Recently I have been going through a number of books about leadership and meeting management like the great Death by Meetings by Patrick Lencioni. One of those is by a man whose wisdom I have come to respect, simply because he has been around a long time: Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne. Here is a summary of one of the best chapters on 6 counter-intuitive myths of leading teams:
1. Ignore Your Weaknesses
“Focussing on organizational weaknesses leaves little room or energy for maximizing strengths” (p74). Churches can be so concerned with what they aren’t getting right that they can miss the opportunities that God has put in front of them of what they can do. Often I see this with churches that feel like they need a big youth group in an area that doesn’t actually have many youth living near the church or need an ESL ministry to reach overseas people but there aren’t many ESL people around their particular area. “That’s the way it is with strong churches. They are almost always opportunity-centered. They don’t fixate on, “What are we not very good at?” They ask, “What are we doing uncommonly well? And how can we get better at it?” (p75).
2. Surveys are a Waste of Time
“The problem is that surveys (especially anonymous surveys) seldom give us the accurate information we think we are getting” (p76). Osborne gives us three reasons for this. Firstly, people don’t fill out surveys accurately. They will give the information they feel should be there (Yes, I want to join a small a group) rather than the real information (No, I am not going to make the time to actually join a small group). Secondly, surveys reject innovation. People don’t see the thing that the leader or visionary sees, which is why we need leaders and visionaries. It is worth watching this TED talk on how to use data to make a great TV show rather than a good one to illustrate this. Finally, surveys give what people want rather than what they need. This means it may not be the best guide to make leadership decisions.
3. Seek Permission, Not Buy-In
When it comes to starting something new, leaders and teams will wait for buy-in from the people. What they really need is permission. Osborne illustrates this with a new venture that they started. They didn’t get a lot of buy-in at the start, but over time as people understood the idea and got behind it, it grew: from 173 people to 1,300 over 2 years. What the needed at the start was simply permission to try it. If they waited for buy-in from the church, they would still be waiting to make it happen.
“Permission…is relatively easy to acquire, even from those who think your idea is loony and bound to fail. That’s because permission simply means, “I’ll let you try it,” as opposed to buy-in, which means, “I’ll back your play”. (p78.)
The other advantage here is that if you do fail, having people buy-in means the price of failure is much higher. This, in turn, means the greater the resistance next time you want to try something.
4. Let the Squeaky Wheels Squeak
There will always be people who want to complain about…well anything. These are called squeaky wheels. Whenever there is some form of movement, they are there making a noise. Osborne recommends a “benign neglect” to the squeaky wheels. The assumption with squeaky wheels is that you can oil them enough to make them happy. But this assumption may not be true. This is a hard lesson to learn because as leaders we want to love all those under our care. The lesson that I learned (the hard way) is that sometimes the best way to love a squeaky wheel is to ignore them.
5. Let Dying Programmes Die
Programmes that no longer are effective should be put out of their misery as ASAP. Osborne does not mention this, but I know of a church that cuts the bottom performing 10% of the programmes each year. I still don’t know how they measure this each year, nor would I recommend this. But the principle is, we need to make sure we have the resources to keep moving forward. Dying programmes will suck up resources and more importantly, burn people out trying to keep them alive.
6. Plan in Pencil
Honestly, I found this a little surprising since Osborne runs one of the largest churches on the West Coast of the USA. Yet, there still needs to be some flexibility in planning. Osborne picks the two places that I wouldn’t have on where there needs to be flexibility: budgets and policies. The reason is that that these two things need to be slaves to ministry, not the masters and ministry, at times, might need some flexibility.
So there you have it, a summary of the counter-intuitive lessons leadership teams need to know. Are they right? Before you dismiss them, you may want to think carefully. Perhaps these are the reasons you are getting bogged down.