The three signs of a miserable job

3-signs-of-a-miserable-jobThe three signs of a miserable job is another helpful analysis by leadership and teams expert, Patrick Lencioni. A miserable job is the one that’s tough to get out of bed for. You dread going to work and you can’t wait to get home. It’s not about the actual work. Nor is it about the money. An executive on a seven-figure salary can be miserable, while a waitress finds great satisfaction in her work. It can be any type of job, any business, and any time. No one is immune.

There are huge economic and personal costs to this misery. It damages the individual’s physical and psychological health. It spreads through homes, families, marriages, friendships and society.

The three signs of a miserable job

Anonymity
People can’t be fulfilled in their work if they aren’t known. We all need to be understood and appreciated by someone in authority over us. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous are not going to love their jobs.

Irrelevance
Everyone needs to know that their job is important to someone else, even if it’s just the boss. Without seeing a sense of connection between the work and satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee will not find fulfilment.

Immeasurement
Workers need to be able to gauge for themselves their progress and level of contribution. They won’t be satisfied in their work if success depends on the whims or opinions of others. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

The benefits of managing for job fulfilment

Employees who find their jobs rewarding will work with more enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to quality than those who do not. They’ll develop a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing.

There will be less staff turnover, with employees holding onto fulfilling jobs as long as they can. Fulfilled employees tend to attract other good employees, ultimately resulting in fewer costs to the organisation. The organisation will enjoy greater stability and cohesion. Being known as a satisfying place to work is a valuable point of difference with other organisations.

The obstacles to managing for job fulfilment

Sometimes employees fail to find fulfilment in their work because they put too much emphasis on getting the right amount of money or finding the ideal job. Yet even people who are paid well for doing something they love can be miserable if they feel anonymous, or irrelevant, or they don’t know if they are succeeding or not.

Sometimes the problem is the organisation. The business and its leaders are slow to see their employee dissatisfaction issues and, when they do, they focus on the wrong things. If they don’t notice until people are starting to resign, then it’s too late. Often people will not honestly state why they are leaving and issues of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability are left unaddressed.

In order to be the kind of leader who demonstrates genuine interest in employees and who can help people discover the relevance of their work, a person must have a level of personal confidence and emotional vulnerability. Without it, managers will often feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, about having such simple, behavioural conversations with their employees. They will mistakenly feel more like kindergarten teachers or little league coaches delivering a simple pep talk, even though their employees  – at all levels – are yearning for just such a conversation.  (p228)

Addressing anonymity

If you feel that others on the team know and understand you as an individual, then you’re much less likely to want to leave the team. Leaders must take a personal interest in the members of their team. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you start watching the same TV shows they do or listening to their music. Simply get to know them. Take time to sit down with them and ask them about their lives. Keep it real. It must be a genuine interest. Not once off, but over and over again. Show interest and follow it up.

People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers.  (p231)

Addressing irrelevance

Why are so many athletes, rock stars, and actors living such messed up and unsatisfied lives? Lencioni believes the root cause is a subtle fear of irrelevance. He says this because it’s hard to understand how someone who earns truckloads of money doing something they love, and who gets constant attention from others, can be unhappy. And conversely how low-paid, ‘hiding in the background’ workers can be happy. The answer has to do with being needed and having an impact on the lives of others.

Human beings need to be needed. They need to know that they are helping others, not merely serving themselves. Leaders need to help employees (or volunteers) answer two questions in order to establish relevance in their jobs.

‘Who am I helping?’
For many workers, the answer will be the customers, but some people are in jobs where they don’t have direct contact with customers. It could be other employees, colleagues, or departments within the organisation, or even their own boss. Leaders can be reluctant to speak of how people’s work helps them, but most people get a great deal of satisfaction when their supervisor thanks them for what they’ve done or says how helpful and significant it has been.

How am I helping?
The answer to that question isn’t always obvious. When a room attendant at a hotel brings breakfast to a guest, he isn’t just delivering food. He’s helping a weary traveler feel a little better about having to be on the road, which can have a significant impact on their outlook on life that day.

One of the most important things that managers must do is help employees see why their work matters to someone. Even if this sounds touchy-feely to some, it is a fundamental part of human nature.  (p235)

Addressing immeasurement

Effective job measurement lies in identifying the areas that an employee can directly influence. Leaders need to see the importance of the people on their teams having clear measurement criteria. Some measurements will be behavioural in nature and may be achieved by an informal survey of customers or a by identifying behaviours that indicates satisfaction with their work. If people can’t see any clear link between their daily responsibilities and the metric they are being measured against, they lose interest, feeling unable to control their own destiny. This is why so many salespeople enjoy their jobs. They don’t depend on others to tell them whether they’ve succeeded or failed.

Taking action

How can you go about putting all this into action, depends on who you are.

If you’re a manager…

Anonymity: Do I really know my people, their family situations, their interests, or how they spend their spare time?

Irrelevance: Do they know who their work impacts, and how?

Immeasurement: Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Employee assessments allow people to confirm or deny the accuracy of your answers. Finally, develop a plan to overcome any inadequacies around the three signs. This could be done one on one or in a team session. Make clear what you are trying to do, so that people don’t assume ulterior motives.

If you’re an employee or looking for a job…

You can do some things to increase the odds that your job will be fulfilling. Talk with your boss (or prospective boss) about the three signs and your desire to avoid them. A good leader will take this seriously. If you’re looking for a job, ask how they show interest in employees, how the job you’re discussing has an impact on people, and how you will be measured. If you’re hearing answers that indicate anonymity, irrelevance, or immeasurement, then it might be the job to avoid.

The ministry of management

I have come to the realisation that all managers can – and really should – view their work as a ministry. A service to others.

By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families.  They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry of their own. (p253)

Some further thoughts on working with volunteers

Much of what I do as a church leader involves working with unpaid volunteers. Lencioni’s diagnosis of the signs of a miserable job is valuable for thinking about how to encourage people to serve in a range of voluntary roles. Are our volunteers feeling recognised, valued, appreciated, and purposeful? Do they understand the importance of their contribution to the ministry of the whole church or organisation? Are they able to assess whether they are doing a good job or not? Or are they left constantly wondering if anyone notices or cares?

How do we recruit volunteers to roles within our ministry? In my experience we often stress the gaps that need filling and push people to fill places on rosters. It’s far more helpful to inspire people with the opportunities for valuable ministry. Explain the essential contribution their work will have to the ministry as a whole. Offer examples, case studies, statistics or personal testimonies. Show the outcomes when this is done well. Highlight the potential for people to use their gifts and grow.

Sometimes we equip volunteers for the work we want them to do and then leave them to do it. The team leader’s job doesn’t stop with training. It flows on into encouragement, feedback, support, and celebrations. Keep reminding people of the relevance and value of their contribution. Empower them to recruit others and play a role in training and developing people in their roles. Acknowledge their contribution publicly in the organisation. Help develop clear metrics by which people can assess the success or failure of their contribution.

If we’re experiencing a high turnover or drop out rate among our volunteers, we should take the time to assess the reasons why. It’s highly likely that people are experiencing one or more of these signs of a miserable job. Leaders would do well to put their minds to helping volunteers overcome feelings of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurability. It could help to engage volunteers so as to better understand the factors that contribute to or overcome such feelings. This could be done ad hoc or on a regular basis. It could form the basis of a regular formal review with volunteers and teams.

The four obsessions of an extraordinary executive

four-obsessionsThe four obsessions of an extraordinary executive is another easy-read, high-return leadership book by Patrick Lencioni. This book describes a competitive advantage available to every organisation. It’s not about technology, strategy, marketing, or money. It’s about organisational health. Extraordinary executives and standout leaders are described as paying attention to the health of the organisation they lead. Healthy organisations put less drain on morale, time, energy, and output. There is less staff turnover and greater work place satisfaction. We all want our organisations to be like this. As a pastor, I want our church to be like this. The book recommends four leadership priorities that will help build such organisations.

#1 Build and maintain a cohesive leadership team

This is the most important discipline because it enables the others. It doesn’t come easily because it commitment from the leader and team. People must grow to trust each other. This means being willing to work through disagreements and issues together. It requires people willing to be vulnerable, and fight over issues often. The fights are not to be personal, but focused on issues and achieving the best outcomes for the organisation. People learn to ask difficult questions and challenge ideas. Others learn to respond without feeling threatened or taking things personally. Working to achieve cohesive teams requires the effort and investment of all the leaders.by ever but it’s well worth the effort.

Cohesive teams require trust, and an effective way of building trust is what Lencioni calls ‘getting naked’. Don’t worry! He’s not speaking literally. It’s about team members becoming comfortable with their colleagues seeing them for who they really are. There are various tools that can help with this. He suggests teams take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, which is a very effective tool for helping people understand each other. He also recommends The Wisdom of Teams by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith, and his book The Five Temptations of a CEO as good books to help teams identify and address weaknesses and problems.

Sharing personal histories helps people get to know each others backgrounds, family circumstances, personal philosophies, hobbies, and interests. Spending time together is essential. And teams that have been through difficult times together can develop strong levels of trust, but it needs to be maintained by a willingness to address core issues.

#2 Create organisational clarity

Most executives profess to understand the importance of creating clarity in their organizations, but ironically, they often fail to achieve it.  (p151)

Organisational clarity isn’t about choosing the right words to describe mission, strategy, or values. It’s about agreeing on the underlying concepts that drive them. This type of clarity provides everyone throughout the organisation with a common vocabulary and set of assumptions about what’s important and what’s not. It builds a sense of unity around everything it does. Resources get aligned around agreed values, goals, and strategies.

These basic questions help the organisation to build clarity:

  • Why does the organisation exist, and what difference does it make in the world?
  • What behavioural values are irreplaceable and fundamental?
  • What business are we in, and against whom do we compete?
  • How does our approach differ from that of our competition?
  • What are our goals this month, this quarter, this year, five years from now?
  • Who has to do what for us to achieve our goals this month, this quarter, this year, next year, five years from now?  (p154-155)

#3 Over-communicate organisational clarity

Organisational clarity must be communicated throughout the organisation. This is the simplest of the disciplines, but a common point of failure. Much of the hard work in achieving clarity gets wasted through poor communication. Over-communication is much better than a failure to communicate. People might get sick of the message, but at least they get the message.

The three most critical practices of effective communication (are) repetition, simple messages, and multiple mediums.  (p168)

Some experts say that people need to hear a message six times before they begin to believe and internalize it. The problem is we don’t like to keep repeating the same message over and over.

We also need to avoid over-complicating important messages. In an age when people are bombarded by useless information, we need to be crystal clear about where our organisation is going and how people can contribute to getting there.

Multiple mediums help to get the message through. Most leaders have a preferred form of communication and stick to it. It could be large groups announcements, special meetings, emails, or communicating through other staff to the relevant areas. We need as many mediums as are required to hit the maximum number of people effectively. We need to tune into people’s preferred means of receiving messages too.

Lencioni believes the most powerful communication strategy in any sized organisation is ‘cascading communication’. After every executive staff meeting, there are usually important decisions that have to be communicated to the organisation. Sometimes people leave meetings with different understandings of what’s been decided and what needs to be communicated. So take a few minutes at the end of the meeting and ask the question, ‘What do we have to communicate to our people?’ This will show up what issues need clarification and which are ready to be communicated.

#4 Reinforce organisational clarity through human systems

Over-communication isn’t enough to maintain clarity in an organisation. Clarity must be reinforces by being built into the processes and systems that drive human behaviour. The challenge is to do this well without getting tied up in red tape.

There are four primary systems in an organization that reinforce clarity:

Hiring profiles
Employ people and appoint leaders who match the values of the organisation. Look at behaviour and seek to objectively evaluate if the applicant aligns with the core values. This is very different from asking ‘Did you like him?’ which tells you next to nothing about how they might fit with your organisation.

Performance management
This is not about filling in endless forms and having endless interviews. The goal is to foster good communication and healthy alignment. The best performance management is an ongoing dialogue, rather than an occasional event. This means managers and leaders need to make a priority of investing their time into other leaders.

Rewards and recognition
This system has to do with how organisations reinforce behaviour. Healthy organisations remove as much subjectivity as possible. They use consistent criteria for paying, recognising, rewarding and promoting staff. Recognition should be more about alignment to the organisation’s values than increased productivity.

Dismissal
Healthy organizations use their values, and other issues related to clarity, to guide their decisions about firing people. This prevents decisions being subjective or arbitrary and limits the costs to the people and the organisation.

Conclusion

The model described here is a holistic one: each discipline is necessary to achieve success. Different organisations will struggle with different aspects of the model. Some teams building trust but fail to put good systems in place. Others love strategy but lose interest in repeatedly communicating their plans.

Successful organisations are healthy organisations and leaders need to keep this their number one priority. Extraordinary executives focus on that above all else. The ability to identify a few simple things and stick to them over time is one of the most powerful tools any leader has. An executive who does this will be extraordinary and will often end up leading an extraordinary organisation.

Some thoughts on how this can impact church leadership teams

The focus on organisational health is important for churches. It’s easy to be swept up in the latest fads, establishing clear vision statements, adopting a special program, engaging new ministries, employing new staff, planting new churches… and fail to notice how unhealthy the church has become. We don’t want to reproduce sick churches. We don’t want to drive ailing churches toward terminal illness. So organisational health is critical. And we need to be biblically clear about what this should look like. A desire for God’s glory, love for one another, care for all, compassion for the hurting, submission to Scripture, humble prayer, passion to see people saved, a willingness to serve, growing leaders, sacrificial service, generous giving, and more.

Pastors and leaders can get so busy and caught up in chasing their tails that they fail to step back and focus on how and where to lead the church. We get so occupied in the ministry that we don’t have time to work on the ministry. If the pastor and leaders cant see the big picture because they are so buried in the detail, then church won’t know where it’s headed. We need to gain perspective. We need to look at the function of our churches as a whole. We need to evaluate our systems and determine what’s working, what needs changing, what needs axing and what needs adding. We need to open our calendars and determine ways to get ahead of the game, so that we’re not always reacting to the latest problem.

Senior pastors and overall leaders need to spend time with their ‘direct reports’. Associate pastors, elders, youth workers, children’s ministry coordinators, and so on. These are key people for creating clarity and alignment for the church. If the lead guy doesn’t do this, then he will soon discover that the church is headed every which way. People will fill the vacuum with their own ideas and priorities. Teamwork will be little more than an idea. The health of the church will suffer.

This Lencioni book is another opportunity to ‘spoil from the Egyptians’, as Augustine put it. Sift through the ideas, apply some uncommon sense, filter it through the message of the Bible, and improve the way you lead your church.

The five temptations of a CEO

FiveTemptationsofCEOBeing a self-confessed Patrick Lencioni fan, I figured it was time to re-read another of his books. I love reading them because he writes so well, and he begins most of his books with ‘A leadership fable’. He tells a story that illustrates the main points of the book. You get swept along in the story, and the points are obvious once he’s finished. The five temptations of a CEO is a complement to another of his books: The five dysfunctions of a teamThis book isn’t just for CEOs. It’s valuable for leaders everywhere. The temptations that Lencioni identifies are common to leaders in many contexts. My leadership experience has been mainly in churches and Christian organisations, and I can testify that these temptations are very real.

The first temptation: Choosing status over results

Lencioni argues that the most important principle the CEO must embrace is a desire to produce results. Sadly, this is what gets many people into the position but their attention changes to preserving their status. This results in CEOs making decisions to protect their ego and standing. They tend to reward people who support them, rather than who produce the greatest results for the organisation. Contrast two answers to a question presented to a sporting coach: ‘What was the greatest day in your career?’

Answer 1: ‘The day I was hired.’
Answer 2: ‘The day our team won the championship.’

The first answer is about the coach and his position. The second is about the results of the organisation. This is why he is coach. The CEO is responsible, not for maintaining his position or status, but for leading the organisation to achieve results.

The second temptation : Choosing popularity over accountability

We all agree about the importance of holding people accountable, yet we rarely do it. I suspect this is an even bigger issue in many churches than it is in companies. It’s not easy. Nobody wants to be the bad guy. We all want to be liked – I know I do – and it’s a dangerous trait for a leader. We want to develop friendly relationships with our staff and that can make it harder to keep people accountable. Especially if someone we like is consistently not doing what is expected of them.

If the leader doesn’t hold people accountable, this will breed a culture of lack of accountability in the organisation. The irony is that some CEOs will fire people who do not perform, but they are too gutless to walk through processes of accountability with them beforehand, which might have avoided the need to fire them.

Holding people accountable requires that you give them clear targets to shoot for. They need to be very clear about expectations. They also need to understand the consequences if they don’t meet expectations. These are difficult conversations for many leaders, who would rather avoid them than feel awkward. The temptation to be liked can cripple an organisation.

The third temptation: Choosing certainty over clarity

Some CEOs will not make decisions until they are certain that they are correct. This is often impossible because outcomes are affected by so many unknown variables. This can paralyse the leader and the organisation. It often means that leaders are deliberately vague with others as they attempt to gain clarity for themselves. This wastes a lot of time and damages good will from others. The leader can end up frustrating their staff by their failure to make decisions or clarify directions.

What organisations need is clarity, and it is the leader’s job to provide it. Clarity about the goals of the organisation, what it’s aiming to achieve, the roles and responsibilities of the employees and other leaders, and the consequences for success and failure. This has to do with core things like vision, mission, values, and goals. It’s easy to give lip service to these terms, or to waste endless time getting the right words but failing to make any changes.

If the leader is spending his time trying to make sure that he makes every decision correctly, then he won’t offer the clarity the organisation needs. He’s more likely to fudge, just in case he’s wrong. He will remain deliberately vague about matters about which others desperately need clarity.

It’s okay to be wrong. Some would say it’s the CEO’s job to be wrong. If he discovers he’s wrong then he can fix it. If everything stays vague, if decisions don’t get made, then he will never know what needs fixing.

The fourth temptation: Choosing harmony over productive conflict

It’s normal to want peace and harmony, but it can be counterproductive to good decision making. If harmony or consensus is our goal then we will naturally restrict conflict, but Lencioni argues that healthy conflict helps us to create the best outcomes. He’s not talking about interpersonal conflict targeted at people, but healthy exchanges of different opinions on issues. The best decisions are made when all the knowledge and perspectives get aired. And people are more confident in decisions if they’ve had a chance to contribute. Meetings can be a good indicator of problems in this area.

Pleasant meetings – or even worse, boring, meetings ones – are indications that there is not a proper level of overt, constructive, ideological conflict taking place.  (p129)

The fifth temptation: Choosing invulnerability over trust

Even leaders who resist the temptation to protect their status, to be popular with their staff, to make correct decisions, and to create harmony sometimes fail. Why? Because even though they are willing to cultivate productive conflict, their people may not be willing to do so.

temptationsMany leaders are not willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable. They mistakenly believe that they will lose credibility if people feel too comfortable challenging their ideas. No matter how much a leader encourages healthy conflict, it’s only going to happen if people feel safe to engage. Otherwise people will passively line up with what they think the leader expects. It’s about trust. People who trust each other aren’t fearful about offering their opinions. But if you want people to trust you, then you need to trust them, and this means being vulnerable.

Five temptations of a senior pastor

Some time back out staff team spent a couple of days away and we watched a video of Patrick Lencioni teaching about the five dysfunctions of a team. I think we decided that we had all of them in varying degrees. If we’d been assessing the five temptations of a senior pastor, then I suspect the rest of the team would have identified me as giving into all of them in varying degrees too!

If you lead a church or a Christian organisation, then my guess is that this book will diagnose some of your temptations and give you areas to work on. I also suspect that your team will be pleased if you do.

Temptation 1
My temptation was not to measure anything. If you don’t measure then you can’t fail, but nor can you know how you are going. The results for a church will be measured in very different ways to a company or business. We will be focused on the impact on people’s lives, people growing into maturity as believers, people committing to serving one another, people not being tossed around by the latest ideas, people loving one another and reaching out to their neighbours.

Temptation 2
I’ve never been very good at holding others accountable for their work. A desire to avoid unpleasant conversations has led me to let some things slide. This might have been motivated by kindness, but in the end it’s not kind. It hurts the individual and frustrates the people they lead. Sometimes I would let things go until I became exasperated. The danger is that this would sometimes lead to overreacting. If I had my time again, I would establish clearer expectations for the members of my team and hold them more accountable. Regular clarification, update and review meetings would have helped people to perform better and meet expectations.

Temptation 3
Vagueness breeds frustration and can lead to a work environment becoming toxic. If people aren’t clear on their roles and responsibilities, then they will likely step on each other’s toes and annoy one another. Turf wars sometimes result. I’ve seen this in our teams when people do not have clear job descriptions. Ministry trainees working with different staff across different areas can find this especially difficult. Clarity covers over a multitude of sins – or should that be charity?! Maybe both.

Temptation 4
I think I’ve led far too many boring meetings. People have often wondered why they need to be there. I should have read Lencioni on meetings at the start of my ministry leadership. The only trouble was he hadn’t written the book yet! It’s important to encourage constructive conflict in our meetings, but this will only happen from a foundation of trust. People need to know that we’re on the same team and we can disagree together to arrive at the best outcomes for everyone. Leaders need to work hard to create such an environment, otherwise we just end up avoiding conflict so we don’t hurt each other’s feelings.

Temptation 5
Have I been willing to be vulnerable? I think so, but maybe there are blind spots that I haven’t seen. I can remember breaking down in tears during a few staff meetings. I can remember apologising to my team for what I’d done or failed to do. But I can also recall getting very defensive about people criticising my ideas and decisions.

We need to remember that we’re called to lead others by serving them, putting their needs before our own. The greatest example of one who did this is Jesus Christ. My desire is to follow his example, with his help, for the sake of his honour and glory, not my own.

1 Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.  (2 Corinthians 4:1-2, 5)

Silos, politics and turf wars

silosPatrick Lencioni is the guru of team work. His book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, is the place to begin. Then add Death by Meeting and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and you’ve got an excellent tool kit for tuning up your team. This book is written primarily for executives in business who are seeking to align their organisations, departments and staff. I read it as the lead pastor of a church with multiple congregations, specialised ministries and a growing staff team. It helped me identify a number of areas that had been hampering our effectiveness as a team. The subtitle sums up its main message: about destroying the barriers that turn colleagues into competitors.

Our church would probably be considered mid to large on a scale of size and complexity for churches in Australia. We have three congregations meeting each Sunday (at one point we had four). There are forty to fifty small groups meeting throughout the week. We have children’s and youth ministries happening at various times and reaching around 250 young people. The church has sent and supports a number of home-grown missionaries. We provide staff and resources to university ministry on four local campuses. There are ten pastoral staff and seven ministry apprentices employed to work with the church and its associated ministries. All this means that we face many challenges in keeping people focused and cohesive as we pursue our mission together.

These challenges are experienced at a staff level with people on the team having different areas of responsibility. Some staff are deployed to work across multiple congregations, taking responsibility for connecting or growing or serving. Some have primary teaching/preaching responsibilities, whereas others work mainly with individuals and small groups. Some staff oversee teams on the different university campuses. One directs the youth ministry, another the children’s ministry, and another the ministry among international students. Some work from a church office, others work mainly from home, and a couple are most likely to be found in a coffee shop! It can be difficult getting everyone together, let alone working as a highly functioning team.

When it comes to team meetings that are working on church issues, it’s easy for the campus ministry staff to feel disconnected. If we spend time planning or reviewing the kid’s ministry, it might seem entirely unrelated to needs of the international student ministry. Different departments of the church can end up in competition for attention, people, budgets and resources. It’s easy to feel like my area is the most important and to resent the time wasted engaging with others’ concerns. Silos can arise in any organisation and growing churches are not immune. Sadly, divisions are far too common in churches. They can be found among staff and other leaders, and sometimes they can polarise whole congregations against each another. It’s so tempting to focus on ourselves and our areas of responsibility, and to forget that the church is called to a unity of people and purpose.

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars is full of practical wisdom for getting people and organisations together on the same page, supporting one another, sharing our problems, and celebrating our various successes and achievements. Lencioni offers a model for combating silos, consisting of four components:

  • A thematic goal
  • A set of defining objectives
  • A set of ongoing standard operating objectives
  • Metrics

Lencioni argues that determining the thematic goal is the key to aligning the organisation and its people. He defines this as a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire leadership team – and ultimately the entire organisation – and that applies for only a specified time period. (p178) This is different from a long-term vision, a five year plan or a ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goal’. It’s designed to focus the organisation over the next six to twelve months and provide clarity about what’s most important on the agenda over this period.

There should only be one thematic goal. If everything is considered equally important, then nothing ends up being important. However, the thematic goal needs to be broken down into a number of actionable defining objectives. These are the building blocks that clarify what is meant by the thematic goal. Everyone needs to be committed to these objectives, regardless of the role they have within the organisation.

The standard operating objectives are different. These are the objectives that don’t go away from period to period. These are the things the organisation needs to keep monitoring regardless of the current thematic goal. Depending on the business, these might include such topics as revenue, expenses, customer relations and so on. These aren’t the type of things to rally the organisation around, but they do require constant attention.

Once the thematic goal, the defining objectives, and the standard operating objectives have been established, it will now be important to measure progress. The leadership team will need to establish appropriate metrics.

Lencioni includes a number of fictional, but realistic, case studies at the back of his book. One of these case studies depicts a church and I will reproduce it (with modifications) to demonstrate how this model might work in practice. Don’t judge the details, but simply consider the illustration!

Situation:
Attendance at weekly services is up. More and more people are coming each week. The building size is limiting further growth. Regular giving is increasing. Many new people are not in small groups or serving in the life of the church.

Thematic goal:
Expand to enable healthy continued growth.

Defining objectives:
Add another Sunday service.
Offer more small groups.
Train more leaders for groups and other ministries.
Develop an integration process to assist newcomers into groups and ministry areas.
Add another member of staff.

Time frame:
One year.

Standard operating objectives:
Maintain attendance growth.
Maintain quality follow-up of all newcomers.

Maintain quality of Sunday services.
Maintain regular giving.
Increase numbers of people in small groups.
Maintain support and equipping for all leaders.

If you’re part of a growing organisation, and things are becoming more complex, and you’re keen to ensure people are clear on their roles and working as a team, then I expect you’ll find this a useful book. I recommend that you read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team before you read this one, because it’s more foundational and you’ll discover that they complement each other nicely. Like most of Lencioni’s books this is written as a ‘leadership fable’ so it’s very easy to read and the points are clearly summarised in the final section.

Death by Meeting

meetingA friend of mine had a fishing boat that he’d named A MEETING. It was brilliant really. He could be out fishing and if anyone called, his wife could ‘honestly’ let them know that he was in a meeting and he’d be back later (hopefully with dinner)!

My kids used to think that my job was to go to meetings. Sometimes I thought that too! Staff meetings, council meetings, leaders meetings, training meetings, congregational meetings, one-to-one meetings, committee meetings, annual general meetings, budget meetings, planning meetings, review meetings, vision meetings, administration meetings, board meetings, boring meetings, way too many meetings! If you didn’t enjoy having to read the word ‘meeting’ 16 times in the previous sentence, then you’re probably like many of us who don’t like seeing the word appear that many times in our diaries. Surely life wasn’t meant to be an endless sequence of meetings. In his book, Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni writes:

While it is true that much of the time we currently spend in meetings is largely wasted, the solution is not to stop having meetings, but rather to make them better. Because when properly utilized, meetings are actually time savers.  (p250)

In my line of work, I couldn’t see a way around having meetings, so I was a prime target for this book. I read it and I wasn’t disappointed! Death by Meeting is another ‘Leadership Fable’ in the same vein as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It hooks in the reader with a great story, making the book easy to devour, and finishes with a summary section that ties together all the main points.

Lencioni argues that there are two main reasons we don’t like meetings. Firstly, meetings are boring, tedious, unengaging and dry. Does this resonate with anyone?! Busy people forced to sit through boring meetings is a recipe for pain. Secondly, meetings are ineffective. Sometimes it’s impossible to see how they contribute to our organisations. All they seem to achieve is tying up people’s time and breeding resentment. I’m sure you know what he’s saying!

Problem #1: Lack of Drama

Lencioni brings his experience as a student of screenwriting to the topic of meetings. Why is it that we get excited about watching a movie for two hours, but cringe at the thought of a two hour meeting? He explains why meetings should hold greater appeal than movies. We get to participate and interact in a meeting, whereas we sit passively during a movie. Meetings can have a massive impact on what we need to do afterwards, whereas nothing much in our lives is affected by whether we watch a movie or not. The difference, he demonstrates, is that movies contain drama, tensions and conflict. And these are the same ingredients that make for good meetings.

People need to be hooked in to participating in a meeting from the outset. They need to be jolted into grasping how important this meeting will be, how dangerous it would be to make a bad decision or to fail to respond to a strategic opportunity.

Throughout meetings conflict should be encouraged, not avoided. Avoiding difficult issues ultimately leads to boredom and frustration. However, mining for conflict and disagreement opens the opportunity for productive, engaging, and even fun meetings! Leaders need to give people permission to disagree and explore contentious issues. This creates an environment of trust where individuals can be honest and constructive and it leads to better outcomes for the organisation. Lencioni writes:

The truth is, the only thing more painful than confronting an uncomfortable topic is pretending it doesn’t exist. And I believe far more suffering is caused by failing to deal with an issue directly – and whispering about it in the hallways – than by putting it on the table and wrestling with it head on.  (p230)

Problem #2: Lack of Contextual Structure

Too often our meetings lack clarity and purpose. Some topics take up all the time and never get resolved. Other matters are rushed through at the end without getting the scrutiny they need. Some agenda items are big picture, long range and visionary. They require research, preparation and time to consider. Other items are trivial and would be better dealt with outside of the meeting. What’s the point of our meetings? Lencioni writes:

The single biggest structural problem facing leaders of meetings is the tendency to throw every type of issue that needs to be discussed into the same meeting, like a bad stew with too many random ingredients. Desperate to minimize wasted time, leaders decide that they will have one big staff meeting either once a week or every other week. They sit down in a room for two or three or four hours and thrash everything out… Unfortunately, this only ensures that the meeting will be ineffective and unsatisfying for everyone.  (p235)

This book recommends there should be different meetings to fulfil different purposes. It offers a template of four basic types of meetings.

Meeting #1: The Daily Check-In

This is a 5 minute meeting, held at the start of each day, where each member of the team reports very briefly on their activities for that day. This meeting is to get everyone on the same page, clear about priorities, so that things don’t fall between the cracks, and people don’t step on each other’s toes.

Meeting #2: The Weekly Tactical

These meetings are focused on tactical issues of immediate concern. Lencioni recommends not setting agendas in advance for these meetings. Rather, what’s actually going on and what the organisation needs to be doing determine what get’s discussed. Discussion should be restricted to specific, short-term topics that require people to focus on solving problems. The two overriding goals of these meetings are the resolution of issues and the reinforcement of clarity.

These meetings should normally take place weekly and run for between 45 and 90 minutes. Of course, this will mean that there simply isn’t enough time to discuss many complex and important matters. Long-term strategic issues will be left unresolved. There won’t be the opportunity for brainstorming, analysis, or even preparation (as there is no prior agenda). When strategic issues are raised in the weekly meeting, it’s important for the leader to take them off the table and plan for them to be discussed in a different type of meeting.

Meeting #3: The Monthly Strategic

These are potentially the most interesting, important, and fun meetings for the team. This is where we deal with the big stuff, where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there. It’s important to set the agenda for these meetings so that people come prepared. Research, planning and preparation will be required if quality decisions are to be made. There should only be one or two topics on the agenda so they can each receive the attention they need. The duration of these meetings will vary, but Lencioni recommends scheduling two hours per topic to encourage good conversation and debate.

It’s important to schedule these strategic topic meetings. When we don’t hold them, our meetings are dominated by the urgent rather than the important, and we fall into the trap of simply doing the same old same old. Sometimes a topic will arise that can’t wait until the next monthly strategic meeting. In these cases, the leader should call an ad hoc meeting specifically to tackle this topic. Don’t fall back into the trap of stumbling over the topic in the weekly tactical meeting.

Meeting #4: The Quarterly Off-Site Review

Off-site meetings provide the opportunity to step away from the daily, weekly and monthly issues that dominate our time and thinking. They provide the time and space to sit back and take in the wider picture. In fact, getting away from the office (so to speak) often creates a freshness and energy that takes the team and the organisation to a new level.

Such meetings need more time, usually a day or two. They provide a relaxed environment free from normal distractions. They can be utilised for a variety of purposes, such as building relationships, enhancing teamwork, comprehensive strategy review, long range dreaming and planning, or exploring what the competition is doing.

A final thought on meetings

As a church pastor, my life and work and ministry has been dominated by meetings. At times they’ve been vibrant, productive, and fun. Often they’ve been dull, lifeless and a chore. This book has offered me cause to reflect and examine our meetings. It’s led me to make some helpful changes, to clarify the purpose of our meetings, and to introduce deliberate variety in our meeting program. But as I reflect, it’s the kind of book that needs to be read and re-read. It’s easy to fall back into unhelpful old patterns and for our meetings to lose their edge. I’ll finish with this quote from Lencioni:

Bad meetings exact a toll on the human beings who must endure them, and this goes far beyond their momentary dissatisfaction. Bad meetings, and what they indicate and provoke in an organisation, generate real human suffering in the form of anger, lethargy, and cynicism. And while this certainly has a profound impact on organisational life, it also impacts people’s self-esteem, their families and their outlook on life.

And so, for those of us who lead organisations and the employees who work within them, improving meetings is not just an opportunity to enhance the performance of our companies. It is also a way to positively impact the lives of our people. And that includes us.  (p253)

The five dysfunctions of a team

My wife thought that my last book review was a bit random in a blog that had focused so far on our personal journey! But my plan is to include diversity and focus on a range of issues. In particular, I’m keen to spotlight books on a range of topics that I believe will be helpful to others. As I’ve spent nearly all my working life as a church pastor, I hope to review a number of books on topics such as ministry, leadership, teamwork, theology, church and the like.

One of the most readable and helpful books I’ve found on the topic of teamwork is Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A leadership fable. I read the book cover to cover in one sitting at my favourite coffee shop. In fact, I remember wishing that all books were written like this one. Hook you in with a story, keep you wanting to know what happens next, develop the key points throughout the story, and then summarise the theory at the end. More importantly, I was hooked because I could see myself in the story. I could relate each of his points to our staff teamwork (or lack thereof). I knew that this was a book that I would keep buying and giving others to read. I got hold of a video of Lencioni teaching on the topic and we had a staff retreat to discuss our teamwork. I purchased the workbook and have used it in team contexts. I’ve given the book to rugby players and coaches, pastors, headmasters, CEOs and other team leaders. And I’ve recently ordered the Manga version!

The easiest way to summarise the content is by quoting from a brief article on Lencioni’s own website:

Dysfunction #1: Absence of Trust

This occurs when team members are reluctant to be vulnerable with one another and are unwilling to admit their mistakes, weaknesses or needs for help. Without a certain comfort level among team members, a foundation of trust is impossible.

Dysfunction #2: Fear of Conflict

Teams that are lacking on trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered, passionate debate about key issues, causing situations where team conflict can easily turn into veiled discussions and back channel comments. In a work setting where team members do not openly air their opinions, inferior decisions are the result.

Dysfunction #3: Lack of Commitment

Without conflict, it is difficult for team members to commit to decisions, creating an environment where ambiguity prevails. Lack of direction and commitment can make employees, particularly star employees, disgruntled

Dysfunction #4: Avoidance of Accountability

When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven individuals hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that may seem counterproductive to the overall good of the team.

Dysfunction #5: Inattention to Results

Team members naturally tend to put their own needs (ego, career development, recognition, etc.) ahead of the collective goals of the team when individuals aren’t held accountable. If a team has lost sight of the need for achievement, the business ultimately suffers.

As our staff team explored these ideas together we recognised each of these dysfunctions in varying degrees. We wouldn’t have said that we lacked trust in each other, but the fact that we avoided conflict showed we did. We’d describe ourselves as a team, but in some ways we were functioning as a bunch of individuals who got together now and again. It would often take forever for us to make changes or implement ideas, and yet we’d claim to be focused on getting things done.

This book has been around for a few years now and my guess is that many of you will have read it and found it helpful. But if you haven’t got into it, then let me give it a rap by sharing a few stories.

A senior pastor friend was sharing with me about how his staff team was fragmented, with one person in particular only interested in his own agenda. Everyone was uncomfortable with the dynamic that had set in, but no one knew how to address it. I sent my friend a DVD of Lencioni speaking on this topic and a copy of the book. The team watched the video and it was like having a consultant critique the team, and highlight the dysfunctional behaviour. The book then offered a framework for moving forward.

Another friend heads up an international software company. To describe the employees as a team is probably pushing it because the people don’t spend much physical time together. Some of them do, and a couple of them were creating chaos by refusing to communicate with each other. My friend was required to fly across to the other side of the world to resolve a spat between highly intelligent professional people who were refusing to talk with each other! So I gave him a copy of the book to read on the plane. He found it gave him a framework to tackle the issues and break the impasse.

Sometime back we were interviewing people for a job as an associate pastor. I stressed that team work was important to us, and asked each applicant to take a look at the Five Dysfunctions and discuss them with me. I was determined to find a team player. One of the applicants seemed very unimpressed with the model and I chose not to offer him the job. Interestingly, he got another job, but quickly decided that he didn’t really want to be a part of that team and went off on his own.

Our church is somewhat complicated. We have multiple congregations, various age-specific ministries, dozens of leaders, small groups, and a large staff team. Team work is vital. A challenge to us has always been engaging the staff and key leaders together in team work when the focus in on areas outside their direct responsibility. This book, and another by Lencioni called Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, has been so helpful in drawing people together. It has reminded us that a win in the youth area is a win for the whole church. A struggle to ‘connect’ people into the church community has a direct bearing on every other area of church life. Everything is connected and you need a strong team to make it work. Lencioni kept pushing us to value each member of the team.

Teamwork is something that ought to be a hallmark of a church, or a ministry staff. And yet sadly, many of us know too well the pain of relationship breakdowns, competition for resources, and clashes of vision and priorities (our church included). I recommend getting a dose of Lencioni!

Of course, the best of this wisdom is but a pale reflection of the teaching of the Bible on teamwork. God has called people into relationship with each other, to be part of a body, a community, a team. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12:24-27:

24 … God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.