I have shared some of this material with consistory and the CLC team, and know it will be helpful for members to have access to it in order to understand what I will be preaching about and asking about in the questions. So here it is:
Pastor Pete, June 2019
An Introduction to Examining the difference between a Technical Approach and an Adaptive approach to change.
To start, I want to put a practical, specific example into your minds eye.
Restaurant Example: A little Italian Restaurant, started 40 years ago by an immigrant couple, sits at the corner of x and y streets in what used to be a predominantily Italian neighbourhood. It served dishes from back “home” to the community. The neighbourhood is now gentrifying. Business is slow. None of the children of the owners are interested in taking over. When the founders reach their mid sixties, they faced the question of what to do… They call a family meeting… Dad says if we just repaint and redo the menu… we can make it work. Mom says if we redo the kitchen and put some modern equipment in… The kids try to explain that the customers are not there no matter what they do, so deal with it. That is a call for adaptive change… What Mom and Pop want to do are technical changes.
Principle point of the story: the neighbourhood changed and the restaurant did not change with it or become awake to the need for change soon enough. Now it is in crisis because the needed change is too big for them to process.
Application to church: the culture around the church is always changing and yet the church by it’s nature is usually about preserving it’s preferred culture (way of doing things). Suddenly it finds itself ‘out of touch’ with the culture around it and not able to speak into it without tremendous deep reflection and internal changes or “adaptation.”
Church Example: I had a conversation with someone from a 100 year old church where they now serve coffee and hot chocolate as people enter. People are allowed to take these into the worship space. The person said to me ‘now we are missional.’ I disagreed (and the person knew me well enough to understand). Just making the technical change of serving coffee has not not changed anything deeper, it is just a technical change similar to redoing the menu or changing the kitchen appliances when there are no customers/clients for what you do.
The STM Challenge: I find people expect me as the STM to come up with what ‘the problem’ is in a church, and then to provide ‘the fix.’ They want to hear me recommend new appliances, or new menus. What they want then is Technical tinkering, not Adaptive Change.
Situations that call for Technical changes or Technical Leadership are those we’ve encountered before, that we have existing expertise in. A motor that won’t start can be figured out, a leaking roof can be repaired, etc.
Situations that call for Adaptive changes and Adaptive Leadership are completely new, unthinkable, where circumstances have changed so much we are in a situation never anticipated or encountered. Eg: Sinking of Titanic.
What follows is a long quotation from the book “Leadership on the Line; Staying Alive thorough the dangers of leading” pages 13 to 15. Any emphasis, by size of font or other changes are mine. — Pastor Pete
The Perils of Adaptive Change
Leadership would be a safe undertaking if your organization and communities only faced problems for which they already knew the solutions. Every day, people have problems for which they do, in fact, have the necessary know-how and procedures. We call these technical problems. But there is a whole host of problems that are not amenable to authoritative expertise or standard operating procedures. They cannot be solved by someone who provides answers from on high. We call these adaptive challenges because they require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments from numerous places in the organization or community. Without learning new ways — changing attitudes, values, and behaviors — people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment.
The sustainability of change depends on having the people with the problem internalize the change itself.
People cannot see at the beginning of the adaptive process that the new situation will be any better than the current condition. What they do see clearly is the potential for loss. People frequently avoid painful adjustments in their lives if they can postpone them, place the burden on somebody else, or call someone to the rescue.
When fears and passions run high, people can become desperate as they look to authorities for the answers. This dynamic renders adaptive contexts inherently dangerous.
When people look to authorities for easy answers to adaptive challenges, they end up with dysfunction. They expect the person in charge to know what to do, and under the weight of that responsibility, those in authority frequently end up faking it or disappointing people, or they get spit out of the system in the belief that a new “leader” will solve the problem. In fact, there’s a proportionate relationship between risk and adaptive change: The deeper the change and the greater the amount of new learning required, the more resistance there will be and, thus, the greater the danger to those who lead. For this reason, people often try to avoid the dangers, either consciously or subconsciously, by treating an adaptive challenge as if it were a technical one. This is why we see so much more routine management than leadership in our society.
Indeed, the single most common source of leadership failure we’ve been able to identify — in politics, community life, business or the nonprofit sector — is that people, especially those in positions of authority, treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.
In times of distress, when everyone looks to authorities to provide direction, protection, and order, this is an easy diagnosis mistake to make. In the face of adaptive pressures, people don’t want questions; they want answers. They don’t want to be told that they will have to sustain losses; rather, they want to know how you’re going to protect them from the pains of change. And of course you want to fulfill their needs and expectations, not bear the brunt of their frustration and anger at the bad news you’re giving.
In mobilizing adaptive work, you have to engage people in adjusting their unrealistic expectations, rather than try to satisfy them as if the situation were amenable primarily to a technical remedy. You have to counteract their exaggerated dependency and promote their resourcefulness. This takes an extraordinary level of presence, time, and artful communication, but it may also take more time and trust than you have.