While one volcano in Iceland is having its 15 minutes (hours…days…) of fame, the rest of the world is trying to cope with the unexpected consequences. In Surprise! Four Strategies for Coping with Disruption, Rosabeth Moss Kanter makes the case that “coping with the unexpected is a leadership imperative.”

In every endeavor, the ability to recover quickly separates winners from losers, whether they are reacting to fumbles in a sports match or curve balls thrown by external events. I summarize the challenge of managing volatility in a simple equation: MTBS = or < MTMD. MTBS is the mean time between surprises, which is shrinking. MTMD is the mean time to make a decision, which better be fast.

I’m sure every pastor recognizes this equation. Even in the church, the mean time between surprises is shrinking, and the mean time to make a decision is accelerating!

Kanter proposes four strategies to speed response and minimize the impact of disruptions. I’ll state them, then show their relevance to churches facing one particular kind of “surprise.”

1. Backup. Leaders should know the benefits of alternatives. Even if Plan B cannot always be rehearsed and ready to go, mental flexibility can prevent specifications and expectations from becoming rigid barriers to rapid redirection.

The Pastor is on vacation when a long-standing member of his congregation dies suddenly. Do the elders and members know what to do, or must they resort to calling their Pastor back from a much-needed break to organize and perform the funeral? Is there a Plan B?

2. Communication. Information must flow quickly and spread virally, whether through email or phone chains, Twitter alerts, or buddy systems.

Usually the Pastor notifies everyone when there is a death in the congregation. Is there a system in place to do this in his absence so that everyone hears and no one is missed?

3. Collaboration. Human relationships, commitment, and resiliency help companies recover quickly. When people care about one another, have common goals, and feel empowered to act, they can master volatility and maintain high performance.

Is there a team in place to fill in the pastoral gaps? Is there a visiting team for comforting the bereaved family each day leading up to the funeral? Is there a catering team to provide meals for the mourning family and their gathering relatives? Is there a church facilities team to make sure the church is open, the lights and heat are on, and the car park stewarded on the day of the funeral?

4. Values and principles. Clear standards and values can serve as a guidance system to steer decisions without sluggish bureaucracy. People know the right thing to do without being told and without waiting for permission.

There are often difficult questions about the form and content of funerals. Do the elders and members have enough clear teaching and principles to be able to answer specific questions wisely?

PS: I would strongly encourage elders to strongly discourage early termination of their Pastor’s vacation (except in truly exceptional circumstances). I’ve seen Pastors in these situations lose not only their vacation, but also their health, their relationship with their wife and children (who also need rest and catch up time with him), and even their love for their congregation.

  • Scott@fb

    “having it’s 15 minutes” ???

  • Scott@fb

    In America, we sic Bob the Angry Flower on you. I finally found the link:http://www.angryflower.com/itsits.gif

  • David Murray

    Thanks Scott.