Who’s Idea Was This Anyway?
The most frequently, delinquently asked leadership question
If you’ve ever led anything, I mean anything, you’ve asked this question. When you have a large leadership reservoir, you keep it internal. When you have moved from one crisis to another in the death march of a bad plan, you ask anyone who will listen. The only problem is that by then it’s too late. The wheels of a subpar product are already in motion. Unfortunately, these wheels are often too heavy and too large to slow down, much less reverse. In the last 15 years of working around leaders within the American church, I have noticed that this necessary question is asked unnecessarily late.
How, as a team, do you go about changing this? I believe the answer rests in understanding the dynamics of team decision-making. Certainly, the trend away from the autocratic, shot-calling Lead Pastor is at breakneck pace. I, for one, couldn’t be happier about this. The men and women leading teams who believe their job is to saunter out of their office from time to time and tell people what to do are an embarrassment to the trade. They should grow up, but that’s another post altogether. With this being the case, leaders who are working with teams must become smarter at working teams. There is perhaps no other place this becomes more evident than in the team-driven decision-making paradigm.
Thankfully, the pattern of decision making among most teams is linear and predictable. Loosely woven or tightly welded, all teams have tendencies. The pattern usually tracks as follows:
B R A I N S T O R M I N G
This is the fun part. This is when a team sits around the table, Apple products open and ready, to voice all the ideas that have been stored up surrounding an event or issue. It’s energizing. And, under the right leadership, can be an extremely effective starting place. Teams love this portion of the decision making process because it’s open, free, and makes them feel heard. At this point, it isn’t about establishing a straight line to a decision. It’s more about walking around it, looking at it from all sides, to ensure that the team has a properly developed understanding of the issue at hand. Once clarity has been established, workable ideas can be thrown into the space. A healthy team (see Lencioni) will then intuitively move into the next phase, Stacking.
S T A C K I N G
Inevitably, a select few ideas and/or solutions will rise to the top in the brainstorming phase. If your team is clear on the mission and vision of the organization, a large percentage of them should be able to identify which of the brainstorming ideas make the cut fairly quickly. As an aside, if your team tends to get stuck in this phase, it’s usually an indicator of a lack of directional clarity. Without a comprehensive understanding of the mission, the methods will always be cloudy. With the top ideas in hand, the stacking starts. Using these ideas as a foundation, each team member will use their personality and gifts to build on them. The idea artisans are an especially helpful presence at this point. They are creative, risk-takers. These two traits make them excellent stackers. They should be allowed to serve as the bridge over which the rest of your team will walk to arrive in the next phase, Adapting.
A D A P T I N G
Although the original thoughts are usually backed with a great deal of personal buy-in from team members, they are rarely the best version of the idea’s intent. This is where adapting comes in. Brainstorming has led to stacking, and stacking has allowed the team to arrive fairly close to a workable solution. Adapting an idea or solution means helping it find its legs in the actual rhythm of the team and organization. Even a great solution will tip the plow if it’s disconnected from the realities surrounding the team. A great deal of care must be exercised here. Because of the time already invested in arriving at this conclusion, team members will most likely easily agree to even the most radical of changes to the rhythm. This will only cause more problems later on. It is especially critical that the team quiet the optimist and adapt the singular solution that matches the larger scale. Once this occurs, the team will now move into the final stage, Adopting.
A D O P T I N G
This phase is defined by team assignments, desired deadlines, and marketing of the idea or solution if necessary. The team disperses in order to implement, over time, what has been decided. There will be, in this phase, individual ownership of the collective solution. However, every team member will not adopt at the same rate. Those with the most ownership in a positive outcome will be the most likely members to carry it through. It’s human nature. Rather than fight this tendency, great leaders will leverage it. The preparation of knowing the makeup of a team is the only way to make this happen. For adoption to take place correctly, leaders must have spent the time required to build a portfolio of relational capital with each member. Then, and only then, will they be able to place the idea in the hands of the correct combination of team members.
So, what about this question: Who’s idea was this anyway?
As with most pivotal questions, the power is in the placement. The correct question at the correct point in the process will save team members hours of frustration in the long-run. Sure, it will mean embarrassment or even tension in the moment, but, when that moment has passed, the entire team will be lighter, not to mention more productive.
Who’s idea was this anyway? This is almost always asked in the adoption phase. As team members begin to implement solutions, they discover problems. Asking it here is too late. Now, no solution is perfect. That would be nice, wouldn’t it?
This big question must be asked in the adaptation phase.
One phase earlier will make a world of difference. Why? Because it’s in that phase that the idea distances itself the most from the original intent. Often, for the sake of creativity and effective problem-solving, the filters of the team become loose. More to the point, the original idea generators get quiet. Instead of speaking up and defending, they often get wrapped up in seeing their idea take on a new life. Usually, they are in the twilight of seeing it make the cut out of brainstorming for just long enough to lose sight of the fact that it’s been adapted too much.
Asking this question causes the entire team to dial back a few steps and walk through the process again with a more narrow focus. This is invaluable. This question, properly placed, will keep a team from walking out on what needs to be addressed in the future. It’s what will keep a team walking back into the decision room time after time to attack even the largest of obstacles. This rework builds the confidence required to implement tough solutions. The leader is the only one who can effectively guide the team through this quick rewind. The attention of the room should shift with this question. It should cause the originator of the idea to speak into where the idea has landed. And, perhaps more importantly, if the landing coordinates with how the idea started.
Leaders must begin to understand that honest feedback and questioning in the moment will result in a higher quality product and the extended tenure of team members. What does an extended tenure provide? Chemistry.
Proximity does not equal chemistry.
You can work in the same building and, as a team, be working in different directions. This is why church buildings are closing and the Church in America is becoming more and more irrelevant to the average person. The teams leading our churches have no chemistry. There has been a longstanding relationship between chemistry and attraction. If you want an attractive church, build a team with chemistry. If you want a team with chemistry, start asking this question more & at the correct time:
Whose idea was this anyway?