4 Proactive Steps Taken by Teams That Execute
If you’re on a church staff team, you know there is a tendency for churches to struggle with executing on plans beyond the weekend service. Sunday’s always coming, after all.
And while it’s true having to pull off a live event every week can knock other things down the priority list, that doesn’t completely explain why churches struggle to move the ball down the field on their strategic plans.
There are other reasons. And I see them in church after church we serve at The Unstuck Group.
I want to see churches win. To be honest, we get frustrated when churches invest time, money and energy into leading changes that stall out because the team just doesn’t follow through.
So, in this episode, Amy and I outline 4 proactive steps taken by teams that execute really well. (And there’s a bonus fifth thing those teams DON’T do.)
In this conversation, we discussed:
The staff structure issue that contributes most directly to a church’s execution problems
4 proactive steps you can start taking now to improve your team’s ability to get stuff done
The project management tool The Unstuck Group uses to execute on many projects at once, stay on deadline, and keep important things from falling through the cracks
A simple framework for clarifying decision rights that keeps work from bottlenecking
The most expensive thing you can do if your church struggles to execute
Join the Conversation
We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.
Some things we are hoping to discuss:
- What’s the best project management tool your church has tried?
- What meetings could you eliminate to free up your team to execute better?
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- [podcast]Who’s Missing on Your Leadership Team? – Episode 47 | The Unstuck Church Podcast
- Defining Decision Rights
- Project Management Tools
Amy: 00:10 Welcome to the podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan and each week we share a conversation our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck. And today we’re going to be talking about closing the execution gap. We’re going to get stuff done in this episode. So Tony, before we start talking about solutions to get stuff done, why do you think churches commonly have an execution gap?
Tony: 00:47 Well, I think it begins with the fact that churches are in the people business and when people are involved, there’s, messiness always around us. I mean our lives don’t stop and because our lives never stop, ministry never stops. And so if we’re in the business of helping people take their next steps toward Christ and involves ministry, and then if we’re trying to on top of that, accomplish something else, move in a specific strategic direction, accomplish a broader vision, sometimes it’s life. Life doesn’t stop. And I think that’s one of the challenges that churches face that. I mean, I guess other organizations, I mean they’re made up of people too and in some respects it’s the people on the team that create those challenges maybe for other organizations, but it’s certainly magnified when you’re in church ministry. And then related to that then is the fact that Sunday is always coming.
Tony: 01:49 And so because every week the churches preparing for a significant gathering of people and message preparation and preparing for the worship and preparing for guests and things like that. And Sunday is always coming. That’s always what’s most urgent. And again, as a result of that future vision and ministry strategy many times takes a back seat. And so it’s really no surprise to me. Then when we engage with churches, one of the common challenges we hear is that we have trouble following through. We talk about doing a lot of things, but we never actually get it done and so I thought it might be helpful for us to dedicate a full episode just to get stuff done. What do we need to regain that focus and make sure that we’re following through that we’re actually executing on the ministry that we’ve set out to do.
Amy: 02:47 That’s good. I know in our conversation this week, Tony, you identified three proactive steps that churches can take to close that execution gap. Let’s dive into those.
Tony: 03:00 Well actually you don’t know this yet, but there’s actually a fourth proactive step. I like to give you curve balls every now and again, and here’s the great thing. The fourth step you’re going to give to us, so not only did you not know, there’s a fourth step, you are the one that’s going to bring the fourth step, so get excited about that. All right, so yes we do. We have four proactive steps to help churches close this execution gap. And the first one is this, you need to balance your team, you need to balance your team and this is actually referring to a conversation we’ve had recently, Amy, we’ve talked about how people on our teams really come in a couple of different flavors. We have people-driven people, they’re really focused on relationships and then we have people on our team that are more task driven or mission focus.
Tony: 04:05 And what we find is more commonly, again, because we’re in the people business, churches tend to have on their teams, people people, which is a great thing, but if we’re going to be the body of Christ, we need all the gifts, all the wirings represented and where we commonly see gaps on church teams, including leadership teams, staff teams, volunteer teams. It’s around this gap of not having task-driven mission-focused, people included. And so basically there’s a shortage of implementers or conductors or drivers. We talked in recent episodes about the senior pastors that have that driver personality, but we’re kind of missing that at all levels of the church. And, again, the parts of the body aren’t truly being reflected and for smaller churches, this really is a challenge as you’re building teams to raise up volunteers that can close this gap and larger churches, you really do need to be focused on hiring more staff leaders to close this gap.
Tony: 05:15 The problem occurs though, when you’re relying solely on relationally driven people to drive execution, you’re going to find yourself stuck in this area. And the only way I can express it, Amy, as you’re aware, we had this episode where you talked to me as a driver of how I approach leadership and ministry. I, because that’s how I’m wired up, if I’m on the team, the team doesn’t have this gap, but what I can express is the opposite extreme. If it were all drivers and there were no relationally driven people, there would be just as big a gap. And one time, this is many years ago, I was still involved in full time ministry pastor at a church, I won’t name the church just to prevent, protect the innocent, but it was budget time that was part of my responsibility was to help to develop the budget for the church and I was working extra hours because it was a heavy season for me personally.
Tony: 06:20 And so I was in on Saturday trying to put the finishing touches on the budget project that I was working on. And while at the same time we had a housekeeping team working on preparations for the weekend services. We had services on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. And so they were just getting the facility ready for the services. And while that was occurring, someone knocked on the front door, the church was locked. We weren’t doing any programming. But one of the housekeeping team walked out to the front door, answered the door. And actually the person that came to the door, they were encountering some, I would say some personal life crisis. And as a result of that, were really looking for someone just to talk with and so housekeeping team knew I was in the building and came back and found me and had me come out to talk with a person that had come to the door and the person looked at me.
Tony: 07:17 He just took one look, obviously knew my wiring for some reason. I don’t know how this came about, but the first comment out of their mouth was, are you really the only pastor that’s here? And so this is what happens when we try to operate in areas that are not our strength. We can do it, we can go through the motions, but because it’s not our area of strength that’s not going to be done well. That’s what happens when I’m engaging in highly relationally driven aspects of ministry like counseling, but for teams that only have people people and they’re missing this task driven mission focused person on their team. It’s gonna leave a gap. And even though relationally driven people can accomplish tasks and they can create systems and they can move things down the field, it’s not natural to them. And as a result of that, that’s one of the reasons why churches struggle with execution and follow through.
Amy: 08:17 Alright. So the first execution gap is balance out your team, find that balance between relationally driven and task driven people. So what’s the second gap, Mr. Tony?
Tony: 08:27 The second, proactive step that churches need to make is to clarify the win and again, we’ll back up. We talk about this all the time. First you need to know where you’re going. In other words, what’s the vision that you believe God’s called your church to? Secondly though, you need to address how are we going to accomplish that vision? And that’s where the ministry strategy comes into play. And then the next step, if you really want to get clarity about where you’re going, clarify the win, close this execution gap. Once you’ve identified vision, once you’ve identified strategy, you have to prioritize where you’re going to invest your time. And so the way we do this at the unstuck group, as we work with teams to identify what the three priority objectives are for the next 12 months. So we’ve identified our future vision, where we’re going, we’ve identified our strategy for how that’s going to be accomplished, and then around those core foundational elements, we force even the largest churches to look at what are the three priority objectives we’re going to focus on over the next 12 months to see that vision and strategy accomplished.
Tony: 09:49 But it doesn’t stop there. We moved from three objectives over 12 months to looking at just three action steps over the next three months. So if you’re doing the math at home, and again Amy, I know how you love math, you can kind of think of these as the three by three by threes that we’re trying to accomplish three objectives over the next 12 months by implementing three action steps and the next three months. And what we’ve seen is as churches get really focused about what those specific action steps are, and they nailed down those action steps over a three months, they just rinse and repeat. In other words, they continue to cycle through three by three by threes. And over time, it sounds like they’re starting out by doing less, but churches end up accomplishing far more because there’s this focus on what the priorities are and what needs to be done in order to see that vision and the ministry strategy carried out.
Tony: 10:54 So, if you want to close the execution gap, you really need to know as an organization what’s the win, what’s the priority. But then beyond that, that needs to extend to every person in the organization. Now, some of the people on our team, their action plans are going to align very closely with whatever the organization’s priorities are. Others though, if there’s a priority in just three areas, others are just carrying out their ministry on a day to day basis. But even those people deserve to know what’s the win for my job? How do I know that I’m accomplishing what I’m supposed to be accomplishing? And so even though they’re three by three by threes might not closely aligned with the organizations. I think everyone needs that level of clarity. And Amy, my sense is, as you’ve engaged with churches that you’re seeing that this really is a gap that exists in many cases. Is that true?
Amy: 11:57 Oh, for sure. And I think it goes back to one thing you just said, which is three big objectives doesn’t sound like enough to most churches. So they end up with five or six, but I often use the juggling analogy. I can juggle three balls, but if you throw me a fourth one, I don’t just drop the fourth one. I drop them all. And so I liken that to having too many objectives at one time. Nothing actually gets done when you overcommit to too big.
Tony: 12:25 Yeah. So some people actually use the Bible as a foundation for their coaching. For leaders. We use clowning. I don’t know. Hey, I’m just here to ask for wisdom I guess, but you’re absolutely right, Amy. I think churches and leaders, and it’s probably because of us leaders, we leaders want to do more faster. We want it done yesterday. And so when The Unstuck Group comes in and says, no, you can only focus on three things, every leader wants to prove us wrong, but the reality is we see this. This is what really helps churches accomplish more in the long run.
Amy: 13:06 That’s right. Alright, so clarify the win. The big wins, the big three objectives, bring it to a personal level as well. What’s the third step to close the execution?
Tony: 13:14 The third step is to manage for results. And here I want to get really specific and, gosh, this is, I hope people don’t turn off the podcast at this point because I’m really going to get into some details here, but I think this is critical for those that are struggling with execution. You need to have a framework for accountability to get stuff done. You need a solution that everybody on your team is using to manage projects and tasks. Our team uses a tool called Asana, a, s, a, n, a. We’ve talked about it a couple times in the past. The people, the fine people at Asana don’t pay me to advertise. This is just free commercial for them, but we use Asana to track all our projects, to track all our tasks, to identify who’s responsible for what, to clearly identify when stuff needs to get done, what’s the due date, and then we use Asana for all of the conversations that need to happen around all of those projects and tasks so when we have a big project, rather than pulling together a meeting and having everybody go around the table and talking about who’s doing what by when and working through issues around projects and tasks and meeting time.
Tony: 14:34 We’re using Asana to frame up that conversation and I really believe here we are in 2018. The tools are available. I just want you. Those of you that are listening, that are using post it notes to manage projects and tasks. If you’re still using… What is that stuff called? Paper? If you’re still using paper to manage projects and tasks, you know what the reality is. You can get away with that if it’s just you working on their projects and tasks, but as soon as you add one other person to the team, you need to have a solution in place that’s going to help you do this, and again, we recommend Asana because we use it and actually there’s a free version for smaller teams that you can test drive. There are other tools out there. I’m not as familiar with them, but Basecamp, Trello, Wrike, Flow. I mean there are other tools out there. You just need to find a tool that’s going to work for your team, but then everybody has to do it. It needs to be an all in the expectation and the follow through begins with everybody using whatever solution you choose. You have to make this a non-negotiable for your team. If you’re going to be on the team, you have to use this tool. Amy, we do this with The Unstuck Group. We have about 25 people on our team now. If someone said, I’m sorry, I’m going to use my post it notes and my paper, I’m not going to use Asana, would we let them be on the team?
Amy: 16:10 No, we would not let them be on the team and you know, Asana is so helpful. I know for me personally, just knowing so I don’t miss anything that I need to get done, but in these bigger project based things, it also brings so much accountability to make sure. What did you call this third step? Managing for results, right? The word accountability has got to be in there somewhere too, right? Because it holds you accountable to your commitments.
Tony: 16:33 Yeah, and so here’s the deal. Even when you implement this and you make it a non negotiable, everybody on the team needs to use it. There are going to be times where somebody, I even do this, I’ll say, well, we just need to call another meeting and you have to. You just have to say, but there’s this tool that we use and if we use meetings as a crutch, people will go back to meetings and they won’t use the tool or in your mind you might be thinking, I’ll just send an email message. It’ll just be easier to get all the details to everybody if I send an email message, but every time you call a meeting to manage a project or a task or you send an email message to try to move a project or a task forward, that will become the crutch and people will stop using whatever the solution is that you’ve agreed to use, which is going to help you execute more things more efficiently.
Tony: 17:26 So that’s the third one. You have to manage for results, including accountability for results by finding a solution that the entire team is using. Yeah, so are you ready for this Amy? Because you are going to be presenting the fourth to close that execution gap. Are you ready for this? I’m going to let you unpack this. What I find is churches tend to struggle with execution because they don’t know how to make decisions and many times they have the reason why they can’t make decisions as they haven’t decided how they’re going to decide. So that’s the fourth step. The fourth proactive step. If you want to get stuff done and close the execution gap you have to decide how you’re going to decide. And Amy, I kinda just drop this one on you because I’ve heard you provide this coaching around decision making to many other leaders in the past. So can you just kind of unpack for us, how do we help teams decide how they’re going to decide?
Amy: 18:40 Yeah, this is great. It’s actually one of my favorite topics. So it’s so true. It’s so easy for an organization to forget how to make decisions. So I guess the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that a decision has to be made right? Sometimes topics just sit around there and we don’t move it because we don’t acknowledge we need a decision, for example, a common one to use with churches as we know our services are getting full and we know we need a third service time, but everyone’s kind of waiting on everybody else to kind of trigger it. So someone’s got to say, we have a decision to make and then you have to decide how you’re going to make the decision. You have to figure out who gets a vote in the final decision. Who gets a voice into the final decision or even who has neither no, right?
Amy: 19:24 Sometimes you don’t get a voice or a vote. And so I often teach churches on the seven different ways you can make a decision and I’ll just go through them quick and then I’ll use that third service example. The first level is just a leader decides we’re going to name someone to make that decision. The second way we’d make it is that a leader decides, but it’s going to get input from other people. The third way is a sub group. So a group of three or four are going to make that decision. Fourth way subgroup with input, they’re going to go and get information. And again, I’ll unpack this in a minute, but then the fifth level is majority vote. So we’re going to put options out there and we’re going to vote and the majority will win. The sixth level is consensus. And I define consensus is that no one is opposed. It doesn’t mean that everybody is like, spot on. That’s the best decision, but we don’t have any opposition. And the seventh is alignment where we think, you know, for sure as everyone’s involved in. So let me just use that example with the third service. You could say Larry is going to make that decision. Okay? And the good thing about leader decides is that it doesn’t take very much time, but you also get very low buy in with it. But sometimes there are those decisions you just named a leader, next way you can do it as Larry’s going to decide, but before he does, he’s going to talk to these three leaders to get their input on the best third service time, play it out. Sub Group. Now you’ve got three who are going to come to a level of decision making and what’s going to happen.
Amy: 20:51 But let me jump forward to consensus on this one, Tony, because I think we often think everybody has to agree for an area to have consensus. Um, if you decide the senior leadership team is going to decide when that third service times going to happen, I often put it on a scale of one to five as you look at the options. So literally we did this at our church. We brainstormed when the next service time could be. We looked at Saturday, we look at Sunday, we looked at Sunday night, all these different options. And once we found the one that seemed to have the most momentum, we would actually kind of take a vote. We’d say, we want consensus. We want no one opposed to it and so if anyone was flat out against it, we didn’t go with that option, but if they were just more so well it’s got some positive and some negative. They were kind of a little bit more neutral or they actually liked it some. That’s when we named it consensus. And so I know I ran through those. These notes will be in the show page, but this is a really critical thing to getting execution to move forward. I remember when I read deep and wide by Andy Stanley, I realized we had a language problem at our church, but we had a staff now of 150, 200 people. So who gets to make that decision? Well, it started with who gets to make that decision on language and then we decided a decision rights which was going to be a leader decides with input and we were actually able to move some changes forward as a result of it.
Tony: 22:20 That’s good. That’s good. So let me just summarize and then I guess we can wrap up here. So if you’re needing to get stuff done and you need to close the execution gap, the first step is to make sure you balance out your team, get people on the team that are actually task driven mission, mission focused. Second step is to clarify the win both the organizational wins, but also clarifying wins for everyone on the team. The third step is to manage for results and actually make sure you have a solution in place to manage for accountability. And then the fourth step, which Amy just highlighted for us, is to decide how to decide. Make sure you understand how you’re going to process decisions as a team.
Amy 23:08 All right. Well thanks Tony. Do you have any final thoughts on everything we just talked about?
Tony: 23:13 Yeah, so I’m going to sound like I’m just absolutely not a fan of meetings, which generally I would say is true though at The Unstuck Group we do. I mean our senior leadership team, 90 minutes every week we get together, we meet once a week and then once a quarter we pull away for a couple of days off site. We just had our most recent offsite and the great city of Cleveland, Ohio is fabulous. Meetings are an important part of what it is to accomplish ministry mission that’s in front of us and for those of us who are in leadership to lead well to help move our vision and strategy forward. But what I would say is this, meetings are good for establishing strategy but they don’t execute strategy. And so, what I want to challenge you with is this, if you have a get-stuff-done challenge, one of the most expensive investments that your church can make is to call a meeting.
Tony: 24:18 If you’re trying to avoid getting stuff done. So just remember that meetings don’t get stuff done. People get stuff done, people don’t get stuff done when they’re sitting in meetings. So if you…
Amy: 24:33 Did you hear that, Tony? I just heard about a thousand senior pastors say amen.
Tony: 24:40 So yeah, maybe we should have made this one of the four. I guess I’m saying do these four things and as much as you can avoid this fifth, if you have an execution problem, you don’t need more meetings, you actually need fewer meetings, so that’s my final thought when it comes to getting stuff done.
Amy: 25:02 Well, thank you Tony, and thanks to you, our listeners for tuning into today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Itunes, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts so that you don’t miss an episode and we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments or join the conversation on social media using #unstuckchurch. And finally you can learn more about how The Unstuck Group helps churches get unstuck at theunstuckgroup.com.