How to Achieve Meaningful Cooperation in Your Congregation

How to Achieve Meaningful Cooperation in Your Congregation

Imagine this scenario: A congregation’s Council meets and the Board of Elders proposes a special musical evening service, intended to reach the non-churched. The President’s response might be, “Great! Do it!” and then he moves on to other business.

Later, the music director, who wasn’t at the meeting, objects because he’s responsible for all musical programs and wasn’t consulted. Other questions arise: Is the date clear? What about the sanctuary? Who will provide for publicity? Take care of refreshments? Do set-up and clean-up? Follow up with attendees? Will we need ushers? Will we take offering – or not? Will there be a pastoral message? Should there be additional meetings to ensure coordination?

What Now?

Answers to these questions need to be provided by all of the “stakeholders,” that is: Elders, Communications, Stewardship, Sunday school, Choir, Outreach, and possibly others.

The Parish Council president must recognize all of the contributions required from every board, and initiate the necessary discussion(s) and cooperation required before moving to another topic.

The above example is quite simple when compared with topics like increasing outreach, or budgets, or staffing, etc. Does this remind you of your own congregation?

The Solution

So what is the solution for such a disconnect between departments? Enter the notion of “cross-functional teams.”

In many (most?) multi-department organizations there is a tendency to favor and protect one’s department (or “turf”) against encroachment by other departments. This may be driven by personal reward, vanity, a “not-invented here” attitude, or similar motives. A likely outcome, however, is that the lack of inter-departmental cooperation impedes, delays, and even destroys any program or project that crosses inter-departmental lines.

For decades this has been a problem in industry; individual departments have been labeled “chimneys,” (also referred to as “silos”). The result often is that meaningful cooperation is not achieved unless a problem is pushed up the organizational hierarchy until upper-level managers broker an agreement. At a minimum, this takes time and may have other negative impacts. My employer’s answer was to organize special teams comprised of personnel from all affected departments, dedicated first to the team and secondly to their department; this was literally a new paradigm.

A New Paradigm

I learned about cross-functional teams some 55 years ago as a naval officer. The best example was when our ship received her “sailing orders” for an impending operation. The captain called the entire wardroom together. When the operational objective(s) had been defined, he went around the table asking if each department was prepared, or what still needed to be made ready: Did each officer thoroughly understand what was required of his department? Did we have all the key personnel? Necessary training? Spare parts? Was all the ship’s equipment operating at peak efficiency? Ad infinitum.

Any organization comprised of multiple departments could benefit from cross-functional teams. And this certainly includes Lutheran congregations.

So who needs a “Cross-functional Team?” Answer: Your congregation does!

Photo (c) Ondine32/iStock

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