Your congregation’s annual stewardship campaign has gotten a little flat.  This year, the board wants to add a part-time membership coordinator to your paid staff, which will require a significant increase in pledges.  You’ve been asked to recruit members to serve on a re-formed stewardship team. What qualities should you look for in potential team members?

Assembling an effective committee or team can be difficult, especially when dealing with an adaptive challenge like stewardship (or growth, or faith formation or ……).

Ronald Heifetz, in his model of Adaptive Leadership, tells us that we need the energy, expertise and creativity of a group of people affected by the challenge to tease out adaptive solutions. Such a group needs to be empowered to imagine possible approaches and test them in low-risk/high-learning experiments.

You want a team that is experienced, but you don’t want a team that is too set in its ways to be responsive to new situations or to try new approaches.  You want people who will work well together, but you don’t want them to be insular.

Groups working well together can perform better than the sum of their individual performances. Researchers have shown that good, balanced teams tend to be the most innovative.  In his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer notes that the best journal articles (“home run” papers that have been cited at least 1000 times) are six times more likely to come from a team of scientists than from one or two.

Lehrer also shares another study by Northwestern Sociologist Brian Uzzi, who, along with studying the creativity of academics, looked at another population: those involved with the production of Broadway musicals.  He was able to access a century’s worth of data, cross referencing who worked on what musical, and how successful it was.

Uzzi developed a metric that paid attention to how connected the individual team members were to one another, i.e. how often and how closely they had worked together in the  past.  He measured the social intimacy of each musical’s cast and crew, and assigned  a numerical designation that he called Q.  A team that had worked together many times before would have a high Q, a team of strangers would have a low Q.

He found that when the Q was too low the team members struggled to work together, and weren’t able to develop the trust to freely exchange ideas.  If the Q was too high, the team tended to stagnate and innovation was next to impossible.  Star power of individuals with successful track records was compromised when they worked over and over again with the same people.

The best musicals were produced by teams that had a mix of established relationships and new blood.  This ideal Q had enough trust and structure to smooth interactions, but also some productive discomfort that enabled the group to allow some innovation.

Taking this idea back to our recruiting process, we would want to assemble a team with the ideal Q.  We want part of the team to have experience working with one another (perhaps on a different committee or project), some folks who have experience or knowledge around stewardship but also some folks who have different views and life experiences that can help the team approach their challenges with a fresh perspective.

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.