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MidAmerica UUA Region: Consider Our Future Together

Why are you writing this blog?

The boards of the Prairie Star, Heartland, and Central Midwest districts voted unanimously last Fall (2011) to propose to our districts that we move from district governance to regional governance. We will discuss this at our District Assemblies this Spring (2012). We will vote at the DAs of 2013.

We advise congregations to prepare their congregations for important decisions by communicating proactively and encouraging full discussion. The staff of the region, with invited guest bloggers including our district presidents, aim to do this with this blog. We need your wisdom to create our future together.

This is more than a conversation about district and regional structures. We are all learning to minister in a very different emerging world. We need to figure out how to do this together. We invite you into a conversation about these things.

Rev. Lisa PresleyAt a Spring 2012 Heartland District Ministers’ Chapter meeting, once again I presented information about the planned move from District-based service delivery and governance to Regional-based models. I’ve been talking with the ministers and religious education professionals about this for the past 18 months, and once again I asked “What are your questions?” One of the ministers sent me four specific questions. I’ll be addressing each of them in a separate blog entry.

Here’s the first one: What does a MidAmerica regional identity do for us, that wouldn’t be achieved, for example, by dealing directly with the UUA?

Here’s the heart of the answer: We who live and work here in MidAmerica know the regional variations of this part of our country, and while the “national” staff of the UUA know that there are differences, they don’t live those differences. The products and service delivery from the national staff are designed so that they could be used in any region of the country. We here in MidAmerica lead with a sensitivity to what is unique about the Great Lakes region, Kentucky which is both southern and Midwest (though probably more southern!), the plains states, the northern climes where the cold can settle in, and the difference that our distances and isolation make. If programs and services were delivered from the national staff only, then there would often be the need to translate them to our sometimes more pragmatic approach and language. We know that MidAmerica is not a “one size fits all” region, and we’re attuned to that. The national staff doesn’t always have the luxury of that adaptability. The Heartland sensibility will remain, as will the Central MidWest and Prairie Star sensibilities, and they will be joined together as we are culturally more alike than different, and culturally more in line with each other rather than with the other UUA staff regions.

A Rob Mollafascinating thing about creating new structures for our region is that most of the key issues are exactly the same as the issues our congregational leaders ask us about every day. Here's an example. I was in a great conversation yesterday with Rob Molla, UUA Director of Human Resources (pictured at left). His ten bits of advice about good supervision seem worth sharing:

  1. Create job descriptions.
  2. Develop goals with specific behavioral objectives. Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) and SMART-ER (that is, also Ethical and Reevaluated periodically).
  3. Ask powerful questions "what is it I don't know that I need to know?" Also powerful is for a supervisor to think of this question in communicating to those supervised: “what don’t they know that they need to know?”
  4. Focus on coaching.
  5. Talk with those who work with the person you evaluate, especially when supervising those who supervise others. Even if you do not do full 360 evaluation, this is important.
  6. Orient new employees well.
  7. Support continuing education. Build a culture of continuing learning.
  8. Give feedback, positive and negative, and document it. This should be at least 1-2 times per year.
  9. Foster team building and make yourself available.
  10. Foster a creative, innovative, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, and respectful environment.

There are many good reasons for not following this advice. But none good enough.

PhilHad a great conversation with Phil Lund today over coffee in St Paul. His message was that social media is no longer an optional part of the work of our congregations and we need to be strategic about how we use it. What does this look like for congregations or for the MidAmerica Region? Phil helped me get a start on this list of ten of what makes for a strategic approach to social media: (1) Support the mission. (2) Think modular—create pieces which can be used many places. (3) Keep it short—short and focused beats long and thoughtful. (4) Make it sustainable—keeping at it is half the challenge. (5) Use images; words are not enough. (6) Build networks—you need people who will pass on what you post. (7) Be ready to work hard at it—momentum builds slowly. (8) Enlist a team. (9) Be ready to adapt—the internet you plan for today will not be the internet of tomorrow. (10) Keep it real--integrity counts. If you know a congregation who does a great job of social media, let us know—we will profile it here. You want more on this, there is a lot more on the web about social media strategy for churches. Here is one I liked—with pictures! http://churchm.ag/a-social-media-strategy/.

Dori ThextonI attended a seminar called “Building Healthy Staff Teams” in the fall of 2011, sponsored by the Alban Institute. Susan Beaumont, an Alban senior consultant, spent two days covering a vast amount of information on teams. She began with some definitions of teams and explored other types of work groups that are not necessarily teams, but still serve valuable functions.

Understanding what is and is not a team, along with other ways of staff working together, is important to our congregations as we move into the future. It’s important because of the many changes congregations of all sizes are undergoing…

  • hiring for newly created positions
  • reconfiguring job descriptions
  • shifting models of accountability
  • utilizing volunteers for more tasks that used to be held by paid staff
  • expanding expectations for committees and task groups in the congregation to plan and organize ongoing activities

Beaumont says that ‘Teams’ are comprised of 5-7 members with complementary skills, committed to working together towards a common purpose and performance goals; motivated by a strong sense of mission and purpose; holding themselves accountable for the team’s results. In a recent online Alban column, she identifies 30 markers of a staff team culture that describe overall health. http://www.alban.org/conversation.aspx?id=9886

You could use a rating scale of 1-5 to assess your own team health.

In my work with the district staff colleagues of the MidAmerica region, I was pleased to see that we are doing pretty well as a team, according to these markers. When we discussed this at a staff meeting, we also shared some examples of congregational staff teams we knew of where effective team work has been a component of their growth and vitality.

Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton, WI is one example. In my experiences with their professional staff team, each person has a clear sense of his or her own role and responsibilities and, at the same time, they frequently lift up their collaborative efforts as leading to some piece of successful work. They are consistently focused on their vision for their future and on their presence in Appleton and the surrounding communities, along with the support for the five neighboring congregations they have helped create.

In addition to teams of staff and/or other executive-type of leaders, many congregational committees can benefit from understanding how to function as a team. Any committee or working group might develop a clear sense of their own mission and purpose as part of the whole congregation. They could focus their efforts on utilizing their complementary skills to accomplish their goals, supporting each other’s efforts and holding themselves accountable.

These are just a few ideas on building teams to help your congregation live out its mission and purpose – it would be great to hear more examples and models that have helped in your setting.

-- Dori Davenport Thexton

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