By Mark A. Taylor
Why do some committees work well, while others only spin their wheels? Why do some groups of elders lead effectively while others baffle with their poor choices or inability to decide? Why are some colleges, missions, and similar ministries directed into effective futures by their trustees while others only tread water?
Whole books have been written to answer questions like those, but insight from an unlikely source bears some attention.
The article appeared April 25 in The Wall Street Journal. In his column, “The Intelligent Investor,” Jason Zweig discussed a host of bad decisions made by prestigious investment committees in the last year. How could these intelligent, educated, well-paid people put money into Bernard Madoff’s scam or sink endowments into questionable hedge funds and real estate deals?
The answer, Zweig concludes, is in bad committee dynamics. Reading his column reminds us that the same dysfunction characterizes too many groups making decisions for the church and the parachurch. Zweig said committees “tend either to follow the leader in a rush of conformity or to polarize into warring camps.” Anyone who’s served on a board of trustees or with a group of elders can identify.
Zweig suggests several methods for avoiding gridlock or poor decisions. Those most applicable to church committees:
“Reframe the question.” Divide into “pro” and “con” groups to consider the best argument for and against every proposal. This helps prevent “group think” and takes the spotlight off the one member with the strongest voice.
“Use the ‘five whys.’” Don’t ask if the church should build or if the ministry should expand into a different enterprise. Instead, ask why building is necessary or why the new tasks are appropriate for your ministry. “If you ask five such ‘why’ questions in a row, you are likely to expose any weak points in the advice.”
“Define the default position.” Agree on a basic assumption. If, for example, a college’s purpose is to train Christian workers, any proposal that deviates from that purpose needs compelling justification. If a church’s purpose is to make disciples, any staff hire or budget item must demonstrate how it advances that goal.
When committees or boards don’t work well, the result, in Zweig’s words, is “relentlessly short-term outlook, an inability to stick to strategic plans, a slap-dash pursuit of the latest fad, and a tendency to blame mistakes on somebody else.”
It’s one thing for investment committees to function so poorly. But when decision makers for God’s work fit that profile, something more important than money is at stake.
Zweig’s column is posted at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124061065847354263.html.