encourage the exploration of scripture
In my last post, I encouraged you to begin looking at the issue of effective board/vestry size by first establishing its intended purpose. What is the board’s first priority? Unless its primary focus is on information gathering, information dissemination, and/or direct shepherding oversight, most boards are charged with making wise decisions. These decisions could be spiritual, ministry, financial, accountability, or all of the above.
The problem with a larger decision-making board (above 8 members) is the predictable imbalance it produces along the “inquiry vs advocacy” spectrum.
Here is an excerpt from Patrick Lencioni's excellent article about this dynamic in any type of leadership team.
So what is the right size for a leadership team? Somewhere between three and eight. Why? Because groups larger than this almost always struggle to effectively use the two kinds of communication that are required of any team.
Chris Argyris, a professor at Harvard, came up with the idea years ago that people need to engage in both ‘advocacy’ and ‘inquiry’ in order to communicate effectively. Advocacy amounts to stating an opinion or an idea, while inquiry is the act of asking questions or seeking clarity about someone else’s opinion or idea. Frankly, one part advocacy and two parts inquiry is a mix I like to see on teams.
Why the increased imbalance on large boards? Because the larger the board is, the less time each individual has to speak. And if my time is limited, there is more pressure to champion my own opinion rather than to ask a question. After all, with so many voices, I may not get an opportunity to speak again into the issue. Why "waste" my time with a question and immediately prompt someone else speak? Yet wiser decisions are made when true listening takes place. As Proverbs 18:2 puts it, "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing personal opinion."
Is your church board one that learns together prior to a critical decision or one in which pre-established opinions and agendas are championed until consent is reached? Furthermore, in the latter scenario, those who are extroverted, opinionated, or hold some form of organizational power tend to hold an influence edge.
My next post, and the final one in this board-size series, is uniquely applicable to churches as some of the people who currently serve on your board would be far more effective - and happier - serving somewhere else. Spoiler alert - any church that has 10 or more board members while struggling to fill core volunteer and leadership roles needs to take a step back.