The Fuzziness of a Healthy Team

Clarity is often king in organizational dynamics. Clear communication is vital for healthy teams. A huge part of my job as a leader is to help people understand our vision and where we are going next to try to realize it (as well as I know at the time).

While this is true there is a paradox when it comes to clarity and organizational health.

Some things are actually fuzzy on a healthy team. Indistinct. Muddled. Unclear.

As strange as that seems in an age of instant and constant information it’s actually healthy.

Let me give some examples.

Here are 3 areas of fuzziness on a healthy team:

The lines of authority are blurred

In some of the healthiest organizations I know, the organizational chart doesn’t matter as much in accomplishing the vision. It’s often fuzzy in regards to who is in charge. One person doesn’t have all the ideas answers. Everyone has an equally important role to play, and while everyone knows what is expected of them, who is “in charge” is determined by what is being attempted at the time. Leadership often depends on the task. People lead based on their passions and gifting, more than because of their position or title. And, titles and positions can change as needed to fit current challenges and opportunities.

There aren’t a lot of burdensome rules

Obviously an organization needs structure. Rules have to be in place. But, on healthy teams, rules are designed to enhance, not limit growth. Rules help keep people empowered not controlled – and likely there are fewer of them. Bureaucracy diminishes progress and frustrates the team. Granted, this fuzziness can produce a lot of gray areas, which can even be messy at times, but removing all the hard lines around people promotes their individual creativity and encourages innovation for the team.

Some things are subject to change quickly

Certain things like vision and values are concrete. They aren’t changeable. In a healthy environment, however, methods of accomplishing the vision are always held loosely. There is no sense of ownership or entitlement to a way of doing things. As needs change, the team can quickly adapt without a ton of push back and resistance. Admittedly, this can cause some uneasiness for those who favor structure. That’s where the fuzziness can get uncomfortable, but the team has an attitude of unity, so even people more resistant to change can embrace it.

I am certainly not promoting fuzziness. I would still aim for clarity – whenever possible. Even in times of uncertainty some things, such as the values which drive the team should be clear. But, just as life is often full of unknowns – even messy – so is life on a healthy team. Figuring out how to navigate through these times and keep the team moving forward together is a part of good leadership.

A Leadership Quandary: To Change or Not to Change

I love continual improvement. I am one of those who actually enjoys change. If things stay the same too long I get bored and begin looking for a new challenge. I even stir things for fun sometimes – just to keep life interesting around me. (This is not always a positive characteristic. Ask my wife.)

Personality aside, however, the truth is not everyjthing needs to be tweaked. Some things are probably working okay, achieving great success, and are best left alone for the time being. Change for the sake of change sake is not always good. When Momma said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and the other cliché about “the grass is always greener”, she was speaking from some life experience.

There is a fine line between making things better and messing things up. One of the great challenges for the leader is carefully considering the balance intention between instigating change for the good of the organization or team and allowing progress to continue without interference.

Determining when to make change and when to leave things the same is one of the most delicate decisions of leadership, but I know one thing for sure:

It’s working” should also never be the primary reason to avoid change, either.

It could be a reason. But, it should not be the fallback reason or used as an excuse not to change.

There are some indicators change could be needed. A few might be:

  • When energy is starting to wane with the status quo
  • When potentially damaging variables are beginning to impact the organization
  • When change can result in greater efficiency or realization of the organization’s mission
  • When it is clear a change will be needed soon to remain competitive or relevant

Organizations and teams need change. (Churches are included here.)

Change keeps momentum going. At times change is needed simply to build a culture of change. And, you often discover something wonderful you would have never discovered without change.

I am always reminded leaders want to be in environments of change. Leaders are most comfortable when they can explore, take risks, and keep things stirring. There’s a reason marketers are always changing things – it’s not just leaders who want change – people tend to like change too, even when they don’t think they do. (Apple has made a fortune knowing this.)

Sometimes a little change, even a little drama, will motivate a team into action.

There is an example which illustrates a change principle of organizational dynamics.

You’ve seen it happen many times. Your ball team is behind in the game. The referee makes what you and the rest of your team’s fans believe is a bad call. It energizes the crowd and the team and helps spur your team on to victory.

If things are becoming dull or routine in your organization, as the leader you may need to stir up some change, even if it seems disruptive at the time. There are times to change just for the sake of creating more energy. This doesn’t mean you change your overall vision and your attempt should be to make a positive change, but if things are stagnating some change may be needed. It would almost be better to have a change that didn’t work than to allow things continue at a standstill.

So while change isn’t always necessary, “it’s working” shouldn’t keep you from considering change either.

Which makes the decision of when to change that much more difficult, doesn’t it? I almost need a default zone for when to make change and when to leave things alone.

One rule of thumb for me: If there hasn’t been any change recently – chances are good it’s time.

The Life of an Idea on a Healthy Team

Healthy teams allow every idea a chance to live. At initial thought, there are no bad ideas.

The healthiest teams don’t contain a built in idea killer. And, if there is one they aren’t allowed to remain so for long.

Ideas need a chance to breathe. They need to be stretched and prodded and examined. The best ideas sometimes come from what started as a seemingly really bad idea. Genius ideas are often killed before they have a chance to develop into their greatness.

That’s why healthy teams have freedom and regularly:

  • Brainstorm
  • Analyze
  • Test drive
  • Push back
  • Critique
  • Debate
  • Challenge
  • Collaborate 
  • Dialogue 
  • Listen
  • Discuss 

Every. Single. Idea. 

Healthy teams remain open-minded about an idea until it’s proven to be a bad idea.

It doesn’t have to be a long process. It could be a short process.

But, healthy teams give every idea a chance to live.

That is because healthy teams know there is value in the collection of ideas on a team.

Leader, next time your team gets together open the floor of discussion to ideas. Let everyone put ALL their ideas on the table, with no fear of embarrassment or retribution. Watch for collective brilliance to develop .

Have you ever worked with an idea killer? How did it impact the team?

Determining How Fast or Slow To Make Decisions as a Leader

As leaders, we constantly have to make decisions. Every day there are countless decisions made, which impact or teams and mission. Good leaders understand the ramifications of decision-making and learn to use this power wisely.

In my experience, usually there are two immediate considerations when I am presented with the the opportunity to make a decision – fast or slow. Is this something I can or need to decide quickly or is it something for which we should proceed cautiously? Some decisions can (and should) be arbitrary decisions – decisions made very quickly. Others need to be calculated decisions – decisions made much slower. Growing to understand which type of decision-making to use at a given time will help you make better decisions and ultimately be a better leader.

According to dictionary.com, Arbitrary is based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system

Calculated is done with full awareness of the likely consequences; carefully planned or intended

I know leaders who have made very quick, instant, arbitrary decisions only to grow to regret them. (This leader being one.)

I know others, again including this one, who took too long to make a calculated decision and the delay was costly.

Here are 7 examples of thoughts which go into each type decision-making process:

Faster decisions:

  • There is a serious and immediate threat or danger to people or the organization
  • The perceived impact has a limited lifespan or is easily reversible
  • The decision has a low cost or investment
  • When the decision-maker is the implementer (this is a huge one in delegation)
  • I have a sure “gut” about it, it’s a “no brainer”
  • The same decision has been made many times
  • We are doing an “experiment” attached to a set time

While this is not a checklist, using some of those type parameters, I weigh my options and try to make decisions as quickly as possible, knowing there will be another decision which needs to be made soon.

And, then, sometimes, even though we can be overwhelmed with the amount of decisions needed, sometimes we simply need to take our time.

Slower decisions:

  • No serious threat exists to people or the organization – you don’t have to do this.
  • There are longer-term implications – we will have to live with this a while
  • Higher cost and greater human investment
  • When other people will have to be the implementers – it impacts others more than the decision-maker
  • When my gut isn’t at peace and I have no clear conviction
  • The decision has been made very few times, if ever
  • I haven’t consulted with a collection of wise voices – and there is time to do so

These are not foolproof and this is not an exhaustive lists in making decisions. Often we can make excuses to delay responding when in reality we know we need to make a decision. Other times we move so fast we never consider the impact on other people – people who have to live with the consequences of our decision. The main idea here is all decisions can’t be made at the same pace. Sometimes we move fast, with a very arbritrary decision. Sometimes we need to be very calculated in our response. Next time you have to make a decision, consider which method you should use for the occasion.

Do you see the difference in the two?

I should note, if God has made the answer clear you don’t need this post. Simply obey.

The One Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint

It would be difficult to be in leadership and not have people upset with a decision you made at some point. In fact, with every decision comes a variety of responses. Leadership guides people places they’ve never been before, so leading always involves change. Change of any kind stirs an emotion, which can be positive or negative. The more the change is uncomfortable the more negative the response may be.

So, receiving complaints or criticism is not a rarity in leadership. It comes with the position. But, there is a question I try to ask every time someone complains to me.

This question is powerful in determining how I will respond.

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is the complaint individual or representative?

In other words:

  • Is it one person with a problem or are there multiple people with the same problem, but I’m only hearing from one?
  • Does this complaint represent one person’s opinion or is it representative of a larger number of people?
  • Is it a personal issue to or a public issue to multiples?

The answer is critical to me before I respond.

It doesn’t mean I don’t need to pay attention to the one complainer. Their point may be valuable. They may see something I can’t see. I need their input. And, I listen to them. (I think good listening and responsiveness is part of good leadership.)

But, I also know I can’t please everyone. Some individuals are simply going to disagree with the way I do something. And, some people simply don’t like any change. And, if it’s just one person’s complaint I can listen, we can talk, we can agree to agree or disagree, and we can move forward. I know where I stand with them. 

But, while I listen and respond even to individual criticism, when there is a growing tension among a larger group of people, I know the issue demands even more intentionality.
It may or may not alter my response. Leaders shouldn’t lead to be popular. They lead to do the right thing. We don’t lead alone, but after we’ve done all we can to include others and the decision has been made, we move forward.

But, when a larger group are upset about change it will likely alter the intensity of my response.

I’ve learned when a larger number have the same complaint or criticism, even if we certain about the change, the damage done to the perception of my leadership may disrupt all the other good we are trying to do.

In those cases where the criticism is widespread often its for a few reasons. People don’t understand, because they don’t fully understand why. People haven’t felt included along the way. Or, frankly, some people simply don’t like change and will rebel against it regardless. When I realize the complaint from an individual is representative, I can talk to more people to figure out the root of the problem. I can tell the vision (for the change) more often and tell it in more ways and in more places to help people understand the why behind the change. (Zig Ziglar told me years ago, “When people understand the why they aren’t as concerned with the what.”)

Finally, when I know there are more people involved I can monitor people’s perceptions closer. I’m no longer wondering how one person feels, but I know I have a larger group to track with through the change. (And, again, not to make them happy, but to help them through the process of change.)

Individual or representative? Knowing the difference is huge.

Are You a Better Leader or Manager?

Self-evaluation is good here

Are you more of a leader or a manager?

This may be one of the most important questions we have to answer as our careers take us to new roles.

Every organization needs both. There is no shame in either answer, but it’s important we know the difference. We need to figure out which one we do best and then try to arrange our career where we can realize our best potential.

There are lots of descriptions of each role. I’ve written about it numerous times. And, I understand some argue they are the same. But, I simply don’t believe it.

In the book “Reviewing Leadership”, the authors Banks and Ledbetter write, “Leadership and management are two distinct yet related systems of action. They are similar in that each involves influence as a way to move ideas forward, and both involve working with people. Both are also concerned with end results. Yet the overriding functions of leadership and management are distinct. Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive. More chaos demands more management, and more change always demands more leadership. In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadershp is to produce change and movement.”

I think that’s a great summary of the differences between leadership and management for organizations and individuals to consider.

Too many times we ask good managers to be great leaders or good leaders to be great managers. The problem with being in the wrong fit is we tend to burn out more quickly when we are not able to live out our giftedness. In addition, we frustrate the people we are supposed to be leading or managing and ultimately we keep the organization from being the best it can be.

Do a self-evaluation of which you are more skilled at doing.

Are you a better leader or a better manager?

Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Through experience I’ve learned I identify with one of these roles more than the other. One description fires me up and the other drains me. (Can you guess which one fires me up?) One comes more naturally for me and the other I struggle to learn – and attempt to delegate when possible.

What about you? Are you in your proper fit? Do you see the difference?

How You’re Perceived as a Leader May Be More Important

Than how you lead

I have learned how your team sees you may be more important than who you are as a leader. The perception people have about you matters greatly

Obviously, character is most important. Integrity matters even more than perception.

You’ll often be misunderstood and you can’t please everyone. In fact, somedays, as a leader – it seems – you can’t please anyone.

So I’d rather know my character is genuine, be loved most by those who know me best, than to be perceived one way, yet actually be someone different in reality. I don’t care about a false perception.

The reality of the success of a leader, however, may depend more on how you are viewed by the people you lead than it does on what you do as a leader. I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the two are not always the same.

  • Do they see you more as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
  • Do they see you more as a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
  • Do they see you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
  • Do they see you as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
  • Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
  • Do they think you have their best interest ahead of your  own?
  • Do they genuinely believe your heart is fully committed to the team?

Much of your success as a leader will depend on the perception you create among the people you attempt to lead. They will follow closer when their perception of you is for them more than for you – or against them. Of course, perception is created by how you lead, but sometimes – just as vision does – perception leaks. And, people form perceptions regardless of whether or not you do anything. Perceptions may or may not be reality. I must be keenly aware of this principle, so by my words and deeds I can be even more intentional to build my perception in their mind.

Candidly. I’ve seen this go in seasons in my leadership. I’ve often had to reinforce my perception in their minds. It could be after a busy or stressful time, when their is tension on the team, or during times of change. They need to perceive I’m still the leader they want to follow.

If you’re still trying to get your mind around my thoughts, here is an example. We recently made some rather significant changes to our organizational structure. It will mean fewer people report directly to me. When we announced the changes I reiterated my open door policy and availability to our staff will continue. For people who work with me long they have learned this is how I lead. But, human nature kicks in for all of us. And, change evokes an emotional response – which helps shape people’s perceptions. I wlll need to take intentional actions in the weeks ahead to make sure the perception of my leadership is as strong as my actual leadership.

Have you ever known a leader who thought he or she was doing better than the team thought?

Don’t Address the HOW until you Address the WHAT

A principle of leadership

I’ve seen it many times.

You have an idea – it’s not a bad idea – it may even be a great idea. You just don’t know yet. As soon as you present the idea the team instantly starts to ask tons of question, begin implementing the plan, and gets bogged down in details.

And, then, after time of discussion – sometimes hours – the team decides its not a good idea after all.

Here’s my advice. I use this with the teams I lead.

Spend your energies at first on deciding whether it’s an idea worth pursuing.

The what.

The what is “what” you are going to do. The current dream you have moving forward. The overall objective. The big picture of what’s next.

Decide the what before you spend a lot of energy on the mechanics of the idea.

The how.

The how is how you are going to do the what. These are the details. The nitty gritty working plan. You may have to talk about some of the how to decide the what, but spend your first, best and most energy on the what.

For example, let’s say you have an idea to add a third church service to allow for more growth – or maybe you are thinking of going multi-site – or the idea could be to plant another church. Don’t spend too much time on the how, until you decide the what.

Ask hard questions such as: Is this an idea worth pursuing? Are we willing to give it a try? Has this been birthed in prayer? Do we believe this is something we are supposed to do?

Yes or no?  

Spending too much time on the how before you address the what:

  • Gets you bogged down in details you may never need.
  • Wastes energy which could be used elsewhere if you aren’t going to do the what.
  • Solves problems you don’t yet and may never have.
  • Creates division about change prematurely.
  • Builds momentum before it’s time. (And, it’s harder to build momentum a second time.

When you know you’re going to do the what – you have to, you’re called to, it’s what or bust – you’ll figure out the how. You’ll find a way to make it happen. You’ll have more passion, clarity and energy to address the how.

Try that next time an idea surfaces and is discussed by your team.

Note: This is assuming, of course, you already know your “why” as an organization. You know why you are doing whatever you are doing. This post addresses a more specific aspect of realizing the vision. If you don’t yet have the why – start there.

How Leaders Encourage Cooperation on a Team

Leader, do you want people to cooperate on the team you lead? Do you want people to get along, support one another, and join forces to achieve the vision?

Of course you do. All leaders want their teams to cooperate. It builds stronger teams when people aren’t on islands to themselves.

How do great leaders encourage cooperation?

I can help you with one quick tip. Let people collaborate. It’s that easy – and powerful. 

Collaboration leads to Cooperation

Cooperation rocks in organizational health!

Cooperation brings:

  • Collective buy-in
  • A sense of ownership and empowerment
  • Less petty arguments
  • Lower resistance to change
  • More passion towards the vision
  • Shared workload
  • Fewer cases of burnout

What leader doesn’t appreciate those things?

When you are leading a team, the more you collaborate with your team, and let them collaborate with others – during the planning process and before the final decisions are made – the more cooperation you’ll receive from your team during the implementation process. 

Let people participate in brainstorming. Give them a voice in the way things will be done. Allow them to ask questions and even offer pushback.

Of course, you can’t collaborate on every decision. One of the reasons you are leader is to make big picture, strategic decisions. You often have a vision others can’t immediately see until you lead them there. 

Whenever a decision, however, impacts other people, especially if it:

  • Impacts how they do their work.
  • Changes the basic nature of what they do.
  • Significantly impacts the future of the team or organization.

In those type situations, I suggest you allow collaboration, because it always brings better cooperation from the team. (By the way, in the church, this is true of paid staff or volunteers.)

In fact, the opposite can be equally true. A lack of collaboration naturally brings a lack of cooperation. People will resist the change. They will be less enthusiastic about the outcome. They will wait for instruction rather than take initiative on their own.

As leaders, we must learn to collaborate better –  so our teams can learn to cooperate better.

How have you seen this principle work or the opposite effect occur in a team’s health? Help us learn from your experience.

The Number One Principle for Attracting Leaders

This is true in church revitalization

One thing I learned very quickly in church revitalization, which I already knew from other experiences, is many times entrepreneurial type leaders disappear when things aren’t working well. People who like big visions don’t hang around when the church is holding on to status quo. If the church wants to argue about paint color real leaders will find another place to attend. They aren’t as interested in the maintenance mode of organizational life. Consequently, we had fewer small business owners, CEO-types, and civic or community leaders.

This is true in attracting new staff members also. The ones you often need to turn things around – innovative, creative, energetic, visionary, leaders – are hesitant to come to a plateaued or declining church.

One frequent question I receive from those trying to do church revitalization is how they can attract new leaders.

Great question.

I have a simple solution. This is the number one principle, in my opinion, for attracting leaders.

Give them a problem to solve.

Hand out visions more than you hand out tasks. Tell them where you want to go, but let them know you haven’t yet figured out how to get there.

If the answer is already found, you can hire a manager for the job – and you’ll likely want and need a good one. You’ll have other problems to solve and a good manager can free you up to lead.

But, to attract a leader…

Help them see a need – give them some freedom to find a solution – give them support, as needed, but get out of the way. Let them go.

Leaders seek opportunities to lead.

Challenge, opportunity, problems,something everyone says can’t be done — Those type environments fuel a leader’s energy. It’s what attracts a leader to your team.

Are you in an environment which attracts leaders? What do you think makes it so?