The Advantage

A local church has a dual identity.  While it is first and foremost a divinely created spiritual organism, it is also a social organization led by human beings and subject to all the ups and downs, and sins and graces found in any social entity. Most pastors are trained theologically to lead a spiritual organism yet they receive little or no training in how to lead a social organization. Out of the 92 hours required for my M.Div, only three hours dealt specifically with the leadership role of the pastor. Thankfully, that disparity is changing in many theological schools but it still leaves pastors searching for help and resources in dealing with the social organization dimension of leading their church.

Patrick Lencioni is one of the most respected and widely read organizational consultants in the nation.  His books, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting are classics. I think one of the reasons his work resonates so well with both business leaders and pastors is because his insights are simple and practical. Sure, there is theory and research behind his teachings but he has a gift of bringing clarity out of complexity.

Lencioni’s latest book is The Advantage, Why Organizational Health Triumphs Everything and it is one of his best.  It is based on the premise that “the single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it. The health of an organization provides the context for strategy, finance, marketing, technology, and everything else that happens within it, which is why it is the single greatest factor determining an organization’s success. More than talent.

More than knowledge. More than innovation.

At its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity—is healthy—when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense. 

An organization doesn’t become healthy in a linear, tidy fashion. Creating organizational health is messy according to Lencioni but it can be broken down into four simple disciplines.

DISCIPLINE 1: BUILD A COHESIVE LEADERSHIP TEAM

An organization simply cannot be healthy if the people who are charged with running it are not behaviorally cohesive in five fundamental ways:  building trust, mastering conflict, achieving commitment, embracing accountability, and focusing on results. In any kind of organization, from a corporation to a department within that corporation, from a small, entrepreneurial company to a church or a school, dysfunction and lack of cohesion at the top inevitably lead to a lack of health throughout the organization.

DISCIPLINE 2: CREATE CLARITY

In addition to being behaviorally cohesive, the leadership team of a healthy organization must be intellectually aligned and committed to the same answers to six simple but powerful questions.  The six questions are: Why do we exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important-right now? and Who must do what?  There can be no daylight between leaders around these fundamental issues.

DISCIPLINE 3: OVER COMMUNICATE CLARITY

Once a leadership team has established behavioral cohesion and created clarity around the answers to those questions, it must then communicate those answers to employees clearly, repeatedly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly (that’s not a typo). When it comes to reinforcing clarity, there is no such thing as too much communication. Clarity is achieved through repetition, simplicity, a variety of communication mediums, and “cascading messages” or leaders at every level communicating the same message.

DISCIPLINE 4: REINFORCE CLARITY

Finally, in order for an organization to remain healthy over time, its leaders must establish a few critical, non bureaucratic systems to reinforce clarity in every process that involves people. Every policy, every program, every activity should be designed to remind employees what is really most important.

According to Lencioni, When an organization’s leaders are cohesive, when they are unambiguously aligned around a common set of answers to a few critical questions, when they communicate those answers again and again and again, and when they put effective processes in place to reinforce those answers, they create an environment in which success is almost impossible to prevent.

Substitute the word church for organization and using Lencioni’s instruction, Imagine two organizations. The first is led by a leadership team whose members are open with one another, passionately debate important issues, and commit to clear decisions even if they initially disagree. They call each other out when their behaviors or performance needs correction, and they focus their attention on the collective good of the organization.The second is led by a leadership team whose members are guarded and less than honest with one another. They hold back during difficult conversations, feign commitment, and hesitate to call one another on unproductive behaviors. Often they pursue their own agendas rather than those of the greater organization.

Which of the two descriptions reflects the leadership team of your church? How would evaluate the social organizational health of your church?

For more information, about The Advantage, go to The Table Group

Patrick Lencioni was a speaker at the recent Fall Catalyst in Atlanta. Click here for a summary of his resources on teamwork.

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