Collaboration Meets Complexity: Review and Lessons from “Team of Teams”

Since reading Jonathan Sullivan’s free eBook, “17 Books Every Catholic Leader Should Read,” I’ve been extra-motivated to take a second look at many of the non-church-related leadership and management books I’ve encountered over the years and ask, what does this say to us as church leaders? Because I teach leadership (for the Army, in a public university) it’s all too easy for me to quickly glimpse over opportunities for integration between my work and life as a Christian, and so I’m (to use Sullivan’s phrase) aspiring to shape my imagination by seeking to be ever-more integrative in this regard.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I picked out Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General (Retired) Stanley McChrystal (+Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell).

The Main Point

McChrystal and his team argue that in today’s rapidly evolving, complex world, organizers will be most successful when leaders give small groups the freedom to experiment, while cultivating shared consciousness, information, and awareness across the entire organization.

Recommended Reading for Catholic Leaders? Maybe

Because I served in Afghanistan and Iraq during some of the time periods that McChrystal draws examples from, I found the backdrop-of-foreign-policy aspects of the book quite engaging. However, while the organizational leadership and management ideas in this book are innovative, challenging, and certainly useful for many in ministry, I think the high proportion of detailed examples from military operations, history, and business could be a bit overwhelming and/or distracting for those looking for more of a pure focus on organizational effectiveness (i.e. Patrick Lencioni‘s books) or anecdotes with a broader appeal (i.e. Heifetz and Linsky’s Leadership on the Line, which made Sullivan’s 17 Books list). I wouldn’t give this book a general recommendation as a leadership read, unless you’re also a person who also enjoys historical and foreign policy reading as well. However, this book would also be a good fit if you’ve read a few more generic leadership/management books and are looking for something a bit different to give some concrete techniques and tactics to the broad idea of collaboration.

Mixed recommendation for reading aside, what were some of the leadership and management lessons uniquely presented in Team of Teams and especially relevant to pastoral ministry?

Take-Away #1 — A Team of Teams Fosters Collaboration

First, let’s get to the basic definition of a “team of teams.” A team of teams is a way of thinking of organizational structure. Typical organizations (i.e. parishes, ministries, etc.) often think of their organizational structure as something like this:

CommandOrgChart
Illustrations by Relajaelcoco, via FastCompany

We might call this a “command” or “hierarchical” organizational structure (not to be confused with the theological meaning of hierarchy as sacred order). In an organization that operates this way, the primary relationships, pathways of concern, shared visions, and communications are between subordinates and supervisors. This might be a relationship of employment or a volunteer-relationship, depending on your parish/ministry setting. The problem with an organization that operates this way is that it can create silos and prevent the necessary inter-connectivity and “shared consciousness” between different parts of the organization–i.e. between the evangelization committee and the Knights of Columbus in a parish.

TeamOrg

TeamofTeams

It’s not about everyone knowing everyone else, but knowing someone on every other team–no silos, no implied rivalry or competition for the pastor’s attention, no judgement on the worth of another volunteer leader’s focus in ministry, etc.

It’s also not anarchy. As McChrystal writes:

“The Task Force still had ranks and each member was still assigned a particular team and sub-sub-command, but we all understood that we were not part of a network; when we visualized our own force on the whiteboards, it took the form of webs and nodes, not tiers and silos” (251).

Take-Away #2 — Stop Blaming and Changing all the Wrong Things

Leadership requires change. Why? Because to lead is to have a vision–a vision of a future different than the present. To move towards this vision, an organization must change. But oftentimes organizations (ministries and churches included!) start by changing all the wrong things. Tactics, technology, programs, processes, curricula…you name it. But, ultimately these changes won’t have the desired impact unless there’s a cultural change within the organization when it comes to the “approach to management” (32).

Reflecting on the Joint Task Force he led, McChrystal explains:

“The Task Force had built systems that were very good at doing things right, but too inflexible to do the right thing” (81).

Hmm. This fits a lot parishes/ministries–tried and true systems and processes that do what they were designed to do very effectively, but too inflexible to change to meet our new and current circumstances. As Fr. James Mallon observed in Divine Renovation, almost everything about the sacramental system/religious education program in his parish was an effective system, but effective for a different era, for different conditions.

You can have a good system that does the wrong thing. Or, a good system that’s doing the right thing right now, but can’t possibly adapt fast enough to retain value.

There’s a challenge in making these kind of big internal changes when it comes to how we manage or organizational culture. McChrystal writes:

“There’s a temptation for all of us to blame failures on factors outside our control: ‘the enemy was ten feet tall,’ ‘we weren’t treated fairly,’ or ‘it was an impossible task to begin with.’ There is also comfort in ‘doubling down’ on proven processes, regardless of their efficacy. Few of us are criticized if we faithfully do what has worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be our measure of success” (8).

We see this a lot in church leadership. Implicitly or explicitly blaming secular culture, parents who won’t bring children to faith formation, diocesan policies, Biblical literacy of parish adults, etc. While there is a healthy place for acknowledging that we can’t change the setting we minister in when it comes to cultural forces or the environment, this shouldn’t be an excuse that distracts us from adapting as leaders and managers in ministry.

Take-Away #3 — Collaboration is a Day-to-Day Reality

Team of Teams offers a mini case study on US Airways Flight 1549 (Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landing unpowered plane in Hudson River…) After the event, analysts concluded that while the “crew’s technical training had been completely irrelevant to the solution they achieved…it was their interactive adaptability…that proved crucial.” “US Airways 1549 was saved not by one mind, but by the ability of the captain, the first officer, and the flight crew to come together and pull toward a common goal” “quickly” “almost intuitively in a close-knit fashion” since “because of time constraints, they could not discuss every part of the decision process” (111).

As Br. Loughlan Sofield and Sr. Carroll Juliano note in Collaboration: Uniting Our Gifts in Ministry, it’s common in Catholic ministry for “collaboration” to be pushed during pastoral planning or major decision-making, but then all but forgotten in the day-to-day reality of ministry.

To work together quickly and intuitively in a close-knit fashion–this is the real fruit of collaboration. But it can’t be pulled out for an emergency if it doesn’t exist in the day-to-day. McChyrstal describes how daily office operations changed to build this shared consciousness, for example:

  • using “cc” line of e-mails liberally “whenever it seemed that even the second- or third-order consequence of the operation discussed might impact them” (163)
  • taking lots of calls on speakerphone–even when it made others uncomfortable or surprised them (163)

Are we able to almost instinctively work closely together in day-to-day ministry? Do I understand what’s going on with other teams/departments? There are signs of collaboration.

Take-Away #3 — Leader as Gardener

McChrystal describes his uncomfortable transition from a self-image of “heroic leader” to “humble gardener” (225).

He writes:

As a leader, “I needed to shift my focus fro moving pieces on the board to shaping the ecosystem. Paradoxically, at exactly the time when I had the capability to make more decisions, my intuition told me I had to make fewer. At first it felt awkward to delegate decisions to subordinates that were technically possible for me to make “(226).

To be a leader doesn’t mean you must make every decision and seek to wield more and more authority–powerful leadership also comes from enabling others. A multiplier effect. [Again, I was amazed at how relevant these concepts were to collaboration in ministry!]

McChrystal explains:

“If the garden is well organized and adequately maintained, and the vegetables are promptly harvested when ripe, the product is pretty impressive. The gardener creates an environment in which the plants can flourish. The work done up front, and vigilant maintenance, allow the plants to grow individually, all at the same time…I began to view effective leadership in the new environment as more akin to gardening than chess…nurturing the organization..to enable the subordinate components to function with ‘smart autonomy’…as in a garden, the outcome was less dependent on the initial planting than on consistent maintenance. Watering, weeding, and protecting plants from rabbits and disease are essential for success. The gardener cannot actually ‘grow’ tomatoes, squash, or beans–she can only foster an environment in which the plants do so…Creating and maintaining the teamwork conditions we needed–tending the garden–became my primary responsibility…I found that only the senior leader could drive the operating rhythm, transparency, and cross-functional cooperation we needed. I could shape the culture and demand the ongoing conversation that shared consciousness required” (225-226).

This is where the rubber meets the road in many church organizations–only the senior leader can set the tone to make a collaborative organizational culture a reality. [Which brings us back to #2…stop blaming and change the right things…]

Take-Away #4 — Trust and Common Purpose. Trust First.

This diagram comes at the end of Team of Teams. For it to make sense, order matters.

Source: GoogleBooks preview (p. 245)
Source: GoogleBooks preview (p. 245)

It starts in the center–with trust and common purpose. This reminds me of Patrick Lencioni’s emphasis on trust as the foundation of organizational health. If leaders and teams can’t trust each other in ministry, then that’s the first step, period. Out of a healthy organization comes (looking to the right side of the diagram) empowered execution–when individuals know that their leaders trust them, provide the resources, guidance, and freedom to do good (and occasionally fail!)–and shared consciousness–knowing what’s important beyond one’s own team. An organization that operates with these two characteristics has demonstrated adaptability. And, adaptability is what enables an organization to act with the speed and multi-dimensional approaches necessary for today’s complex challenges.

As I reflect on this, I see a connection to how many parishes/ministries have approached the New Evangelization–treating it as a program or static “problem” that can be analyzed and planned well in advance and executed by a small group of individuals. But, the call for a New Evangelization is certainly evidence of complexity in today’s cultural and religious environment. In many cases, a “team of teams” approach is greatly needed in order to break down silos, improve the speed of change, and re-build the trust that all missionary disciples must have to truly be free to labor most fully and fruitfully in the vineyard.

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Praying Exorcisms. Huh?

Contrary to popular Hollywood portrayals, the season of exorcisms isn’t centered on Halloween—it’s right now, happening at a parish near you, this Lent.

Even though I grew up going to Mass every Sunday, by the time I was in high school I still had no idea what was going on up there near the altar with all this “extra stuff” during Lent. All I knew was that it had something to do with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) and it seemed to make Mass last longer (something people liked to complain about).

But, oh was I missing out! These extra prayers and fuss were all part of the period of purification and enlightenment for the elect—those preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil.

This period includes scrutinies, solemnly celebrated on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. The scrutinies, which include the rite of exorcism, are designed to aid in uncovering, and then healing, “all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect,” and at the same time strengthen and promote “all that is upright, strong, and good,” deepening the commitment of the elect to “hold fast to Christ and carry out their decision to love God above all” (RCIA, no. 141).

I know what you’re thinking (or at least what the high-school version of me would have been thinking), “That’s nice for the elect,” but what about me?

Here’s where our liturgy gets pretty awesome—Lent isn’t just about preparation for the reception of baptism, but also a time of spiritual recollection of our own baptism and participation in the paschal mystery.  Think of it as an annual, mini-retreat during Mass—a time to examine how each of us has been purified and enlightened by Jesus Christ’s saving power, over and over, as we experience deeper conversion throughout our years.

What might this look like, week-by-week? I offer the following suggestions, based on our Church’s rites to spur each of our recollections of our baptism and on-going conversion.

First Scrutiny (Third Sunday of Lent)

Gospel: Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus at the well (John 4:5-42)

Pray and Reflect:

  • When has the Lord, in his mercy and wisdom, touched my heart?
  • How have I drawn near to the fountain of living water, Jesus Christ?
  • Express gratitude for Christ the Living Water.

Second Scrutiny (Fourth Sunday of Lent)

Gospel: Healing of a man born blind (John 9:1-49)

Pray and Reflect:

  • What false values surround and blind me?
  • Am I allowing Christ to heal me?
  • Express gratitude for the Light of Christ.

Third Scrutiny (Fifth Sunday of Lent)

Gospel: Resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-45)

Pray and Reflect:

  • Am I still walking in newness of life in Christ?
  • How am I stepping forth, alive from the tomb, showing the world the power of the risen Christ?
  • Express gratitude to Jesus Christ for defeating death.

This post originally appeared at NewEvangelizers

Ideas for Genuine Inquiry in RCIA via Garry Poole’s “Seeker Small Groups”

In Seeker Small Groups: Engaging Spiritual Seekers in Life Changing Discussions (2003) Garry Poole proposes small groups led by ordinary Christians as the best way to engage and evangelize seekers.

Okay, so what does he mean by seekers? For him seekers=non-Christian, a spiritual seeker, a seeking friend–it’s interchangeable for someone who has not personally received Jesus Christ as forgiver and leader, no matter how far along they are in their spiritual journey (p. 32). The Christian’s goal then, “is to understand a seeker’s perspective and figure out the best ways to challenge that seeker about what it means to know God. And, then prayerfully attempt to give him or her opportunities to receive Jesus Christ as the only means of finding forgiveness and true relationship with God” (p. 33).

A Seeker Small Group (SSG) is 2-12 seekers and 1-2 Christian leaders who meet to discuss the seeker’s spiritual concerns, questions, and issues. What a huge point! The leader doesn’t really set the agenda or decide that the seekers should hear about, say, styles of prayer, the Catechcism, what RCIA is like, etc. [and yes, I know that these things happen during RCIA’s inquiry phase in many parishes]. Poole notes that Christians often spend time answering questions that seeker’s aren’t asking. We just want to share the Good News before even engaging with the seeker’s actual objections, confusion, etc. SSGs are  place to understand the seekers’ past religious experiences, Biblical understanding, spiritual questions, barriers/objections, and places of spiritual blindness (=where the seeker holds a theology that misrepresents Christianity).

Seeker Small Groups get started through relational evangelism. People in the church inviting friends, relatives, co-workers, acquaintances, and the like. Of course, many people hear about Seeker Small Groups on Sunday–but there’s always a bridge of trust. “If we build it, they will come” simply doesn’t work for seekers. We need to build the relationship and interest first–whether trough church events or conversation at a softball game. Churches can establish affinity-based seeker groups (e.g. men, women, neighborhood, etc.), launch them before or after a popular Sunday service, or jump-start many of them through a large weekend event or outreach moment.

My thoughts on how this might translate for Catholic parishes:

1. I think we’d have a much more difficult time convincing/empowering typical parishioners to feel comfortable/competent in leading one of these groups. In principle, any Catholic Christian should be able to facilitate one of these seeker groups and have the basic ability to discuss core, kerygmatic beliefs. Unfortunately, the perception I observe is that most parishioners feel that there’s a tremendous amount of catechetical knowledge that’s essential for them to have before they “lead” any group. But, this misses the point–the seeker is wrestling with core issues, like does God exist? and any Catholic Christian should be able to share with authentic conviction how he/she came to this belief.

2. We’d have a different theology of who is a seeker. We wouldn’t call a “seeker” synonymous with “non-Christian,” since for us, seeker would also likely include many of the baptized who have drifted away or not responded to their baptismal vocation. We’d likely have many seekers who consider themselves “cultural Catholics.” This is all okay–just something to be aware of when reading Poole’s book.

3. Seeker Small Groups could function as a pre-inquiry or inquiry phase for RCIA. The fact that these groups are relatively small and meet for a defined, but short (6 wks or so) length of time means that–bam!–problem of not knowing how to start year-round RCIA is solved. 🙂

4. Poole writes that Seeker Small Groups show that seekers really matter (p. 34). Seekers matter to God, so they should matter to our parishes. When I think about typical parish offerings–eh, there’s not always a place set aside for seekers. We need to to that, instead of expecting seekers to conform to our ideas of how they should come to know/meet Jesus in the midst of the local parish.

Sound intriguing? Poole’s book is easy to digest and is basically a handbook on how to lead these small groups. I’ll be covering some of the basics in future posts, but if you’re an RCIA leader or involved in adult faith formation–I definitely recommend this book. For me it presented a whole realm of new ideas on how much seekers can actually be engaged through the local church.

 

Discipleship: Intentional and Ecclesial

Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples (2012) talks a lot about the importance of a personal relationship with God. This is definitely rooted in the language of recent popes, and is in no way foreign to Catholic tradition. But is it too much “me and Jesus” spirituality?

I think a clue to how we might productively understand intentional discipleship, the liturgical life of the Church, social justice, and more lies on p. 54 of Forming Intentional Disciples. Without a doubt, I think this is the most underrated passage from this best-selling book 🙂 It’s a lynchpin for properly understanding intentional discipleship in the context of the Church.

The idea is that for every Catholic Christian there are three spiritual journeys, all equally essential. Ideally, they’d occur concurrently or with some overlap. But, our lives as human beings and our responses to God’s grace can get a little messy (to say the least!) and so our job isn’t to “enforce” a certain order, but simply to recognize that all three do need to occur. None of these journeys are optional…

3SpiritualJourneysWeddell

 

 

Now, these three spiritual journeys are going to look different for just about every person. And it’s not just coming to a “yes/no” on a spiritual journey–there are stages, phases, different levels of enthusiasm, etc. The point is, there’s an incompleteness without all three in place.

Forming Intentional Disciples as a book is about digging into the details and function of Spiritual Journey #1, since this is the journey Weddell believes we’re most silent about in our current setting. Spiritual Journey #1 is critically important in our society of seekers, “nones,” and the like. Phrases from Forming Intentional Disciples such as “Spiral of Silence” and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are other ways of saying that Spiritual Journey #1 is the elephant in the room in many parishes and ministries. Overlooked. Not talked about. Not resourced. Not even consciously considered by many.

The sacramental theology presented in Chapter 4 of Forming Intentional Disciples is in one sense, an apologetic towards those who might think that emphasizing Spiritual Journey #1 has nothing to do with Spiritual Journey #2 or #3. The Five Thresholds (the how-to and focus of the second half of the book) are a practical framework for entering into Spiritual Journey #1.

 

Not enough seats at the Easter Vigil? Maybe Add Baptismal Vespers

One of the parishes near me has the glorious problem (but a problem, nonetheless) of not having enough seating for all who want to attend the Easter Vigil. Now first off, I want to say that this is a good problem to have. 🙂 The Easter Vigil is amazing, an awe-inspiring celebration of salvation history and the grace of our salvation in the here and now. It’s sad that in so many parishes it’s not greeted with as much enthusiasm.

But alas, due to the large number of people being baptized at the Vigil at this parish, seating is particularly tough. Seating officially opens one hour before the start of the Vigil and fills up quickly.

Over at PrayTell, I just learned about the idea of a Baptismal Vespers service:

a Vespers service “in which baptism is commemorated by a procession with hymns and prayers to the place where baptisms take place.”

Now this could be a practical way of allowing more of the parish community to participate in the celebration and welcome of the newly Baptized, when the # of seats in the sanctuary simply doesn’t allow all who’d like to be there, to attend. It provides another opportunity for some parish feasting to accentuate the glorious celebration of the Octave of Easter. In many parishes, the uptick in activity during Lent/Holy Week (in terms of liturgy, faith formation, extra communal prayer services, etc.) gives way to this sense of nothingness during the Octave of Easter–but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be!

In short, Baptismal Vespers might be a great option for parishes looking for a way to extend the celebration of Baptism beyond the Easter Vigil. Plus, it’s a good step towards introducing (more widely) the Liturgy of the Hours into parish life.

No More “Sacramental Conveyer Belt”

Insights on Confirmation in parish life. “Discipleship or Bust” says Fr. Peter Dugandzic, aka how to get away from a “sacramental conveyor belt”…

If I am correct, the only way to stop the conveyor belt is to return to the early Church model — one filled with personal witness and encounter. In the initial proclamation of the Gospel, there were no “programs” to be instituted or “standards” to be met. The first criteria was, and still is, Faith in Jesus Christ. The second criteria was, and still is, encounter with Jesus Christ. Both of these criteria were met, and should still be met, through a community of believers on Fire with the Holy Spirit. It is this type of community that a new convert must encounter, and it is this same community that was, and still is, the avenue of encounter with Christ. Such an encounter cannot be measured with objective standards because it is a highly subjective experience. Without a real encounter and subjective conversion, the newly initiated eventually will fall off the conveyor belt at the end, and will most likely never be seen again.

Read more…