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.
Even well-intentioned members of a team need to be held accountable if a team is going to stick to its decisions and accomplish its goals. In some cases, people will deviate from a plan or a decision knowingly, tempted to do something that is in their individual best interest but not that of the team. In other cases, people will stray without realizing it, getting distracted or caught up in the pushes and pulls of daily work. In either case, it’s the job of the team to call those people out and keep them in line.
Of course, people aren’t going to be willing to do this if they have doubts about whether their peers bought into—really bought into—the decisions that were made. That’s why commitment is so important.
Accountability? For elders? Ministers? Even the preacher? Yes, absolutely. You see, once a team makes a decision, the members of the team have to support it — even, indeed, especially if they disagree.
Passive-aggressive tactics cannot be permitted. Nor may team members be allowed to avoid the team process by going around the team.
For example —
* The fait accompli — such as where a minister introduces an innovation in worship without pre-clearing it with the elders, figuring that forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission. Such ministerial behavior indicates a lack of trust by the minister and failure by the elders (or his supervisor) to hold him accountable. Such tactics should be treated as rank insubordination.
* The slow obedience — where a member obeys but does so so very slowly that the entire process is frustrated. The member always seems to have a higher priority. There’s always some kind of excuse — but no actual submission. Again, such team members aren’t really part of the team and have to be held accountable.
* The convenient failure to remember.
* Insisting on re-arguing (and re-re-arguing) points already decided.
* Doing the task but doing it so poorly that the plan fails.
* Doing the task but speaking ill of the decision or the leadership behind their backs.
* Intentionally misunderstanding the instructions.
* Agreeing to take on a task and delegating to someone else without making sure he does it and does it well — as though your word can be transferred to someone else.
No, whether you’re a fellow elder or staff member or deacon or other committee member, if you are going to have a position of responsibility, you have to genuinely support the team’s decisions, even when you disagree.
Now, the hope is that by being encouraged to participate in the process — “Everyone gets a say; no one gets his way” — everyone buys into the decision and truly supports it. But it doesn’t always happen that way, and in my experience, resistance is rarely upfront and straightforward. It’s almost always passive aggressive — because it’s so much harder to hold the passive-aggressive resister accountable.
But this makes it essential that the leadership hold the passive-aggressive team member accountable — or else he’ll continue to seek to manipulate the team to his ends by such tactics.
The irony of all this is that the only way for a team to develop a true culture of peer-to-peer accountability is for the leader to demonstrate that she is willing to confront difficult situations and hold people accountable herself. That’s right. The leader of the team, though not the primary source of accountability, will always be the ultimate arbiter of it. If she is reluctant to play that role—if she is a wuss who constantly balks when it’s time to call someone on their behavior or performance—then the rest of the team is not going to do their part.
Among the elders, the “leader” is all the other elders. All the elders have to hold each other accountable. No one is exempt.
Now, optimally, accountability is peer to peer. Optimally, the entire team has so bought into the plan that peer pressure holds the group accountable. But ultimately, it’s up to the leaders.
In a staff/elders team, the elders have to hold the staff accountable. The group may choose to give the chair of the meeting that authority, but ultimately it’s the elders who must insist on accountability.
So—and here is the irony—the more comfortable a leader is holding people on a team accountable, the less likely she is to be asked to do so. The less likely she is to confront people, the more she’ll be called on to do it by subordinates who aren’t willing to do her dirty work for her. …
At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant. It is a selfless act, one rooted in a word that I don’t use lightly in a business book: love. To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies.
This is hard. But love is hard. You see, if you want to avoid firing a reluctant staff member or removing a recalcitrant deacon, you have to confront them with their conduct, suffer their reaction, and insist that they change … which is good for the church and good for that person — as very unpleasant as it might be for you.