Opening Reflections

Take a Moment:

  • In your view should a team have specified processes?
  • Why do you think that?

The Recipe for Success

The mention of processes is guaranteed to make most people yawn but they exist all around us and are essential to a team being effective.  Pat MacMillan defines them as:

“A sequence of step by step actions designed to produce a desired outcome”

In short a process is a recipe. Imagine that glorious cake that you would like to share with your loved ones, or even keep for yourself. Your first step is to find the recipe and then you follow the step-by-step instructions it contains. The result is the desired, and the desirable cake.  A recipe is a process that lists the ingredients (the things you have to work with) and describes the method (the preparation and cooking steps) you will use to achieve the desired result. The recipe graphic shows a different way of looking at a recipe. It shows the sequence and identifies the required inputs and the point at which they are needed. This is more like the way one might illustrate a process flow.

Let’s move on a level, we now want to prepare a banquet not just a single cake. It’s a task that needs more than one person, so now we have a kitchen full of people, each preparing their assigned dishes to a specified recipe. Some make the starters, some the main courses, some the deserts, and there may be a choice of each. Main courses comprise of a number of elements and so a number of cooks may be working on each of the components of that alone.

Each member of the Kitchen team needs to know what and how many to produce, and when their dish has to be ready for service. They operate to a process for their dishes and a process to coordinate their work so the parts of meal come together at the right times.  If those processes don’t exist or don’t work then the banquet at best is not good and at worst guests are disappointed and go hungry.

Processes are essential for any and every team to work together collaboratively, cohesively and effectively. They form a foundation that enables team members to collaborate effectively and achieve their common purpose.

Barriers to Establishing Processes

There are four barriers that cause processes to be overlooked or ignored: lack of appreciation, lack of time, lack of design and lack of management commitment.

Lack of Appreciation

Where teams do not understand the value of processes they will pitch straight into their task with little thought as to what they need to do and why they are doing it. The team’s efforts become disjointed and far less effective than they could be. They become more the result of hope than design. It also means that there is no review and evaluation of effectiveness. So no lessons can be learned, no improvements can be made and the team continues to make the same mistakes time and time again, wondering why things are not going well.

This approach is 100% contrary to the outlook of the Christ-centred servant leader whose desire is that their team members achieve their full potential.

Lack of Time

There is often great pressure to deliver and teams may well rush into activity. There is they say, “No time to waste! We must just get down to work and it will all work out as we go along.”  Activity becomes confused with progress.

Without having thoroughly considered and planned what they need to do and how they need to do it, the team will make mistakes. Mistakes lead to the need to do things again. So, with this outlook, we are forced to find extra time to do the work again, but seldom can we make time at the outset to get it right first time. Getting it right first time is far less costly, less frustrating and more satisfying than redoing ones work.

In the telecoms industry in which I worked products went through several stages between concept and reality. For example: high level design, detailed design, implementation, testing, field trial, manufacture/deployment.  A problem that did not appear until the manufacture/deployment stage was incredibly costly to resolve and required weeks or months. Whereas, had the problem been found at the design stage, there would have been virtually no cost incurred at all. It may have taken no more than an hour or so to address. We used to reckon that a problem cost 10 times more to fix at each successive stage of development. So a problem resolved during the high level design was 50 times cheaper to fix than if it had not been found until the manufacturing stage.

Upfront brain-work always pays dividends in terms of the overall job. Even though it may seem to be delaying progress, it will always shorten the overall job and improve the quality of the outcome. The Christ-centred servant leader is concerned to facilitate the fulfilment of those whom they lead. As such they will appreciate the gains to be made by taking time upfront to prepare the processes that their team members need to be effective.

Lack of Design

Imagine the growth of shanty town for a moment. First a few shacks are erected, then more people come and more shacks are built, eventually there are a huge number of shacks in a random layout. Where it was once easy for the first settlers to fetch water, now they have to trudge through a maze of narrow dirty alleys. Processes that are devised as you go, or get adapted in a piecemeal fashion to accommodate things that were overlooked, stop being effective and eventually stop working at all.

Processes that just happen as things move along will never be effective. Likewise processes that get bent to accommodate changes will eventually not be effective.  The first bend may be OK but after a few changes the process will be so bent out of shape that it will no longer work properly. Where this approach is taken with significant changes, parts of the process that no longer have a purpose often remain, causing work for no benefit. No one knows why they are there and no one dare remove them.

To be effective processes must be deliberately designed to achieve a specific purpose and be deliberately reviewed and systematically updated or redesigned to accommodate change. Unless this happens, processes and the team that uses them will fail. From the perspective of the Christ-centred servant leader, whose goal is that team members are able to achieve their full potential, effective processes are essential.

Lack of Management Commitment

Processes liberate teams to be effective. They enable teams to monitor progress, identify the need for improvement and to take the initiative to bring about that improvement. Such freedom challenges insecure managers and leaders. They may be concerned about job security, be confused about their role, perceive a loss of control, or a host of other issues. The result is a desire to hang on to control, to remain operating in the mould of traditional, “machine-minded” management. Even a high performance team may be trapped by this because of the attitude of the other parts of the organisation with which the team interacts. The manager/leader becomes the obstacle to achievement. They become the bottleneck because nothing can happen without their involvement.

It is in this situation that the character and attitude of the servant leader comes into play as they seek to support and enable those who have such issues.

The Foundation for Team Work

Processes form a foundation that allows a team to work together. They define methods and ground rules for the team, help the team to coordinate their actions and achieve the desired result. It allows each member to know what everyone else is doing. When something goes wrong it allows the team members to know exactly where they are and work out what needs to be done to recover the situation. A side effect of effective process is the growth of trust between team members.

The existence of a process also enables improvement to be achieved. By reviewing the effectiveness of the processes and how well it meets actual needs, improvements can be made and performance can be enhanced. As we have seen, this is especially important where the circumstances change. Needs often change in small stages without people really noticing. At first the process continues to work well but as the number of changes stack up it becomes less and less effective.

Effective Processes Enable Synergy

For a team, synergy is achieved when the outcome brought about collectively by the members exceeds that which the same people could have brought about by working individually.  Well designed and agreed processes, collectively used, are the means for achieving synergy. They enable each team member to fulfil their part in the joint endeavour so that together they can succeed. According to Pat MacMillan “synergy is found in both work and wisdom”.

  • Work

Work is those functional or technical activities of team members that are necessary to deliver the desired outcome. The process allows each member to fulfil their part of the task in a way that allows the other members to do the same. Well-designed processes enable the team to achieve exceptional results; that is synergy. The need for these work-processes are usually self-evident.

  • Wisdom

Wisdom is different and the need for wisdom-processes is much less self-evident. Wisdom is the application of a team’s, knowledge, insight, character and experience. It comes into play in areas such as planning, decision making, problem solving, conflict management, meeting management and so on. These are necessary activities within a team and they make all the difference to the team’s effectiveness but they do not seem to directly contribute to the desired outcome. But consider conflict for a moment by way of example. If issues arise that generate conflict between team members then they will not work together effectively and it may well prevent the team from achieving the desired outcome, its common purpose. Similarly, if planning is not effective and problems are not solved and decision making is poor then the team will fail to achieve its objectives.The team’s wisdom-processes require as much consideration as do the technical and functional processes. Given that they are often overlooked entirely they should be given a priority.

Developing Effective Processes

As we have discussed, the development of processes is a deliberate action and it needs to include the whole team, drawing on their collective expertise, experience and wisdom.

Identify the Necessary Processes

The first step is to have the team consider their work and wisdom tasks and identify the processes that are needed. Some organisations may have considered this generally and have already established common processes that can be used or adapted.

Map Each Process

The next task is to take each process and map it out. Take a look at the diagrammatic recipe we looked at. That is a process map (there are other ways to draw processes).  It states what the desired outcome is, it identifies the necessary inputs and stages of work required. It will also identify who does what and when and what passes between each stage of the process; this is particularly important as many issues will arise where things fall down the gaps between team members.

Having sketched this out the team can then walk-through the process to identify things that are missing or wrong and they can be corrected.

Document Each Process

Effectively the process sets out a set of ground rules and methods to be employed. The process needs to be documented in some manner. Memories fade quite rapidly and unless it is documented, compliance to the process will degrade just as rapidly. Process descriptions don’t have to be long, if one page is sufficient to adequately describe an effective process that is all that is needed. They can be graphic or written but a combination of words and images is usually best as together they communicate effectively to more people.

Effort is also required to ensure that each team member understands the process the same way. Walking-through and rehearsing a documented process will help achieve this.

Evaluate the Processes

It’s important to review and evaluate the processes and decisions. This means taking time to ask and answer two key questions: ”How effective is this process?” and “How can we make it more effective?” This last question is the one that underpins exceptional performance. It is an outworking of the “Challenging the Process” leadership practice we discussed in the previous lesson – The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader. It is a vital step enabling the fulfilment of potential.

Here is a health warning:  unless the process is written down it will be difficult if not impossible to effectively review it and improve it.

When holding meetings or making decisions it is good practice to spend 5 minutes at the end evaluating the meeting or the decision process, scoring them out of 100. If the scores are logged and reviewed then it’s possible to see how things are going and measure the impact of any improvements.


Take a Moment:
Meetings are often difficult so if you have a copy of the Performance Factor read the section in the Effective Team Processes chapter entitled “Turning Principle into Practice – the Meeting”

  • How do your team meetings operate? Is there an effective “process”?
  • What do you think your team meeting process should be like? In this case consider the process to be the ground rules for meetings.


Take a Moment

  • Reflect upon your team
    • What written and unwritten processes does your team have?
    • Have you got adequate processes to cover:
      • The team’s work?
      • The team’s wisdom?
  • If not, what processes does your team need to establish?
  • Sketch out a process map for a selection of them. (Pay particular attention to the hand-off points between process stages/team members.)


Take a Moment

  • Review and reflect on the seven practices of a Christ-centred servant leader that we looked at in the last lesson.
  •  How would they workout for your team, as you seek to establish and operate effective team processes?