4 steps to better leadership communication: lessons from a church planter #2

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Leading involves communication. But who to communicate to and when is one of the greatest challenges to communication. On the one hand communicating ideas too early and with the wrong people can be premature and result in confusion. On the other hand leaving communication too late, without involving people can lead to a lack of participation and frustration.

A friend introduced me to a project management tool, to aid communication called RACI. It’s a tool that has a variety of versions and in the hands of project managers can be very complex. But it can be reduced to a simple process to aid communication. That process can help with knowing who to communicate to, when to communicate and how.

1. The Communication Process

Responsible Who is responsible for this idea, program, activity, initiative, ministry? Who does the buck stop with and who is ultimately accountable for making things happen, come to life and work? The person/s responsible make the key decisions, allocate resources and allocate actions to themselves and others.

Assisting Who is helping the person/s responsible, by making actions in support? These people assist with actions but ultimately are not responsible for the outcome or decisions.

Collaborating Who needs to input, ideas, questions, coaching, suggestions? Collaborators aren’t responsible and they often don’t assist, i.e have actions to make. They also don’t make decisions or hold responsibility for outcomes.

Information Who needs information, and updates? People who are not responsible, collaborating or assisting, but need to know understand things you are leading.

Now of course people can be involved in all four areas, but the idea is to figure out who key to each of these processes. So how does this work in practice? We’ll work backwards through RACI to show how.

2. The Communication process in action

Information The key question to ask is, who needs to know about this and when?

Some people in church think they should now about everything. That is isn’t the case and that approach often leads to a bottle neck of inaction and stifling control. On the other hand you find some leaders who think others don’t need any communication, they never stop to think who needs to be updated and are then surprised when people upset and frustrated. Both these approaches are wrong.

So the first step is to ask who needs information, so that information can be planned and then take place. The second step is to let people know you are communicating information and not asking for collaboration etc. Sometimes that needs to be spelt out, i.e this is for information only. People can assume information is a request for them to collaborate, or help make decisions.

Collaboration This is usually more focused, and involves gathering people together in person or online and asking them for their input ideas, and suggestions. Again people can mistake collaboration as authority to make decisions. When collaborating make clear it’s about getting ideas and advice, but not about making decisions. Unless you want to make the people doing this responsible for things with you.

Assisting People assisting, need extra communication and information. They need to know they are not making decisions or responsible for what they are assisting with. People assisting can assume they are responsible for things that they are not. Also leaders can move the goal posts and expect people assisting them to be responsible. If that is the expectation then communicate it.

3. Some real ministry examples in action Let’s imagine you initiate a new ministry, a community project, small groups, youth work, leadership training program etc. You need to involve some other people to help think through what you are doing. Rather than announce to the whole church what you are thinking through, you get some people you trust who have the experience to input on your ideas. As a good leader you let your collaborators know what is being asked of them, collaboration only. That avoids other people taking over the leadership of what you are leading. Also people are often used to being asked for collaboration and then being left by leaders to do all the actions and take responsibility. So you’ll often find people more willing to collaborate with you when you communicate you want their advice not their time for actions actions or for them to be responsible for outcomes.

Collaboration can lead to your ideas coming alive, and into a strategy and plan. Something that now has the potential to take place and shape. After collaborating, you have a better idea of what you need to do, and you form a team around you. People who will assist you in making those plans and strategy come to life. You make clear to those assisting what they are responsible for and what they are not. You also make sure they have communication from you and from them to you. People assisting need ongoing and regular communication with you.

Then there are the people you wan to know about your knew ministry, to take part, to pray for it, to support it, or just as church family to know that it is happening. Planning that communication and communicating information is an opportunity to a) let people know the process you went through to get to the stage of communicating i.e develop a culture of people understanding good communication processes, and b) most importantly to let people know the information you need to communicate.

When people know the process you went through as well as the content of your communication, you’ll find people feel more involved. It also helps them to know why they weren’t asked their opinion, or to make a decision on what is taking place.

Conclusion This is not a linear process, and the activities of RACI are dynamic and overlapping. They are domains for consideration to help plan, strategise and communicate. Also when things go wrong it can help in conflicts and learning to be better at communication.

Sometimes you’ll realise you didn’t communicate information to people you should have and can then apologise instead of being defensive. Sometimes you’ll have to explain to people that although they gave you their ideas, you were responsible for the decisions not them. Some times you’ll realise there are people you should have collaborated with and didn’t.

So next time to start something, lead something, develop something and want to communicate well, try RACI and see how you get on.