Dislodging Dysfunction

Dysfunction saps creativity in ministry, usually because innovators find too many obstacles to complete their work. Communication sputters; handoff becomes hands off; and follow-through falls through.

I’ve had the privilege of working for both highly efficient companies and living-on-a-miracle ones. That’s “privilege” in the sense of being a guinea pig and figuring out what works—and what makes you want to take sick days. Just being real.

Here’s what the efficient ones had in common:

A Funnel

Each department inherits ministry responsibilities—sometimes strategically, sometimes out of need. For example, a web team might be tasked with email communication or social media. That’s to be expected. But when these responsibilities shotgun into the department, you’ve got a mess. In departments with dysfunction, every team member gets forced into the corner of “we need this right now” and feels responsible. All other tasks get bumped down the list. What gets done depends on which demand comes from the higher authority or which has the most exclamation points in the email.

Efficient departments establish a single point of contact—a funnel. The person needs to have the authority to make decisions about task importance and the authority to reject or redirect tasks. To do this, he or she must also know who’s doing what and how projects relate to the ministry’s vision and timetable.

The person tasked to be a funnel must be gifted in administration, or the department falls right back into the shotgun method.

Clear Windows

Efficiently assigning projects means nothing if team members isolate themselves. In dysfunctional departments, projects disappear in one person’s email inbox. No one knows what anyone else works on unless accidentally revealed in a rant fest.

Cohesive departments (and businesses) share tasks continually. My last supervisor led a weekly department meeting focused almost exclusively on our personal agendas (there were also hilarious pop culture asides). During those meetings, related projects could be coordinated instead of languishing in the “to-do” folder. We also often found that someone else had already done what we needed to do or knew a contact who could help (i.e., shared knowledge = saved time).

Clear windows don’t happen by chance. You have to open them.

Mile Markers

Funnels and windows only get the projects rolling, but they’re not enough by themselves. In companies with a vision problem, a lack of follow-through often derails projects or makes for rushed results. You’ll hear this: “Go ahead and do it. We’ll fix it later.”

What you need are mile markers—clear, consistent goals. In ministries that lack these, I often see a great deal of wasted time because no one ever examines the workflow and barriers. Person A needs Person B to do something before the project can get finished (usually over and over). Meanwhile, Person B is waiting on Person C (usually over and over).

Mile markers allow a project coordinator (often the funnel) to see where hangups are and find ways around them.

Bottom Line

Efficiency is not the default mode of operation—it takes guts and determination. But if we’re working like it’s all for God, then shouldn’t ministry be more efficient than most businesses?