Thursday, January 24, 2008

Investing in Leaders

I was recently thinking about the idea of quality vs. quantity as it relates to people. On staff we are always talking about needing more help, but there are certain teams that have lots of staff that produce the same amount as teams with less. 

Another thought that's connected to this is continuity. Is it worth giving up someone who is less skilled but familiar and productive, for a more highly skilled, but less productive and less aligned leader? Most people, including myself, are attracted to skill, but the time and energy it would take to align and develop this person to be as productive as the person I already have may be extremely risky.

Here's a quote from marketing guru Seth Godin that speaks a little to this idea:
"What if you fired half of your workforce? Give the very best people a 50 percent raise and help the rest find jobs in which they can really thrive. Unless you produce a commodity like oil or billiard balls, it's not clear that selling more and more to an even larger audience is the best way to reach the success you seek. When your overhead plummets, the pressure to take on the wrong jobs with the wrong staff disappears. You're free to pick the projects that make you happy."

If we were to allow our overhead (staff labor) to plummet, I wonder if we would not only be more selective and fruitful with our time, but also exponentially increase our productivity. 

Our current Campus Ministry strategy revolves around quantity. Our National team has asked for 100 staff dedicated to our ethnic student ministries by next year. What about 20 highly aligned, highly productive, and highly unified team to take on NY & LA. I wonder if this fantasy team of 20 competed with the team of 100, who would in the end achieve the bottom line goal--more lost students turned into Christ-centered laborers. 

Which team do you think would win? I'm very curious!

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DJ said...

Dude provocative! I dig it. I would probably lean more towards the 20. Interesting...

Paul said...

I don't know much but something tells me the 20 would win. Aren't we always saying it's better to have 10 committed, faithful people than 100 semi faithful luke warm people?

And in selecting leaders are we valuing too much a person's personality and not character? Do we value creativity, spunk, charisma, forcefulness, eloquence, humor etc over integrity, faithfulness, humility, devotion etc? Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on personality but in spiritual leadership I would argue it holds no merit. I think this is something we need to be careful and thoughtful about but I don't know. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Here is Jon Eastwood's response

Good question Brian.

Are your 20 people single, married, married with kids and how many kids? Or does this matter in your proposed question.

It can be a factor potentially.

As the old sage once said (I’ll keep his identity secret) in response to this question,

What’s the biggest barrier in our region raising up more laborers?

“Staff having kids!”

Another thing to consider in your question is the fact that we work in a volunteer organization which creates a sense of entitlement for many of us because we all raise our own support, especially when we are asked to do something we don’t want to do (at least some of us).

What if these 20 people were highly aligned and paid a good salary (probably increasing the level of accountability for results) vs. the 100 who raise support and can pretty much do what they want (to some degree) without much consequence, now THAT would be an interesting comparison.


Shane Deike said...

Are we somehow thinking the 20 or 100 would be on the same team? I think the key might be in pockets of teams doing as they see fit in light of the mission. So, it is not so much that you have 100 in ESM, but that you have 5-7 in a location that will try to do what has not been done before (and do not have to be beholding to any old rules). 100 may mean 15+ teams doing this - then you are on to something.

In fact, If I had 20 in the same location, I would break us up into workable units of 3-7 so that we could move quickly, learn on the fly and create more.

I would also say there is a misnomer between quality and quantity. Often times, it is quantity that leads to quality because you create enough volume so that the best surfaces to top. Think about Rock bands - how do you get the best ones? Have a system that does not train everyone to be a good rock band, but instead, let anybody start a rock band. The best will always naturally surface.

But a bore us with all this typing.

Brian said...

I was thinking 2 teams of 10--now I know 10 sounds like a lot--I've actually never been on a team of 10 except for summer project.

I have never seen a team of under 6 significantly increase critical mass (new leaders, laborers, loot). They may raise up some critical mass, but often cannot retain it because they are spread too thin.

Also, with teams of under 5, it seems easy to 'settle' for the early wins of critical mass, rather than continuing to reinvest the best part of their day/time/energy into generating new resources.

The Way Forward in my mind seems to be about dramatically increasing critical mass. It seems like a team of 10 could efficiently generate AND retain critical mass consistently.

Here's another thought:
What if we as individuals/teams/RDs/NDs were accountable for spending 70 percent of our time on generating NEW critical mass, and 30 percent on retaining/developing critical mass, and left the remaining energy/time it would take to retain and develop to students/volunteers/pigeons/whoever was willing to help. My guess is in that just a couple of years we may have 500 staff to send!

Beav said...


didn't know you had changed your blog address and have been getting after it. I thought you shut it down a couple years ago. Glad to see you're back at it.

I'm thinking about this, especially in light of now being involved with Epic and tackling issues like leadership development for missional teams.

I've had some discussions lately that center around the downside of the small team phenomena. The upside is that you can get after the scope, but there is a little bit of a bigger is better mentality embedded in that (at least from a #'s perspective). I've been wrestling with what kind of "presence" is required to truly have a transformational and spiritually reproductive impact.

I'm not trying to interject my own stream of thought here, but I add that question because I think your team of 10 idea allows for a couple things that often are lacking in the smaller teams. The first is that there is enough critical mass for there to be a healthy and transformational community. Small teams spread thin can easily become more task oriented and the core of body life that is part of our missional impact gets lost or diminished. Second, larger teams provide for a greater longevity of presence in one or multiple communities. Small teams, when hit by things like turnover, attrition, promotions, etc. really can lose some of the ethos and presence with key relationships, locations, and institutions. The 10 person team would maintain that critical mass a bit easier and be able to expand potentially even amidst turnover.

I'm not sure we as a ministry wrestle enough with the organic nature of our critical mass - that it's changing. As eastwood pointed out, one of our dear friends infamously called out babies as the culprit. It's a challenge for sure, but maybe we're the problem for failing to build teams in light of the constant changing and growing of laborers through life stages.

Last thought on longevity - I just think you have to have a team presence around long enough to learn and actually do something with that knowledge and experience.

Beav said...

I just read my own post again and couldn't help wondering how what I said was any different than the staff campus model - at least from a resource release standpoint. I'm assuming that for these teams of 10 or whatever that the strategies are more missional and empowering.

Another thought is that I do know that creating teams in which teams of 2 or 3 staff or interns who are unequally yoked may get a lot done in the short-term, but it's bad news for retention of critical mass and long term ministry health. They'll all be working at Starbucks within a couple years. (not that there's anything wrong with that :) - only when the goal is retention)

Brian said...

In thinking about yours and Eastwood's comments on the organic nature of our leaders, I wonder what would 'keep' staff at their location.

I also wonder what you would say after studying systems theory a little bit about 'adding' staff members, however qualified or aligned, to a generally healthy and thriving team. Does that person or persons create tension merely by their arrival that limits the team from accomplishing what they could without that person?

For example, it's near to impossible to not have to go back to the drawing board when new staff arrive. Without walking them through the campus vision, and team values, they won't be bought in or feel included enough to really achieve what's asked of them.

Joe Cross said...

How can we put people together with common vision and passion in such a way that it creates a synergistic and creative environment effective enough to complete the mission within their scope?

"Organizing Genius" by Warren Bennis gives some good insight into the power of dynamic teams.

What would it look like if instead of focusing most of our HR efforts on filling holes in the field, we put people in environments and on teams that maximized their God-given gifts?