These two charts (among many others!) have been very helpful to me for understanding why so many ministries struggle with collaboration even while rightly naming it as a priority.
Simply put, we tend to talk a lot about collaboration without describing what we actually mean by it. There is in fact a lot of research about collaboration in organizations, demonstrating key ingredients and principles that need to be included for collaboration to actually be collaboration. It’s not as simple as, “look at us, we work together!”
Here’s the chart I refer to most often. It’s based on research by Alison Reynolds and David Lewis. The chart conveys how diversity is not just a nice byproduct of an effective organization or a box you can check off. Rather, various types of diversity are necessary and essential at the front end of any collaborative work. When high levels of diversity intersect with high levels of trust and psychological safety, you have generative, collaborative teams. Through evaluation of The Ministry Collaborative cohort program, we have seen these findings play out in incredible ways with our most diverse cohorts.
Too many of us are sitting in psychologically safe but non-diverse contexts, from which it is impossible to see the full range of possibilities, avenues, and creative approaches to the challenges we face. And then we wonder, “why does it feel like we are having the same conversations over and over again?” Well…. because we are. We need a broader diversity of perspectives, expertise, backgrounds, ways of thinking, learning, and implementing. For many of us, this means going outside the organization/ministry and bringing in “outside” voices from time to time, simply in order to broaden the conversation and frame of reference more rapidly. Possibly uncomfortable? Yes. A better gamble than doing nothing of the sort? Absolutely.
The next chart, from Morten Hansens’s excellent book, Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, is complementary to the first chart and just as necessary. It is very difficult to create a space or that is cognitively diverse and psychologically safe if the organization or group of people is not sufficiently decentralized. Hansen calls effectively decentralized collaboration “disciplined collaboration.” Not a free for all, not chaos, not silos. Disciplined collaboration.
All of this should make a lot of theological sense for ministry leaders as we seek to equip and commission people to pursue the ministry God has prepared for them. And yet we constantly fall into the habit of creating centralized hierarchy (either implicitly or explicitly), resulting in choke points, bottlenecks, micromanaging of ministry, and often dysfunctional systems. We know that over the long-term, this isn’t sustainable because it unduly burdens pastors and fails to equip lay leaders. But we do it anyway, often because we are used to operating in a system of anxiety, quick fixes, and the worry that somehow the work won’t get done. It will, really!
So, vital for collaboration, is deep trust, diversity, and decentralization. Where can you begin to diversify, build trust, and decentralize ministry in order to follow the spirit more attentively wherever it leads, especially in directions you didn’t anticipate? How can you start getting serious about collaboration? It’s an absolute necessity that also happens to be a deep joy.