Monthly Archives: September 2013

When Technology Changes (ANECDOTE)


Minie BallsIn 1847, French Army captains Claude-Etienne Minie and Henri-Gustave Delvigne developed a new technology called the Minie ball.  This new type of bullet was an innovation that improved the accuracy of rifle muskets, because it took advantage of the gun’s spiraled grooves inside the barrel (“rifling”).  When the rifles were fired, hot, expanding gas pushed on and deformed the Minie ball so that it connected with the spiraled grooves and spun as it traveled down the barrel.  The spin made the bullet more accurate, and the seal created when the Minie ball changed shape pushed the bullet faster and gave it a longer range.
 
Older muskets fired simple, round bullets that were accurate only at short range, so soldiers that used them had to advance shoulder-to-shoulder and get within yards of the enemy to have any hope of hitting anyone.  However, with a rifle musket and Minie ball ammunition, this was no longer necessary.  The tradeoff for the new technology was that the soldiers couldn’t just point and shoot.  They now had to learn new skills to improve their aim, since they would be firing from much further away.
 
This new technology became popular right about the time of the American Civil War, but military commanders were slow to change their tactics.  Having learned their strategies in earlier conflicts with different types of weapons, they didn’t see the potential of the new technology and continued to line up their troops for close-range attacks on the enemy positions.  As a result, they experienced terrible losses on both sides until they began to change how they trained and deployed their troops.*  
 

When a new technology has the potential to impact our work, it’s time for us to adopt different tactics. However, the pace of change is increasing, and the number of new tools out there makes it difficult for us to know what is useful.  Plus, we have been operating in a different paradigm (way of thinking about our work).  It’s not always easy to see the potential of new tools.  So, here are a few ideas that might help: 

  • Encourage your staff to be on the lookout for new, relevant technologies.
  • Give them regular opportunities to help you see the possibilities for applying them to the work.
  • Allow them to try out new tools on a small scale and report back on the results.
  • When they find something that makes a difference, let them help share it with other staff and implement its use.
  • Provide recognition for those that find effective, new tools.
  • Share what you learn with your peers.

As leaders, it’s often up to us to model the way by challenging ourselves out of our comfort zones and learning which new tools give us a strategic advantage.  This doesn’t mean we have to be the technology experts, but it does mean that we have to create opportunities for our teams to show us new ways to create more impact.

 
* Historians estimate that the war killed over 600,000 people – 10% of the men in the North and 30% of the men in the South.

 

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Filed under Change, innovation, Strategy

An Excellent Failure (ANECDOTE)


Success is 99 Percent FailureI was at a meeting with some of our leaders from part of my ministry a few weeks ago, and we were discussing the topic of failure and how it is perceived within our organization.  We agreed that there is an unspoken rule that failure is NOT okay.  We will go to great lengths to prevent failure or even to cover it up and make it look like success when it does happen.  
 
Why do we do this?  It’s not biblical.  Jesus let His disciples fail on a regular basis.  Here are a few examples.  They failed when they:
  • Tried to cast out an unclean spirit from a boy
  • Were asked to feed the 5,000
  • Argued about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom
  • Walked on water
  • Tried to stay awake and pray with Jesus before His arrest
  • Defended Jesus against the soldiers
  • Denied knowing Jesus
You may think I’m cynical, but I believe Jesus even set them up for failure on certain occasions.  He knew that they wouldn’t succeed, but He let them try anyway.  Why?  Because failure gives birth to growth and learning, maturity, character, humility, a teachable spirit, dependence on God, empathy for others, and even innovation, transformation, and revival!  We learn sooooo much more from our failures than we do from our successes.  Are we missing out on God’s best for us when we work so hard not to fail?
 
Recognizing this problem in their culture, here’s what one region of our ministry did.  They flipped failure on its head.  Instead of hiding failures, they required their leaders to celebrate them.  In every leader’s performance appraisal for the past few years, they have had to share an “excellent failure” for which they were personally responsible.  An “excellent failure” is a failure that taught you something, that gave you a new perspective, that prepared you, that matured you, that shaped you to be more like Christ.  It’s a failure that produces a harvest in your life or ministry.  
 
And for it to count, you have to own it.  You’ve got to identify what you did or did not do that made things go wrong.  You’ve got to say, “I failed,” or else the failure has no power to change you.  You can’t dilute it by saying “we” or “my team” or “because they.”  There may be truth in those statements, but the failure won’t be transformational for you until you acknowledge your part.
 
So, what do you think?  Do you have the courage to own your failure?  Are you willing to put your name on it and see what God is willing to do with a transparent and humble leader?
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9
 
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. ~ John 12:24
 
For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again… ~ Proverbs 24:16

 

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Filed under Failure, Humility, test, Transformation, Transparency, Trial

Potemkin Villages (ANECDOTE)


Potemkin VillagePrince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski (Potemkin |pəˈtemkin| for short) was a Russian military leader and personal favorite (and possibly secret husband) of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762-1796.  He was intelligent and daring, and as a young man, he won many victories fighting the Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire.

 

After defeating the Ottoman Empire in Crimea and what is now known as Southern Ukraine, Potemkin became the governor of the region.  The area had been devastated by the war, and Potemkin struggled to rebuild it and bring in Russian settlers.  Before he could make sufficient progress, the Ottoman Empire threatened war again.  Empress Catherine wanted to impress her allies and gain their support during the upcoming war, so she engaged upon a six-month trip to the area with her court and ambassadors from many other countries.

 

Potemkin was embarrassed to show the true condition of what was now known as “New Russia,” so he had his men build “mobile villages” and set them up along the banks of the Dnieper River as Catherine traveled it by barge.  As soon as the empress arrived with all her powerful friends, Potemkin’s men would emerge in the sham village dressed as peasants.  When the barge left, they would disassemble the village and quickly move it downstream overnight.  They would then rebuild the village in preparation for her visit the next day and repeat the process as before.  This risky ruse paid off, but Potemkin’s men were exhausted.  Worse, they had now seen the true character of their leader and knew what lengths he would go to in order to keep up appearances.

 

Have you ever built a Potemkin Village to impress your boss or senior leaders?  Ever made things look better than they really were to hide your lack of progress or impact?  Ever put on a show to save face or avoid the consequences of having leaders see the true situation?

 

There are several problems with erecting Potemkin Villages:

  • We will waste time, money and skill creating the illusion of success when we should be working on our problems.
  • Leaders above us will have a distorted picture of what is really happening in the organization.
  • Because the leaders won’t know the problems we are having, they won’t be able to help us solve them.
  • Leaders will make decisions about the organization based on what they think is true, and these new initiatives and commitments will often strain our resources and staff even further.
  • Because we have pretended that things are going well, we won’t be able to ask for the resources we really need to fix the problems.
  • Our staff will become exhausted and disengaged as they regularly build “fake villages” that they know do nothing to help improve their situation.
  • We will lose the trust of our staff as they see us misrepresent reality to the leadership of the organization.

The longer we pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, the longer we participate in keeping it alive.  If we truly want things to get better, we have to get honest.  We have to have the courage to accept the consequences for the way things are so that we can get the help we need to make them better.

 

Let’s spend less time building fake villages and more time building the Kingdom.

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Filed under culture, Honesty, Transparency, Trust, Vulnerability

Counter-Culture (EXERCISE)


Silo MentalityTime

25 min

 

Description

Participants will engage in an exercise to examine four negative cultural norms at the organization and four positive replacements.  They will be asked to explore how they feel in the midst of each one and to commit to adopt the positive cultural behaviors.

 

Materials

  • 8 sheets of posterboard
  • Thick marker
  • Masking tape (1 roll)
  • Printouts (1 per participant) of the following two documents. Both documents can be found on the http://www.teachingthem.com website on the Lesson and Material Downloads page..
    • EXERICSE – Counter-Culture – Problems and Solutions.docx
    • EXERCISE – Counter Culture – Wide Range of Emotions.pptx

 

Preparation

  • Print copies of the two documents for all participants.
  • Tape a very large circle with masking tape in the middle of the open floor of the teaching area.  It should be large enough so everyone will be able to stand in the circle together.
  • Create eight large signs on posterboard by labeling each one with a different cultural element from the list below:
    • Distrust
    • Silo Mentality
    • Polishing Our Rough Edges
    • Over-commitment
    • Trusting Others
    • Collaboration
    • Being Vulnerable & Transparent
    • Ruthless Prioritization
    • Ask 8 volunteers to each take one posterboard and line up along two different walls – the four positive cultural elements (Trusting Others, Collaboration, Being Vulnerable & Transparent and Ruthless Prioritization) on one wall and the four negative cultural elements (Distrust, Silo Mentality, Polishing Our Rough Edges, Over-commitment) on the opposite wall.

 

Procedure

  • Pass out the two pages (“Problems and Solutions” and “Wide Range of Emotion”) to every participant.
  • Invite each participant to join in one of eight little groups, aligned behind participants holding up eight large placards.
  • Instruct participants to move around into other groups until there are about the same numbers of participants standing with each placard. (NOTE: This exercise will work even if there is only one person in each small group – the one holding the placard – but will also work with 100 people.)
  • Ask the group behind the “Distrust” sign to read together and aloud the description of “Distrust.”
  • After that reading, call upon anyone in the room to call out the feelings/emotions that they experience when they encounter this cultural problem in their organization. (Remind the participants to look at the graphical list of Feelings in their hands to help them identify any feelings they experience.)
  • After this, have the group behind the corresponding counter-cultural placard (“Trusting Others” in this case) read aloud and together the description of  “Trusting Others.”
  • Then have both groups dealing with the Distrust/Trusting Others issue walk into the large circle in the middle of the room, holding their signs high so everyone can see them.
  • When those participants are in the circle in the middle of the room, the facilitator calls upon anyone in the room to call out the feelings/emotions that come to mind when they imagine this powerful counterculture of “Trusting Others” becoming a reality throughout their organization.
  • On the count of three, have everyone in the room say aloud and together “We release Distrust” and the person holding that placard goes outside of the circle and lays that placard down on the ground.   (The placard “Trusting Others” remains held aloft in the circle.)
  • After this, the same overall process is repeated for the remaining cultural problems and counter-cultural behaviors.
  • When this is completed, invite someone to pray in a short time of conversation prayer.

 

Source – Greg Boyer and Michael Kientz


 


Cultural Problems and Their Counter-Cultural Solutions

 

Some of our cultural problems in our organization are:

1. Distrust – Managers don’t trust staff enough to delegate to them. Staff don’t trust their managers enough to give them honest feedback. Senior leaders don’t trust staff enough to share information.  As a result, work takes longer to complete, misunderstandings abound, and, gossip and rumor often replace formal communication channels.

 

2. Silo Mentality – Staff are focused on doing the best job they can, but they don’t talk to their peers doing the same roles. As a result, they reinvent the wheel on a regular basis or suffer silently, not knowing how to solve problems that someone else has already solved.

 

3. Polishing Our Rough Edges – In a desire to look “Excellent” (which translates to “Perfect” in our culture), staff misrepresent the situation to make it look like things are better than they are. Staff overstate their strengths, skills and contributions. Field Offices put on a show for visiting leaders. Leaders do whatever it takes to ensure they get “green KRIs” (a proxy for all kinds of visible measurements) even when it requires enormous sacrifice from their staff. As a result, leaders and senior leaders don’t have a true picture of the condition of the ministry, resources aren’t allocated correctly, and problems are prolonged.

 

4. Over-commitment – Senior leadership regularly takes bigger bites than the staff can chew. Because we don’t know what’s most important, everything looks important, and we feel that we have to do everything. At the heart of this behavior is a pride that makes us feel like our efforts are essential to the success of the ministry and a lack of faith in God’s provision to bring about positive outcomes.  As a result, staff are exhausted, burnout and turnover are common, relationships are strained, our infrastructure is stressed, and staff lose confidence in their leaders as we regularly invest fully in initiatives that have little to no impact.

 

Counter-cultural corrective attitudes and behaviors are:

1. Trusting Others – Every worker at every level commits to being trustworthy by honoring commitments, being transparent, communicating frequently and strategically, and dealing with conflict in a biblical way. Leaders take risks to share information and delegate to give opportunities for workers to earn their trust.

 

2. Collaboration  – When people encounter a problem that they aren’t sure how to solve or initiate a project, their first thought and action is to contact their peers and find out what’s been done already. Workers regularly spend 25% or more of their time collaborating with other staff both inside and outside their office.

 

3. Being Vulnerable & Transparent – Everyone commits to giving an honest and realistic picture of what the current state is. Leaders and workers ask for help when they need it. Leaders honor this risk by not punishing staff for admitting mistakes or asking for help. Everyone allows their rough edges to show so that God can use them to connect us to each other (like a jigsaw puzzle).

 

4. Ruthless Prioritization – Senior leadership identifies a few anchors that all workers can use to make decisions about which activities get done and which ones detract us from our main focus (even if they look good and important).  Senior leaders require other leaders to justify initiatives by matching them to the anchors and hold themselves accountable to say “no” more often than they say “yes” to new initiatives. The organization regularly assesses workers’ capacity and work-life balance and makes adjustments to protect the well-being of the staff.

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Filed under Collaboration, Communication, culture, Priorities, Transparency, Trust, Vulnerability