Sunday, September 26, 2010

Staff Management as Open, Innovative Systems Part III

Here are several more organizational management principles for supervising staff teams in the church setting. These are, of course, just some ideas I have, and they are in development...nonetheless, here they are, for whatever they are worth:
3. Our life experiences don't come in boxes, nor should our contributions. First, a necessary preface: certainly I have an area of expertise on my staff team, as does every other member of the team. I am of course only human, and I would probably resent it if another member of the team felt they knew how to do my job better than I did. We all want to be respected for our hard-won expertise.

For this reason, no matter what opinions I have, I am not going to go around the staff team telling the Parish Minister how to preach or provide pastoral care, the Music Director how to direct the choir or play a piece of music, the Administrator what database she should use and how, nor the Bookeeper how to keep budget records or work with auditors. On occasion I share my personal experience of something if it seems that it would be a useful part of a conversation, but I have become wise enough to avoid telling people how to do their own jobs, in which they surely have far, far more expertise than I.

Folks who head staff teams are wise to keep this in mind. Ministers are usually responsible for the supervision of church staff and yet are not, as a whole, particularly thoroughly-trained themselves in all  aspects of administration, education, and bookeeping (as I am making my way into seminary, the proof is in the curricula at both the school I am attending this semester and the school I will begin attending next year). There is a reason experts are hired.

When my assistant -- who despite being "just an assistant" (as if there is a "just" in that) has tons of education and life experience in all kinds of areas that enhance our "department" -- asks me what I want her to do, I don't usually tell her how to do it. I simply tell her (1) either the outcome I am shooting for, or (2) the issue at hand. Often, she contributes a way of doing things that is way better than what I would have come up with on my own.

That said, when supervising a staff team, including volunteer staff, I expect everyone to bring their expertise -- that earned both through education and life experience -- to the table.  These don't show up in neat little boxes.  The manifestation of that is not as much that I direct certain questions to certain people (I do that sometimes too, but that isn't what I am talking about here), but that I ask questions designed to provoke collaborative innovation, and then I let the expertise come out in the way people approach the questions. In this manner I don't unnecessarily box people in and prevent good ideas from surfacing because I haven't opened up the system for the input.

Blessed is the Church Administrator I once worked with who was (and I am sure still is) the master of gathering large amounts of information. She read books, magazines, and the internet like crazy, and still found time to get out to the movies! While she could have technically done her job simply by maintaining databases, printing reports, and similar tasks, she didn't limit herself to that. She was a tremendous asset to the staff team by showing up at every staff meeting with an interesting blog or church website she'd stumbled onto, or a clipping of something interesting from "Congregations Magazine" or "UU World" or other similar resources, or a paragraph from a book, or even an idea she got from a tv show. I think she was able to do that because as a staff team we were ever-striving for an open, innovative, collaborative way of working together toward the good of the church.

4. Staff meetings are important. Some of the funniest moments in the tv show "The Office" come from bad staff meetings. I know that there are plenty of awful ways to run a staff meeting out there. I know that a bad staff meeting can be an irritation and time waster for the staff. The solution to that, I think, is not for staff teams to abandon staff meetings altogether, but to learn how to run great staff meetings. Staff need time together that goes beyond visiting one another's offices, bumping into one another at the water cooler, or even eating lunch together every day. Isolation among staff members doesn't cultivate creative, innovative collaboration.

Supervisors should not mistake their own sense of how well they are keeping up with what's going on with staff members as the fulfillment of staff meeting needs. That is, the staff meeting isn't for the supervisor. It is for the team. The more teams meet as teams, the more they will work as teams, so staff meetings should be frequent, regular, and effectively run. Because of the way most Unitarian Universalist churches are structured, it makes sense that there is a need for all-staff meetings as well as meetings just for "program staff."

5. Staff, down to the support staff, should have a part in determining the strategic direction of the congregation. Yes, it's about buy-in.  Chances are, if staff stick around for a while, they will be assisting the congregation through at least a couple iterations of strategic efforts.  While the congregation belongs to its members -- and the strategic direction of the congregation ultimately is a decision of members -- a strategic plan in which the staff have no personal investment will not be properly supported by staff, no matter how much they are willing to bend to congregational desire.

Staff who believe in the strategic mission and goals will work twice as hard to achieve them. In contrast, staff who simply bend to the will of the strategic mission and goals will spend more time trying to keep their head above water in meeting the new goals on top of everything else they do than creatively collaborating.  Creative collaboration requires effective prioritization, which requires some buy-in and a feeling of being an active, empowered part of the process.  The goal is creative collaboration.

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