Case Study: Adding Some Structure When You’re Stretched Too Thin

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Background:

Last year I worked with a church struggling with growing pains: their constituency nearly quadrupled in number over the past 6 years. As they grew, each member of the 5-person team took on more and more new tasks and job functions as needed - no questions asked - out of their passion for and commitment to their community.

Because there was no clear organizational structure in place, the new responsibilities were assumed with little to no coordination or strategic thinking about who should do what. As is common in small teams, the idea of structure seemed too formal, impersonal, and incompatible with the friendly and welcoming culture.

The Challenge:

While the growth of the community was a sure sign of the church’s great success building an engaged community, the magnitude and pace of change eventually overwhelmed the team.

  • The larger constituency base meant way more demand for services and staff time.

  • Deadlines and attention to detail started slipping because of sheer work overload.

  • Some responsibilities started falling through the cracks due to insufficient coordination and management.

Everyone felt overloaded, overwhelmed, and underappreciated. But they also loved and truly believed in the church’s mission and values, and wanted things to get better.

It was clear they needed a big change.

I was hired to help create and hire for the first new position: a parish administrator to manage and coordinate work across the whole staff, and make sure all staff felt supported and appreciated.

However, you can’t create a new position out of thin air. We needed to make sure we developed this position to not only fit within the current culture, but also enhanced the team dynamic.

The Solution:

We needed to take stock of what the current team members were doing before we could determine what the new position would look like. My first step was writing position descriptions for all existing roles to clarify:

  • What specific tasks was each person responsible for?

  • Did the grouping of tasks and responsibilities for each person make sense?

  • In what ways did each position collaborate with the others?

I outline each existing position as it had been for the past few years, and then work with the team to envision how each role would change with the addition of the new position. To do this, we considered:

  • What tasks weren’t being done by anyone, but were needed?

  • Were people overloaded, and if so, what needed to be taken off their plates?

  • What additional coordination and oversight was needed to manage problems and keep everything running smoothly?

  • Who should report to whom?

I then revised the description for each role resolve these issues and make sure each team member’s role 1) made sense, 2) included a reasonable (but not overwhelming) workload, and 3) outlined clear expectations.

Once we had position descriptions for each existing team member, we then mapped out how and where the parish administrator would complement the team, enhance capabilities, and fill in any gaps. Each team member had input in creating the new position and identifying how the new role would help resolve some of the challenges they’d been facing.

Results:

By taking this holistic approach to position description, I made sure the new person would provide the support and resources needed to each team member, at every level. The team members appreciated having clear position descriptions so they could fully understand their role and expectations. This small bit of structured allowed the church’s team to focus more on the community they loved, because they no longer had to worry about certain tasks falling through the cracks.

Or, in their words:

Alex’s “particular skill is in establishing … operational structures that allow for flexibility while providing predictability and sustainability -- and that is what will allow us continue to grow and thrive.“