I spend a lot of time on airplanes. It is one of the side effects (benefits?) of being a national consultant. We all know that flying is a high tech endeavor. Commercial aircraft are complex machines guided by sensors, backup systems and safety features that boggle the average mind. The process of checking in and boarding is a carefully coordinated series of steps that rely on the help of scanners and detectors. All of these devices produce lots of beeping that guide or block the way.
With all that is high tech in the flying experience I am amazed by one small task at the end of each journey that remains decidedly low tech and high touch. At the end of the flight, when the jet bridge has been extended and the passengers gather in the aisles awaiting their escape, the flight steward stands poised at the door awaiting an “all clear” signal. Finally, the signal arrives. It’s not a radio signal, not a flashing light, not an intercom alert, and not a text message. There are no special sensors or alarms indicating that it’s safe to open the door. It’s a simple knock on the outside of the plane door by the gate agent. The steward flings the door open and the gate agent and steward greet one another with words of welcome and brief instructions about the special needs of some guests on board. Apparently, nothing has yet been invented that improves upon this simple communication exchange between two human beings.
Large congregations are complex organizations with many features that parallel a sophisticated aircraft. Increasingly, we rely on technology to manage our communication processes as we shepherd people from point A to point B. Challenges related to communication are among the most frequently cited problems that a large church consultant hears about; particularly as it relates to communication within the staff team.
I have spent countless coaching hours with pastors discussing how they might structure their staff meetings to get the right people in the room at the right time so that key staff is in the know. Congregations are increasingly working with software supported calendaring systems, room assignment systems and membership data bases so that all staff members can access data on a need to know basis.
Most large congregation’s today function with a full time Communications Director on staff. This individual works to create a branding image for the congregation, carefully utilizing social and print media to facilitate the flow of information. In spite of this technology, and the presence of these amazing people, communication is still our number one stumbling block!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of employing technology, organizational design theory and specialized staff to help us improve our communication efforts. But, perhaps we can learn something from the airlines on this one. At the end of the day, staff teams with the clearest channels of communication demonstrate one remarkable trait. People talk to each other. Every member of the team is proactive in thinking about what they need to communicate and to whom. They have intentional conversations about what they know, what they need, and what they might offer. Staff members have these conversations in formal team meetings, informally over the water cooler, at lunch and in the hallway. They dash off a quick and helpful email or text.
It’s really that simple…just a knock on the door that says “we’re here”.