Alban Institute on “fixing problems”:
The senior minister at First Church was actually looking forward to the weekly staff meeting. For some time the staff had been tip-toeing around problems with the traditional worship service, and today they were going to address the problem head on. Staff members worked diligently to set aside all other normal business so that the entire ninety minutes of the staff meeting could be devoted to addressing this problem.
The staff was becoming increasingly aware of problems with the 8:15 traditional worship service. Attendance had dropped rather dramatically over the previous twelve months. Volunteerism in this worshiping community was significantly down, resulting in great difficulty recruiting greeters, ushers, and lay leaders. Increasingly, worshipers were complaining about the sermons, claiming that they wanted to hear more biblically based messages, although no one could really define what that meant. Others were suggesting that the service was too long and didn’t feed them spiritually. Meanwhile, the 10:00 contemporary worship service at First Church was growing.
So, on this particular day the staff team came prepared to tackle the problem. Everyone entered the room with energy, eager to finally get at the root of the issue. Within the first fifteen minutes key perspectives had been laid upon the table and an invigorating debate was under way. Each staff member had their take on the issue, and each was passionate about a suggested approach to fixing the “traditional worship problem.”
Every staff member had a different idea about what would “fix” the problem so the discussion soon spun out into a variety of topics going nowhere. What went wrong?
The staff team at First Church struggled with a shortcoming faced by many groups as they engage in team-based problem solving: failure to adequately define the problem being worked upon. American philosopher, John Dewey, once wrote, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” Group-based problem solving requires the formulation of a problem statement that accurately and clearly describes the current condition the team wants to change. Otherwise, each team member engages in debate around closely related but ultimately separate problems. Exactly what is the problem with the 8:15 worship service that the team is trying to address?
Some ideas for focussing:
State the problem objectively. State the problem in such a way that it does not favor one approach over another and does not leave room for interpretation. It should be a simple statement of fact. The staff team at First Church made no attempt to define the problem beyond labeling it “the traditional worship problem.” Were they addressing a problem that was primarily focused on worship satisfaction, spiritual energy, or a shift in worship preferences? Any one of these problems might be a valid problem to address, but if the team doesn’t define a collective problem, every team member will have to define the problem for him or herself.
Keep the statement limited in scope.
Do not confuse symptoms of the problem with the problem itself.
Do not formulate the problem statement so that it includes an implied cause.
Do not formulate the problem statement in such a way that it includes an implied solution.
Make certain that your problem statement answers the “so what?” test.
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