How many heads of staff have dreaded a performance review meeting with an individual staff member who is underperforming? How many staff members have felt unfairly labeled as an “underperformer” when, they believe, the performance problem is elsewhere? I think the number is legion!
Congregations are behind the curve by continuing to focus on individual performance as they evaluate why or why not they are meeting the goals in their strategic plans. Back in the 70s and 80s, the Japanese figured out that placing responsibility within teams is a far better way of dealing with the “performance issue.” If a particular team is underperforming, let them thrash it out amongst themselves as to what needs to change to improve performance. If the team thinks it is the larger system that has the problem, let them make their case to the company’s other teams.
The success of Japanese businesses in those days caused American companies, the U.S. military and many others to take notice. The switch to a team approach to accomplishing work has become a movement. The high-tech industry has almost turned it into a religion.
In a one-on-one performance review, it is very easy for either party to feel they are being treated unjustly. The boss can feel as though she is being treated like an autocrat when, in fact, she is simply trying to fix a problem. The employee can feel as though she is being scapegoated. In a team meeting, it is hard for an under-performing employee to ignore all the voices of his teammates. He can’t blame the “unsympathetic boss” because there isn’t one. There are teammates letting him know that he needs to step up his work performance.
In continuing to use highly individualistic approaches to performance reviews, congregations are more than alienating everyone involved in the process. They are ignoring that congregations are systems. As systems, problems tend to be masked behind things such as individual performance. I knew a congregation ran through Christian Educators, blaming one after another for not getting the job done. It never occurred to the congregation’s leaders that the problem was not the individuals but the congregational system itself.
Within the year, I will have a book out on teams. However, there is no need to wait for it. I highly recommend that congregations now begin making the move to teams that many, many organizations made decades ago.