whom. They have intentional conversations about what they know, what they need, and what they might offer. Staff members have these conversations in formal team meetings, informally over the water cooler, at lunch and in the hallway. They dash off a quick and helpful email or text.

It’s really that simple…just a knock on the door that says “we’re here”.


Cleaning Out Stuff vs. Preserving the Core

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

It feels like my house is being overrun with “stuff”.  Our youngest is between apartment leases and had to move his worldly belongings home for a few weeks. At the same time my mom is downsizing into a smaller senior housing living arrangement. As she divests herself of a lifetime of stuff, some of the more sentimental and hard to part with items are finding their way into my home.  All of this is good and difficult and appropriate for this season of life. However, we have been faced this summer with the hard chore of cleaning out, of deciding what is core and what must go.clutter7-medium-new

These past weeks I have become rather masterful at creating piles, sorted according to: things we frequently use and need to keep; stuff that serves no useful purpose and is easy to part with; stuff we have loved but it is no longer functional and at the end of the day must go; and stuff that we really don’t use but for sentimental reasons it needs to stay.

As I do this work I am reminded of the principles of adaptive leadership that I frequently cite to pastors.  Heifetz teaches that successful adaptive change builds upon the past rather than jettisoning it.  This requires:

  • Preserving the historical DNA of the congregation
  • Removing or modifying that which is no longer necessary or useful
  • Creating or innovating new arrangements that enable the congregation to thrive

Distinguishing that which is core from that which is no longer necessary or useful is no easy task.  It’s not as simple as sorting things into the four piles I’ve used this summer in our household purge.  Why is it so complicated?   In our congregations many of the things that we are sentimentally attached to and use frequently are the very things we need to purge or modify in order to thrive. It’s not simply about getting rid of those things we no longer use or care about. What do we do with the Sunday morning meet and greet hour that our members love, but visitors find isolating and impossible to navigate?  What about the children’s sermon that our old-timers find endearing, but newcomers find sappy at best and exploitative of our children at their worst?

How do we determine which of our enduring practices are core and which are just stuff?  At the end of the day, it’s not a decision, it is a discernment. Discernment requires sensitivity to inner wisdom, a way of paying attention to God’s way of guiding. It requires an integral relationship with prayer as we sense an authentic way of being, a way that brings life into focus through a Divine lens.

In this critical season of adaptive work, of distinguishing that which is just stuff from that which is core, we need to strengthen our discernment muscles and skills.  We need to rediscover some of the ancient prayerful practices that are sitting under cover of dust in our attics and crawl spaces.