Category Archives: Problem-solving

The “Price” of Think Time–Part 1

Has this ever happened to you?

Someone–a colleague, a parent, a teacher–calls or emails you, asking for advice. You gladly respond, spending a some time thinking through the complexity of the question, and offering a well thought out and reasoned reply that took some time, but time well spent.

Then that same person asks you for further information, and you realize that if you say “yes,” it will take you a substantial mount of time to pull together a response that you are satisfied with.

How do you put a price or value on your time in service to others?

The situation arises frequently among non-ministry professionals. And it isn’t uncommon for someone to offer advice freely and for free to the 1st question, but to the second question, ask for some compensation to reflect the value of the time the professional will spend on her response.

I’m not advocating that we charge people who come to us in a ministry setting for doing the same. This whole interaction seems very much within the range of what is expected of us as ministry leaders and professionals.

But . . .

Yes, “but.” There is a trap that ministry leaders can fall into. It is the never-ending, black-hole spiral of “yes”. And that trap comes with a price not in dollars, but often in time not spent with family, on ourselves, with our colleagues or other students/peers/program participants.

What are the limits that you set in these circumstances? How do you offer your time, but put some of it on your own terms, e.g., you can help in 2 days, but not tomorrow morning?

 

 

3 Ways to Burst Your Leadership Bubble

I have the most distinct memories of my first meeting with a new group or committee of people. This is true in both my jobs and my parishes.

Probably one of the most awkward ones was when I joined my parish’s liturgy committee. I have a master’s degree in liturgy, and, at the time, I was the project coordinator at the bishops’ conference for the implementation of the General Instruction of Roman Missal (GIRM). Because of the latter, I just plum knew a lot about the GIRM, but because of the former, I avoided all resemblences to the very bad joke about liturgists and terrorist. (If you don’t know it, look it up. Scary, true, and sad, all at the same time!)

We were planning Advent, and the associate pastor made a statement about something that I knew was no longer true because it had been changed in the new GIRM. While I fought in my head with how to say something, the conversation had continued with much affirmation that we should do as the associate pastor had said. Just before we were to move on, I opened my mouth, and as gently as I could put it, said something like, “I think we might need to revisit this. I believe thus and such has changed in the GIRM, and blah, blah, blah…”

You would have thought that I had suggested that we change the theology of transubstantiation from the reaction that I got.

And unfortunately, this has happened to me a lot!!!!! (Yes, this does warrant all of these exclamation points!)

Because here’s what’s going on. Leadership groups like this liturgy committee had created their own little “bubble” which included a gaggle of “yes” people, people who supported the leader’s goals and approaches to preparation and rarely challenged them.

An important thing to know, too, is that none of that was necessarily intentional. It just happens. Why? Sometimes because we hand-pick our groups. Sometimes because those who come to us weed themselves out if they don’t feel welcome.

The big problem, though, is that our leadership can stagnate and not grow when we start to operate in a bubble like this.

How do we burst that leadership bubble? There are 3 things we can do.

  1. Designate a “devil’s advocate” in the group. By designating someone, we publicly say that disagreement is good and necessary. By designating a specific person, we ensure that challenges and concerns are actively a part of the group’s work. This also gives the leader someone to look to for advice and questions when no one else is able to offer them.
  2. Identify the criteria for every decision you will make. What are the 3 or 5 needs or objectives that each decision must satisfy? The MAC planners have 5 criteria that we use to help us make decisions along the way, criteria that we established over 5 years ago. It might be a simple as meet the budget, fit the timeline, and require less than 3 people to do. Whatever they are, set them, them diligently use them (and no exceptions unless the everyone agrees to the reason.)
  3. Do as Lincoln did — keep your “enemies” close. Instead of “enemies” — because this is ministry — let’s say “advocates.” In more than one instance, I have expressly invited someone to be on a leadership team that I knew completely disagreed with me — strongly and vocally. The hardest thing for me to do was to acknowledge that that person possessed some wisdom that I did not have, and I needed it on my team.

Don’t let a leadership bubble keep you from doing all that you want or can accomplish. Put your and your team’s feet on the ground by surrounding yourself with a diverse and opinionated group of people who are comfortable disagreeing with each other and sharing their perspectives, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

What Problems Are You Trying to Solve? Part II

Besides my weedy gardens, the onset of warmer, more humid weather brought another new problem to the fore — our air conditioning didn’t work.

When you live in a part of the country that began as a swamp, summer means air that veritably drips with condensation that never quite turns into rain. A/C is a necessity — and so the quest for repair service began.

As luck would have it, we received a discount coupon in the mail from a heating/air conditioning company for a system check-up. After looking at our A/C, the conversation with the repairman went something like this.

“Now, if you will let me just do the service, I can charge you the $29 from the ad.”

“But didn’t you say that we need to replace the A/C.”

“Yes, but IF YOU WILL LET ME JUST DO THE SERVICE . . . ”

“Ohhhhh, then you can charge me the $29, and send someone else out to do the rest?”

“Right!!!”

I’m not usually so clueless, but his point was well taken. We thought we had a leak problem since we’d been in this situation before. But he had redefined the problem–appropriately so–and now the question was how best to solve it?

I solve most “big ticket” issues the same way–contact multiple experts, collect lots of information, compare prices, then make a decision. With A/C or new doors, my solo search might work, but in ministry, not so much.

The center of the above process is “I.” And in ministry, an “I” is best when part of a “we.” There’s good reason for that. Ministry is always about the community — the participation of, the impact on, and the ownership of the problem and solution.

So, unlike caring for a house, in ministry, problems shouldn’t be solved by one person. But you’ve probably had similar experiences trying to motivate a committee or team to solve a familiar or repeated problem.

Don’t let that stop you. Though your group may be moving slowly or not at all, a change in or from one person can completely change the direction or orientation of the whole towards the problem and solution. That person can be you.

So what can you do? Make a change in your own behavior related to the problem.

Instead of advocating for a particular approach, start asking everyone else how they would handle it. Don’t let them get away with saying that your idea is fine. Gently push them to tell you what they would do (or what they have done in a similar situation.)

Or create multiple options and lead the group in an evaluation of them. Don’t contribute a single opinion until someone either asks or everyone has talked. You are there to lead.

Or do something really crazy — pass out post-it notes or index cards. Ask folks to write down every possible idea for how to solve the problem, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Try speaking in a different language (really! Spanish or charades — and no, I am not kidding!)

 

Or just do something, anything that is totally different from what you would otherwise do. Don’t feed into people’s expectations of how the problem will be solved.

Group dynamics remind us that when one person in a group changes their behavior, everyone else must change theirs too. Creating this kind of energy and ownership will move you forward, even through the rough spots, and lead you to different solutions to the problems that you face.

What Problems Are You Trying to Solve? Part I

My husband and I live on a half acre plot of land. In an effort to reduce the amount of grass that he has to cut, we have planted gardens in large patches around the house and in the back yard.

In solving one problem, it seems I created another. “BG” (“before gardens”), my aversion to weeds was easily controllable with regular sprays of a good weed-killer or an hour or two of weeding. Now? I feel one with the plants that are being overwhelmed by the towering and tangling weeds that want to bury the actual plant residents of the gardens.

With the break in the parish and school year, it’s a good time to reflect on what  problems are you trying to solve?

Is your focus on the right problems or just the ones in front of you?

I thought the weeds were my problem. A landscaper (who I ultimately hired) showed me the error of my ways. The landscaping fabric that I had had laid the previous year was the actual culprit of my weed problem. He told me that as long as the fabric was there, regardless of how much he sprayed the weeds, they would keep coming back.

Think about one or two of the problems that you are hoping to address over the summer. What’s the surface problem? How is it presenting itself? Who and what are involved?

Then, like a good weed, take a second look and see if you can find the root of the problem.

As a former teacher, it used to drive me crazy when students would forget to turn in homework. It took me about 3 semesters to realize that the homework itself wasn’t the problem. My students weren’t organized enough to remember to do it! Solve the organization problem, and the homework may actually get done.

Most of our problems are like a garden. If you want to kill the weed, you have to have the patience and perseverance to kill the root. Otherwise, you pull the weed, only to have it return again.