Feedback: The Biology of Communication
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 (NIV)
In a complex constantly changing environment, clear consistent communication becomes the life blood of any healthy vibrant organization. The Baptist General Convention of Texas functions as a living breathing “organism.” Paul speaks of us as a “body” that lives an interdependent existence.
Often the focus of executive leadership revolves around casting a vision and getting the word out to the people. Granted this is a primary stewardship of leadership, but it is only half of the communication story. Effective organizations value feedback as a critical part of staying in touch with the world. Too often executive leadership gets isolated and insolated from the “real world.” It is not uncommon for leaders to surround themselves with close friends who see the world through the same eyes and the same bias. This approach may work in times of peace and tranquility, but in times of significant “sea change” this approach at best could be crippling if not fatal for the organization.
One of the genius moves of Abraham Lincoln during the dark days of the Civil War was to surround himself with a team of “rivals.” Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote a discerning book about this brilliant move by Lincoln to surround himself with men like William H. Steward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates.
After the selection of our new Executive Director (ED), I would recommend that he or she surround himself or herself with a broad and diverse set of key leaders and even “rivals” so the fog of “groupthink” will not hinder our vision of the future. Peter Drucker in Managing the Non-profit Organization noted that “all the first-rate decision makers I’ve observed, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, had a very simple rule: If you have consensus on an important matter, don’t make the decision. Adjourn it so that everyone has a little time to think. Important decisions are risky. They should be controversial. Acclamation means that nobody has done their homework”.
Pat MacMillan in The Performance Factor makes some insightful observations about the phenomena of “groupthink” by explaining “how well-intentioned, well-informed groups ‘collectively’ make poor decisions.” Irving L. Janis suggests several remedies for the “groupthink” phenomena:
* Encourage group members to take on a role of critical evaluators and encourage sharing objections within the discussion.
* Make sure the leader doesn’t “overlead” and show strong partiality to one solution or course of action.
* Hold “second-chance” meetings after consensus is apparently achieved, giving team members an opportunity to express their doubts or concerns. (Pat MacMillan, The Performance Factor 165-66)
As the BGCT seeks to embrace its future it is critical that our executive leadership team and Executive Board work hard to make sure the diversity of perspective in our convention be well represented, but more importantly heard and taken seriously.