Swim lanes

It wasn’t surprising that there was conflict. It started after the organization had a major crisis that had to be addressed quickly and creatively; the solutions that had always worked were not appropriate this time. The boss met at different times with the organization’s two best leaders and assigned tasks that were very similar. Overworked, the boss failed to tell either of the two leaders that another team was working on a sister project. The leaders jumped on the assignments, organized their teams, developed plans of action and milestones, and acquired resources. After only a day, members of the two teams found themselves fighting over resources. Each team leader went back to the boss, seeking clarity on the task. And the boss became angry and frustrated. In less than 24 hours, the best leaders had produced only one item each: a list of complaints about the other.

Been there? Me too. (I got the fun job of conducting the investigation when a complaint was filed by one of the team leaders.)

How do leaders organize talented people to be complementary rather than competitive?  And, how do you know when an important task has been missed?

A great tool is the “Swim Lane” Diagram, developed by Geary Rummler and Alan Brache in their book Improving Processes. The Swim Lane Diagram (or Rummerler-Brache Diagram) can help determine who is supposed to do what and what is not being done. Let’s try a simple application.

First, consider a swimming pool set up for a competitive race. The swim lanes are marked only by nylon ropes and floats. In reality, the water is undivided, flowing freely; but, the space containing the water is artificially subdivided into clearly marked sections.

The water represents the work or goal being considered. For our example, a church might consider their activities in achieving Christ’s great commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Or, 1) Go, 2) Make, and 3) Teach disciples.

The lanes are the various departments within the church.

Let’s look at “make disciples.” When a visitor comes to the church, what are the tasks that need to be completed by each part of the organization?  Let’s pretend that the chart below was created by a committee:

Make disciples: Visitors to the Church
Pastoral Staff Administration Teaching Music Resources Facilities
Welcome       Follow-up Get contact info Follow-up Provide small group info     Follow-up Ensure ministry support is in place Welcoming facility Parking

Do you see the potential conflict? The first three components all have “follow-up” – is duplication of effort a good thing or will it confuse visitors and waste resources? And, should the music department have no responsibilities related to visitors? By discussing the tasks and department roles, clarity of assignments and efficient use of resources can result.

Amazing leaders create situations where everyone can contribute; and, everyone can be successful.  Communication and clarity of assignments can make all the difference!

I Corinthians 12:27 encourages us: “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”

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