Structure is not "sexy," but it certainly is essential.
If you have any doubts just take a look at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest building at 2, 717 feet. I don't want to go up 163 stories (one-half mile) unless I know someone built a solid foundation under me. Structure matters! The same is true when it comes to teams.
Teams Matter - Structure Matters
Teams play a huge role in getting the job done. Teams occupy a prominent place in sports, business, government, the church, and just about every place we need more than one person to accomplish a task.
Pat MacMillan has defined a team "as a group of people committed to a common purpose who choose to cooperate to achieve exceptional results." You can click here to learn more. Why is it that some teams achieve stellar results while others are merely average? What makes the difference? High performing teams share at least four characteristics:
- A high performing team is a real team.Click here to read.
- A high performing team knows its mission. Click here to read
- A high performing team has a useful structure.
- A high performing team has a strong leader.
Because teams matter, the way they are structured matters. Structure includes systems and processes.
Structure Means We Have Good Systems
A system is a series of interrelated actions and activities (a pattern) for describing what is done or how we get things done. When you get on an airplane the ground crew has a system for readying the aircraft, the pilots have a system of checks to prepare for takeoff, the flight attendants have a system for preparing the passengers. Together these systems form an entire network of actions and activities that make flight possible. High performing teams understand the importance of systems. Here are four questions to ask when it comes to your systems:
What is our recruiting system?
Our recruiting system is our plan for adding people to our team. What kind of people are we looking for? Where will we go to find them? What steps will we take to invite them onto the team?
What is our training system?
Our training system helps us get our team members ready and keep them at peak performance. I find it interesting that Jesus did not simply hold a week-long "Apostles Conference" and then send out the twelve. He walked with them, taught them -- sent them out -- and then brought them back for a debriefing and for more training.
Training is both initial (what we give people at the outset of their participation on the team) and ongoing (how we continue to keep them equipped). Training is also organizational (things everyone needs to know to be at their best) and individual (the specific instruction we might give to one member).
What is our information system?
If the three most important words in real estate are "location, location, location," then three of the most important words in team work are "communication, communication, communication."
All of us naturally drift. We start out fired up about our mission, vision, and values . . . but then we lapse into the routine maintenance of "doing our job." The leader helps to overcome this drift with regular communication. How? By sharing stories, by recasting the vision, by catching people doing things right and then celebrating it with the entire team. What is your information plan? There are many ways to communicate today with social media, but we cannot forget the importance of real-time face-to-face interaction either.
What is our evaluation system?
Think back to when you were in school. There was always that kid who asked, "What do we have to do to get an 'A'?" Teams want to know how to get an 'A.' They want progress reports on how they are doing. Again, it is easy to fall into the daily grind and weeks, months, and even years can pass before anyone gets a progress report on how they are doing. What do you currently evaluate? When do you do this? Does anything need to change?
There is a common business axiom that says, “Our system is perfectly designed for the results we are receiving.” If we don't like our results, we need to assess our systems.
Structure Means We Have Good Processes
Process -- the step-by-step directions for getting things done -- can be incredibly complex. But at the root process involves answering four questions: What will be done? Who will be responsible for doing it? When must it be accomplished? How must the work be done?
What must be done?
Is the team responsible for a report, an event, a task, or some other action? What is the specific job/s at hand?
Who will be responsible for doing it?
If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible. Teams must ultimately know which member of the team has the final responsibility for the task.
When must this be accomplished?
We wear watches for a reason. We are time-driven society and tasks have end-dates. When must the work be done?
How will it be done?
In the best teams there is "freedom in the how." In other words, great teams don't need to dictate how work is accomplished. However, there are some situations where the technical nature of the team's work requires a very detailed process for how the task is completed. Teams leaders must exercise wisdom at this point and delegate as much "freedom in the how" as possible.
A prologue is a notebook or manual that includes all the team's processes. This tool becomes extremely valuable for helping new team members get up-to-speed or for those times when someone suddenly leaves the team. At such a time the rest of the team can be left scratching their collective heads wondering exactly how things get done.
A few weeks back I was preparing to preach at our church. We are pretty tech heavy so I brought my computer to our backstage area to be "plugged in.' This connects me to four different monitors and to our technical booth on the third floor. It is not a simple "plug and play" process. It's complicated. Our main technical guru from our Worship Arts Team was absent. Since he has prepared a prologue, there wasn't much worry about the complex nature of the task. But there was one little piece of that written process was missing. That little piece almost interrupted the entire use of technology for that day. Processes matter.
Structure Means We Go Home Happy
One of the best verses in the Bible for organizational leadership comes from the book of Exodus. Moses is in a quandary over his growing nation and his growing frustration with his inability to keep up with it all. He's getting "burned out." Jethro, his father-in-law sees Moses predicament and recommends a change in structure.
Moses' father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good.You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone....I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God,and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. Exodus 18:17-22 ESV
Jethro's answer to Moses problem was not "work harder" but "work smarter." Improve your structure. This applies to teams as well. And what is the consequence of working with great efficiency? Jethro concludes his fatherly talk with these words:
If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied. Exodus 18:23 NIV
Good structure enables the leader to stand the strain and the people to go home happy. Sounds like a great combination. May God give you wisdom for building great structure.
 Pat MacMillan, The Performance Factor. Unlocking The Secrets Of Teamwork. Nashville: Broadman & Holman. 2001. Page 30.