“Though teams have proliferated across organizations, almost without exception, this has happened within the confines of broader reductionist structures.” - General Stanley McChrystal
What prevents churches from succeeding in the work of team development?
In the quoted single sentence in italics above, McChrystal captures why there is such a disconnect between the buzz about teamwork, and the actual daily functioning of most churches and organizations. His book, Team of Teams, understands something deeper about the corporate trend toward collaboration, that began in the late 1980s.
I have been a fan of the concept of teams, since I experienced it firsthand, while part of a worship design team at a large church the late 1990s. While on that team, each of us read a book, Organizing Genius, by Warren Bennis, that presented a set of case studies of what the author called “Great Groups” – famous teams of collaborative workers, who were able to achieve more than the sum of their individual parts. From these stories, Bennis culled a set of characteristics for how to achieve more by working in flat, collaborative environments.
Through the 2000s, while teaching and consulting churches on how to design worship in collaborative, team-based environments, and later writing a book on the subject, called Taking Flight with Creativity: Worship Design Teams That Work, my business partner Jason Moore and I used Bennis’ book as a primary source.
After a decade of team advocacy, though, I got really frustrated.
Often, pastors and church leaders would say they valued team-based work but be unable to build true teams.
What prevents leaders from succeeding in the work of team development?
Consider these principles of for what separates effective teams from ineffective teams.
1. Most contemporary management is still heavily influenced by a philosophy of leadership that values efficiency.
McChrystal tells the story of Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is the “pioneer,” if you can call it that, of a theory of human development called Scientific Management. Taylor is one of the least recognized, most influential figures in American history. He was the premier business consultant of the early 20th century. He was known as the Optimizer.
Prior to Taylor, most craftsmen were artisans. They maintained their own tools, their own methods, and they interacted directly with the customer, making each work a custom piece tailored to the needs of the customer. Efficiency and productivity were secondary concerns.
Taylor applied scientific research to management. He believed there was one best way to do things. He broke down production into a series of tasks and assigned ideal times to complete each task.
With a focus on efficiency, Taylor was able to exponentially grow the rate of manufacturing in this country.
In Taylor’s world, workers had no awareness or incentive toward organizational goals. The lower you go in the org chart, to Taylor, the smaller the scope of the worker’s role. I put “pioneer” in quotes, above, because Taylor devalued people. He reduced them to task robots. And his work has been highly influential on us today, even in the church – and not in a good way.
The rise of efficiency has been more than offset by the decline in worth we give to people.
People are more than task robots.
It is important to acknowledge that we don’t just want team members to do a job.
Takeaway: In the church, our primary goal isn’t task completion, but learning together what it means to follow Jesus.
2. The flattened, digital world needs a philosophy of leadership that values fluidity, responsiveness, and adaptability.
There were certainly benefits to Taylor’s work – his emphasis on efficiency was crucial to the ability of the United States to create and deploy armies to defeat the Axis powers during World War II.
But things have changed. Though McChrystal fails to acknowledge it in his book, in his world it began with Vietnam, when the U.S. Army lost to an enemy it should have dominated. This has continued in the recent conflicts against terrorism.
As McChrystal writes, “organizational fitness can’t be assessed in a vacuum, but as a product of compatibility with its environment.” We tend to evaluate people, based on their individual skills and talents, but culture makes or breaks individual talent.
He also notes that “different ideas have different solutions on different days.” Gone is the monolithic, one-size-fits-all approach. Adaptability based on the objective is crucial.
Or, as I would say from a communicator’s view, it’s not just about the storyteller anymore, but the story-receiver.
Takeaway: Is the structure of your ministry the same as it was five years ago? How might you need to change things to adapt to changes in your environment?
3. In spite of the buzz, the trend toward collaborative teamwork has so far not been able to sufficiently overcome a philosophy of efficiency.
To increase the ability to respond to our new environment, many organizations claim a team-based approach.
But the reality of it stinks.
Here is a set of diagrams to illustrate:
In most organizations, teams exist but are confined by an unrecognized organizational value for maximum efficiency, which emphasizes a centralized leadership style that establishes systems for people to execute.
They’re confined by a “command of teams.
When a leader insists on a command and control style, teams will never be able to overcome the silos that prevent their creativity from spreading across an organization.
What is needed is a “team of teams,” which is not just an environment in which teams are permitted to operate within silos, but an organization in which teams function across the entire organization.
Takeaway: What would a team of teams model look like in your area?
(To read the second of two parts to this article, read the Wednesday, September 11 segment: "Working Toward Functioning As A Team of Teams.")