A New Kind of Weekly Communication
But then one of my coaches, a retired army colonel, taught me that to lead effectively, you need to lead two layers down. In other words, in order to relate well to my coaches and lead them well, I needed to know the leaders they led. For coaches, that meant that in order to lead their leaders well, they needed to know the people in their leaders' groups. I realized that even if I wasn't going to meet with the leaders on a regular basis, I needed a way to get leaders to initiate weekly communication that would inform both their coaches and me. In this way, we could be assured that they were aligned with our ministry's goals and vision. A web application seemed to be the most logical way to accomplish this. So in August 2000, we rolled out our first run at such an app. Over the next eight years of use, the app expanded greatly, and we found ourselves leading a tribe of group champions committed to better communication. Three key lessons emerged: A weekly communication system must be simple, useful, and accountable.
I was part of a church that had transitioned from Sunday school to small groups. Weekly attendance numbers had always helped gauge growth, and we were committed to that metric. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep track of attendance when groups meet throughout the community all week long.
I tried everything. I asked leaders to call in their information to the office. This required a lot of staff time. Plus, it usually meant staff had to call leaders who had forgotten to report. Next, I put an option on the Internet and worked hard to get leaders to go there and log in after their meetings. We even e-mailed leaders weekly to encourage them to do it. Finally, it dawned on us that we should modify the software we were developing to automatically send an e-mail to leaders on the night they meet. This e-mail gave them a link to click which brought them to a meeting report page that included attendance reporting and space for them to write down notes and prayer requests. This definitely made it simpler. Still, adoption was only at about 50 percent.
Then I noticed that my best leaders communicated to their group weekly, usually by e-mail. So, we modified the system so that the meeting report would go not only to the coaches and pastors who oversaw the group, but also to the entire group. We trained the leaders to see these e-mails as a weekly reminder for them to communicate with and build relationships with group members. As they communicated with their group, they were also communicating with their coach and pastor. This helped tremendously.
A by-product was the discovery that coaching is more powerful when you watch leaders communicate with their group. Looking back, I should have realized that coaching a leader works best when you see the leader interacting with the team. Can you imagine a football coach meeting with his quarterback yet never watching him play or practice? This was a great lesson on using communication to train coaches. It was also a great lesson on the need to make the communication system useful to leaders in building relationships with their group members. It moved adoption up another 10 to 20 percent.