Intriguing talk yesterday from Patrick Lencioni at the HTB leadership conference. As someone who has enjoyed a lot of his books. His talk felt slightly out of his comfort zone. My one take away from his Albert Hall debut was encouragement to remember to pursue grace and truth. But his books are another story. The blog below relates to the latest management book I have read.
I have come across a lot of cynicism when it comes to working with management consultants. Some people believe they are the kind of people that ask you for a list of the biggest problems in your organisation and then charge you a lot of money to put that list into a nice bullet pointed powerpoint slide. I guess the cynicism comes from bad experiences and sometimes from jealousy. Sometimes there is a spiritual slant on the use of business consultancy when it comes to church leaders engaging with management wisdom. I can understand there is a fear of importing ways of ordering a community from an industry that is driven by maximising profit and economic efficiency. I think it is right to be wary – there are a number of churches that seem to operate as businesses – its all about the brand, the profile, the platform that the church and particularly its leaders are able to generate. On the other hand there is a good case to be made that church leaders who don’t think critically about their management of people are likely to
a) unwittingly replicate leadership models they have experienced elsewhere
b) fail to manage effectively and so use clunky, inefficient systems that lead to bad stewardship
c) over spiritualise the management of people – which can sadly lead to “spiritual abuse”
So what is needed is discerning engagement with management theory. So in this blog I want to think out loud as to what I have learned having just finished reading Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” for an exercise we are doing at work.
1. Organisational Health trumps strategy
‘I am convinced that once organisational health is properly understood and placed into the right context, it will surpass all other disciplines in business as the greatest opportunity for improvement and competitive advantage.’ p.4
This makes sense to me. From a biblical point of view when instructions are given to the life of the church in the epistles – there is little emphasis given to strategy but a lot of emphasis on ethos – the kind of common life that believers are called to exhibit. The communal life of any community, team, business is hugely significant as a robust and resilient community can weather any circumstance, can learn to face any situation, can be as productive as possible. So I like Lencioni’s focus on oranisational health. What do you think? Does organisational health trump strategy?
I guess some of it depends on what you want to achieve. I am also reading Steve Jobs’ biography and he definitely didn’t value organisational health – but managed to accomplish an awful lot. For Jobs the ends seemed to justify being mean. As a Christian this is a tangible difference when it comes to the way we react in organisations – the end informs the means – we live for another set of values because we see in the end Jesus wins.
2. Leadership is about joint vision, ownership and responsibility
“A good way to understand a working group is to think of it like a golf team where players go off and play on their own and then get together and add up their scores at the end of the day. A real team is more like a basketball team – one that plays together simultaneously in an interactive, mutually dependent and often interchangeable way. Most working groups reflexively call themselves teams because that’s the word society uses to describe any group of people who affiliate in their work.” p.5
A leadership team works best where there is a genuine sense of shared vision. Sadly in many cases leaders working in a team are only concerned with their own particular department or area and so disengage from team meetings. But developing a core shared vision is vital then leaders would be loyal to the vision and be able to defend the decisions of the leadership team. Lencioni, in my opinion does not spend enough time working out how to develop this shared vision, but he did advocate having more honest team meetings that push hard to try and get to that level of corporate buy in. You don’t have to look far in scripture to see how much emphasis the New Testament writers go to underline a corporate sense of ownership of vision, for example Philippians 1 gives a little taste of this:
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
For Paul this shared vision, unity in the Spirit was vital for the health of the church. In Philippians he pleads with leaders to come together, to agree, to be loyal to eachother as “loyal yokefellow”
3. Meetings Matter
I admit I find some meetings difficult. As an activist I struggle with meetings that I can’t help with , contribute to or learn from. There’s a world out there to be reached, children that need families, churches that need empowering, networks that need to be built, people that need encouraging. So a meeting where I don’t need to be is a tough place to be. Lencioni wants us to have more meetings, which was a downside to his book when I first came across it. But he wants more meaningful meetings. One aspect I was challenged by, was the need to have meetings where there is deliberate pursuit of consensus. This stops the temptation of phasing out of a meeting because there is a corporate sense of responsibilty for any decisions made – Lencioni argues that:
‘A good way to ensure that people take this process seriously is to demand that they go back to their teams after the meeting and communicate exactly what has been agreed on.’ p.184
Reporting back is one thing but elsewhere in the book he argues for the need for loyalty as a team and so you would need to go back and actually “defend” the decisions made by the team. I guess that would force us to really work at consensus in a meeting.
4. How to End a Meeting
“At the end of every meeting, cohesive teams must take a few minutes to ensure that everyone sitting around the table is walking away with the same understanding about what has been agreed to and what they have committed to do. Unfortunately people are usually eager to leave the room when a meeting is coming to a close and so they are more than susceptible to tolerating a little ambiguity. That’s why functional teams maintain the discipline to renew their commitments and stick around long enough to clarify everything that isn’t crystal clear. ” p.51
This is a really important idea and one that I am going to try and put into practice more often.
5. How to do conflict
“When there is trust, conflict becomes nothing but the pursuit of truth and attempt to find the best possible answer. It is not only OK but desirable. Conflict without trust however is politics, an attempt to manipulate others in order to win an argument regardless of the truth……Overcoming the tendency to run from discomfort is one of the most important requirements of any leadership team – in fact, for any leader.’” p.38
I have been in too many teams where conflict is seen as disloyalty, or where the leader is too insecure to allow anyone to challenge their views. I am sure I have been like that as a leader myself on occasion. A mark of a truly great team is one that works through conflict rather than run away from it.
There was a lot of sense in Lencioni’s book – some of it is common sense – but sadly not common enough in practice. What do you make of it?