What frustrates you the most about your congregation or organization? Is the answer, meetings? Yes! Can I get an, “Amen!” And yet, meetings are an essential part of a successful organization. High functioning leaders contribute to organizational resiliency but so do committees and teams that are flexible and adaptable.
When pressed, clergy will boil down the problem with a committee to one or two problematic people. Clergy falsely assume they can either change the problematic behavior or force individuals off the committee. I do not recommend either approach. The reason is simple. The problem is not in a person but in the relationship system.
Human behavior is predictable. Over time, you can learn to predict how individuals will behave during a meeting. Think for a moment about a committee. Perhaps one that troubles your soul. Imagine sitting at a table with the committee. How does each person behave during the meeting? What do they typically do or say? How do they respond to problems? How do they relate to each other? Who are the people that get along or don’t get along? Now include yourself in the mix. How do you typically respond to each person on the committee? There is a level of predictability regarding behavior.
The emotional process, described above, can hijack the purpose of a committee. Committees are challenging when they fail to do the very thing they are mandated to do: problem solve and take action. While it may seem easier for a leader to make a decision without going through a committee process, current research indicates that the best solutions come not from one person but from groups of people. So, if committees are essential to the life of a congregation, what do you with meetings that are tense and unproductive?
The tension generated in a relationship system (committee, team, task force) is equal to the inflexibility or inability of the system to adapt to a new challenge. If the committee were functioning at a high level and solving problems with ease, the relative tension and anxiety would be low. As tension and anxiety go up in the committee so do the predictable, reactive and automatic responses. Automatic responses are like our “go to” response during a stressful situation. We inherit these responses from the previous generations in our family. They are like multigenerational behavioral patterns. These automatic behavioral patterns become less reliable or useful when tension and anxiety are high. To halt the automatic response, one must engage their thinking brain. Thinking is required if a committee is to become more flexible and adaptable to new challenges.
When a committee seems stuck, it doesn’t mean things are hopeless. Leaders can engage in and promote a way of thinking that fosters flexibility and adaptation. Higher functioning leaders can make a difference. Notice I said, “higher.” One does not need to have a high functional level to be an effective leader. One only needs to function at a level higher than the group. And by “leader,” I mean anyone, not just the chairperson of a committee. Anyone can be a thinking leader when they work on differentiation of self.
Leaders who function at a higher level are good thinkers!
- Leaders pay attention to their level of anxiety.
- Leaders pay attention to the tension in the committee.
- Leaders pay attention to the relationship triangles.
- Leaders work to develop a one to one relationship with each member of the committee.
- Leaders work to separate their feelings from their thinking.
- Leaders work to separate their thinking and feeling from the thinking and feeling of others.
- Leaders disrupt their automatic responses in favor of a more thoughtful response.
- Leaders challenge other people's automatic responses to a problem to either avoid or to panic.
- Leaders make use of the resources available to a committee.
- Leaders focus on facts.
- Leaders articulate to the committee their observations, curiosity and questions.
What questions and observations do you have about the way a committee functions and the part you play in it?