We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
The reason that conflict is so important is that a team cannot achieve commitment without it. People will not actively commit to a decision if they have not had the opportunity to provide input, ask questions, and understand the rationale behind it. Another way to say this is, “If people don’t weigh in, they can’t buy in.”
How often do the elders or staff make a formal decision that is never actually executed? No one follows through because the team didn’t really buy in. They were just too intimidated to disagree.
This is a critical point and needs to be clarified because it should not be misinterpreted as an argument for consensus. When leadership teams wait for consensus before taking action, they usually end up with decisions that are made too late and are mildly disagreeable to everyone. This is a recipe for mediocrity and frustration.
Great teams avoid the consensus trap by embracing a concept that Intel, the legendary microchip manufacturer, calls “disagree and commit.”
Most elders and many a staff will seek consensus. Good. Consensus is great when it happens. But sometimes the effort to gain consensus so delays the decision that a good decision becomes a bad one. Perhaps an opportunity that could have been seized is lost by waiting too long.
Therefore, most elderships have an understanding that every decision will have two votes: the second vote always being unanimous. But as great as this sounds in principle, it’s awfully hard to outvote a dissenting, beloved, and deeply respected elder when there’s no hard deadline forcing that result. And yet delaying a good decision is often just as bad as a bad decision.
Again: it’s important to seek consensus. Good men and women can normally do so. But when consensus isn’t possible within a reasonable timeframe, it’s time to invoke the two-vote rule. And yet … when you’re accustomed to always acting by consensus — because it’s normally easy — it’s awfully hard to take that vote.
Imagine an elders and staff meeting where an important decision about the future of the church is to be made. There’s a serious disagreement. It’s been going on for weeks. Clearly, there are deep differences of opinion that won’t be resolved anytime soon — and yet it’s time for a decision.
When a leader knows that everyone on the team has weighed in and provided every possible perspective needed for a fully informed decision, he can then bring a discussion to a clear and unambiguous close and expect team members to rally around the final decision even if they initially disagreed with it.
In Church of Christ polity, the “leader” or tie breaker is normally not the chair of the meeting but the elders acting as a whole. When consensus can’t be reached with the staff (or deacons or ministry leaders …), the elders make the call. They may have to get into a separate room and take two votes, but ultimately, it’s their call.
The chairman of the elders or the preacher doesn’t get the final call. That’s a decision to be made by the elders as whole.
Now, once the elders have decided, those elders who voted the other way (on just the first vote, of course) and those staff members or deacons who disagreed must follow the decision made. There is a time for discussion and debate and there is a time for execution of decisions made. And when the time for execution comes, debate is over.
Some immature people will attempt to prolong the discussion as a ploy to manipulate a change. By continuing to argue — perhaps very politely — the natural tendency of good, church-going people is to continue to respond to the arguments rather than executing the decision. This is a form of passive-aggression, that is, a means of opposing the group’s decision by delay. In fact, sometimes people will capitulate to a strong-willed team member just to end the argumentation and drama.
The leadership should not allow such tactics. Once the decision is made, the debate must be ended, and the leadership must resist the temptation to engage in continued debate. After all, if debate is allowed, then those responsible to execute the decision will wonder whether they need to do so, since the question remains open. Therefore, the leadership must adamantly resist the temptation to debate, must declare that the decision as been made, and that the time for discussion is over.
Now, if you’ve been outvoted, and you’re a verbal sort of person (and I’ve been there many times), it’s hard to stop arguing. It’s hard to yield to the group. And it’s hard to execute a plan you disagree with. But that’s the essence of Christianity.
True Christians learn to submit and sacrifice. True Christians are humble enough to follow the lead of the elders or the majority — as hard as it sometimes is.