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Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

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When we view church from an organizational perspective — which we can and must, given our current operating model of church — in my previous post, I asked “How well we are collaborating together for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the body?” I might ask a more fundamental question: “Are we functioning as a command-and-control organization or collaboratively?” We may profess that we are a family, a fellowship of brothers and sisters, but in practice, we operate as a business, and as such, let us learn from business thought leaders.

Burkett asserts that:

a truly collaborative environment involves all organizational levels and is a part of the organization’s cultural identity. When organizations consistently apply collaborative approaches to improve cross-functional connections and break down silos, even in a limited manner, they have achieved many sustained benefits, including:

  • fully engaged workers eager to take on new projects
  • improved organizational agility and flexibility
  • more productive, energized meetings
  • competitive advantage attracting top talent
  • higher retention rates
  • improved performance and profitability

Of course, some may be uncomfortable with applying some of the language (e.g. profitability) to church, but we can adapt the principle accordingly. Indeed, I invite the reader to consider each of the bulleted items in relation to their church and reflect on how and where improvements can be realized.

She realizes that there will be resistance on the part of some leaders and employees and therefore, we need to grease the wheel by considering three vital factors:

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As one can discern from the image above, trust is the key ingredient needed for “creating an environment where employees can feel free to take risks and openly express concerns, fears, and differences of opinion without reprisal or retaliation.” Is our church marked by a culture of trust?  Are we able to express our doubts and disagreements in a spirit of love?  It’s important to keep in mind that “trust is built through small moments of consistent, daily interaction rather than grand mission statements or sweeping proclamations.”

Needless to say, many problems, be it in our personal, business, or church lives, have their source in poor communication. Burkett writes that the “majority of leaders fail to clearly communicate their strategy through the organization, which slows down projects, hurts performance results, and hinders engagement.” A large part of the problem is failing to listen carefully to concerns and being too far removed from employees (or church members). As Burkett notes, “Listening to and inviting diverse input brings in more valuable information, builds bridges of trust, and promotes shared accountability.”

 Finally, it is a common sense truism that “people want to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves” by sharing a common purpose. Yet, why is it that in most churches, a significant majority of the members are just pew warmers?  The answers are varied, but certainly one reason is that members are not encouraged to ascertain and use their spiritual gifts for the mutual edification of the body; i.e., they need to be taught how to “collaborate” using their gifting.

Collaborative skills are often incorporated among the following professional development skill sets:

  • how to ask for input from others
  • how to listen for understanding
  • how to reach consensus
  • how to provide constructive feedback
  • how to share information with others
  • how to use negotiation skills
  • how to lead change

When teaching collaboration, it’s also important to encourage healthy debate, creative tension, and constructive criticism.

Needless to say, most churches seem unable to engage in “healthy debate” without ending in denunciations and division. Again, there a number of reasons for this, but part of the problem is a lack of biblical literacy and discernment that are prerequisites for wise decision making (“how to reach consensus”).

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For the past 2 weeks, in my spare time, I have been setting up Office 365 for our church. In my email exchange with one of the pastors, I wrote: “Yes, I am quite excited about the possibilities!! So many things to discuss with you re: vision and value of using this platform to enhance and enrich communication, connection and collaboration!”

At noon today, I was reading Learning for the Long Run: 7 Practices for Sustaining a Resilient Learning Organization by Holly Burkett, in which she describes the 6th practice as “Foster Collaboration, Connection, and Community”, words that never fail to generate longing and excitement in the deepest recesses of my heart and soul.

We live in a truly connected world. … 

Changes in traditional hierarchical structures reflect these increased demands for connection and collaboration. In today’s knowledge economy, where the half-life of knowledge progressively shrinks each day, it’s become even more important for organizations to design structures and processes that enable fast and free information flow across boundaries.

If this is true in the business world, is it not also true when we consider the organizational aspects of churches? Hence my desire to implement Office 365 for our church – as a way to foster communication, connection, collaboration and community. Not that technology is the answer, but it can certainly support the structure and streamline processes for increased efficiency and effectiveness.

Social learning experiences and peer-learning networks have gained prominence as effective ways of enabling employees to quickly connect with others to solve problems and focus exactly on what information they need, when they need it … At its core, social learning is about sharing knowledge, information and experiences through interactive discussion and peer collaboration.

At the church I last attended before embarking on my “sabbatical”, I encouraged the teaching elder (pastor) to try a more participatory approach to the usual monological sermonizing, what some have called interactive preaching. The experiment was enthusiastically received and overwhelmingly positive, but for whatever reason, it was to be the first and the last time. So much for “peer learning” …

Landmark research from a 2006 Gallup study with nearly 8,000 business units over seven years showed that business units with higher connection scores experienced higher productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction, as well as lower employee turnover and fewer accidents. … The bottom line is that connection plays a critical part in improving organizational performance …

The need to connect is powerful. In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that connection reduces stress levels, provides a sense of well-being, and makes us more trusting. An organization with a high degree of connection has employees who are more engaged, more productive in their jobs, and less likely to leave the organization for a competitor.

Given that the Sunday morning worship is the central (and for many Christians, the ONLY) event of the week where church members come together, and given that the bulk of the time is spent as a silent spectator, how are we going to connect with each other and put into practice the many “one another” commands we find in the NT? Is this lack of connection what makes it so easy for some Christians to just get up and leave at the slightest stirring of disagreement or dissatisfaction?

While social technologies play a vital role in enabling the speed and access of connections, the real value of effective collaboration and networking does not lie in more robust project management tools or advanced technology. These are simply means to an end—a collaborative and connected culture ultimately resides in the social fabric of organizations and how people do their work. In a truly collaborative environment, everyone has a voice, can contribute, and understands how their contributions fit with strategy and purpose.

A key cultural challenge is that many senior leaders continue to view collaboration as a skill applied to a single project or activity. When collaboration is focused solely on teams or a single level of an organization, it is extremely difficult to sustain and benefits are fleeting. Learning leaders must help organizations move beyond this narrow definition to redefine collaboration as a cultural value that should be embedded as part of an organization’s DNA.

I have no illusions that our church’s O365 implementation will suddenly lead to nirvana, because “a collaborative and connected culture ultimately resides in the social fabric of organizations” and, I might add, in a more biblical model of how we function as the body of Christ. And what Burkett calls “collaboration”, which she defines as a “process governed by a set of norms and behaviors that maximizes the contribution of individuals by drawing on the collective intelligence of everyone involved” (emphasis mine), is what I am going to call “one anothering with our spiritual gifts”. How well are we collaborating together for the spread of the gospel and the edification of the body? She notes that “[c]ollaboration requires the understanding and application of key behaviors that are increased through learning and practice.” (emphasis mine) Where and when are we going to practice our “one anothering with our spiritual gifts”?

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