Sunday, September 26, 2010

Staff Management as Open, Innovative Systems Part II

Here are two 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:

1. Every single week of work together, church staff teams should have at least one opportunity in which they come together to innovate around a common "big picture" issue. It doesn't really matter what the issue is in any given week, but the opportunity must be nourished on a regular basis. The point isn't as much the resulting innovations (some may be quite good, but many will fail to get off the ground or to succeed), but rather the cultivation of a collaborative approach to innovation. Critically, this should not be framed as problems to solve, but rather "themes of innovation."

These themes or issues should also be "big picture" issues because especially in teams not yet accustomed to collaborative innovation, "little picture" stuff is often too easy to break up into individual-sized pieces that are then -- by habit and for ease but at the cost of innovation -- removed from the collaborative environment and taken on as individual pet issues at which to hammer away. That has a role too, but not in this principle. Here, it is all about the collaboration.

2. Relationships should be cultivated on the group level between staff and congregants, particularly lay leaders in the congregation. Individual staff members will naturally make individual partnerships with congregants with whom they work closely out of either necessity or affinity. This is generally good and most of the time quite healthy. It certainly shouldn't be discouraged. However, if you look at your church staff and see that each individual member of the staff has a narrow subset of congregants with whom the staff member works nearly exclusively, you can say with some certainty that your staff work in silos.

An innovative environment, as demonstrated in the TED video, is one in which collaboration is at the center. For this reason, since the Unitarian Universalist church really belongs to its members and not its staff or even its ministers (and thus the most fruitful innovations will come at least in part from the congregation itself), collaborative partnerships between staff and congregants should be nurtured in collaborative formations. Those leading staff teams should assist in nurturing between the teams as a whole relationships with sets of congregants.

I once served a church in which the staff meetings were attended not only by every staff member, but also by one of the older, retired volunteers who, among other things, spent most of her days at the church, serving folks from the congregational food pantry. While certainly she could have done her work in the food pantry without attending the staff meetings, she was a very important volunteer in the church, not to mention a mover and a shaker in the larger community. The staff team was enhanced by every member of the team having a solid relationship with her as a team. When I worked with this volunteer on a project or issue together in partnership with other staff, my relationship with not only the volunteer but my fellow staffer was enhanced. Meanwhile, our sense of "being in it all together" as a congregation was strengthened by this and other relationships with groups of volunteers in the congregation.

Staff members should not only have the opportunity to work with one another as a team, but to include on the team (and those are the operative words) multiple volunteer leaders from within the congregation.

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