Blake Dalton is a full-time teacher from West Valley City, Utah. He served a full-time mission in Eugene, Oregon. He has served as an elder’s quorum president, a high councilman, executive secretary, and currently serves as the bishop of his ward.
Also be sure to listen to Blake’s How I Lead interview.
In April and May Freakanomics Radio did a series of episodes on self-improvement. This seemed right up my ally because, as a self-proclaimed “lazy perfectionist,” I am always looking for ways to improve. While listening to these episodes I could not help notice what was being discussed through the filter of serving in Church callings. One episode in particular peaked my interest. The episode was titled How to be More Productive. The interview involved two main guests, author Charles Duhigg who wrote the book Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business and Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of People Operations at Google.
One main aspect of the episode I want to share with you was in relation to a major study that Google conducted called Project Aristotle, You can find more information about that study in the article What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.
Project Aristotle was implemented because Google wanted to discover the best way to build the perfect team. This Project was a topic of discussion in Charles Duhigg’s recent book (referenced above). I could not stop thinking about Ward Councils and presidency meetings while listening to this episode and how some of these concepts could help our attitudes as we participate in those meetings. There were many topics discussed in the episode but the two I want to focus on here relate to our callings: Motivation and Building Teams.
Duhigg explains that our motivation or lack of motivation stems from how much we feel we can control the outcome of any situation. Psychology calls this the Locus of Control (Latin for location of control). There is an internal and external locus of control, meaning that we believe that we are in control of an outcome (internal) or we believe our environment or other people are in control of the outcomes we desire (external). So in short if we feel we can dictate outcomes then we are more motivated to do it. If we feel we have no control in a situation we are more likely to give up or perform at less than full capacity. Think of how this works in our daily lives, starting a new diet for example. We exercise and eat right and don’t see any change in our waistline, so we blame genetics, lack of willpower or the holidays for our inability to lose weight… and then we give up. This would be an example of an external locus of control. I think it’s safe to say that most of us would rather be in control of our own outcomes rather than waiting and relying on others to accomplish them for us. However gaining an external locus of control can become a habit. Just look at the child who is told to clean their room and sits on the floor waiting to be told how to clean it, or for a frustrated parent to come in and clean it for them. Or the home teaching companion who never sets the appointment or hopes that his companion forgets about home teaching all together.
While gaining an external locus of control can be habit forming and a bad one at that, building an internal locus of control can be habit forming as well. Perhaps Elder David A. Bednar says it best when he states, “You and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon.” (And Nothing Shall Offend Them, 2006 October General Conference) Have you ever heard him say this? It is one of his core statements and it comes from 2 Nephi 2:14, 26. Our motivation to accomplish anything increases when we believe that we have the power to accomplish it.
Please know that I am not telling you that you need to do everything yourself and never delegate. When leaders begin to resist delegation it is because they lack the confidence they should have in themselves as a leader. They think “Well I will just do it because no one will do it if I ask them.” Delegation is so key to the sanity of a leader and his or her ability to train.
When the topic of teams was discussed one of the most important things that Project Aristotle found was that creating a safe environment for people was the most important foundation to building a very productive team. One comment that struck me was how important it was to take time at the beginning of any meeting to engage in some small talk prior to formally starting the meeting. Whenever I have been involved with a ward council or a presidency meeting I want to just get going so that the meeting can end, but Duhigg states: “Study after study shows that if we spend a couple meetings with that five minutes of getting to know each other, over time, our group will be much much more productive. So sometimes it is about sacrificing the short-term efficiency for the long-term productivity.”
Another aspect of “running” a meeting that really made me think was when the interviewer discussed who should lead the meeting and who should be involved on the team. As they talked I realized that they were telling the business world that they needed to conduct meetings like councils rather that the traditional “talking head” type meetings.
Duhigg explained that it does not matter who is on the team but rather how the team interacts. Project Aristotle showed that “the most important attribute of a high performing team is not who leads it or who’s on it or how many people…” The most important aspect of a good team is “psychological safety.” If everyone at the table feels like they have an equal voice and are being listened to then the team as a whole will be more productive. When I heard this I could see Elder Ballard grinning from ear to ear.
Here are two simple statements about councils from a Latter-day Saint perspective that agrees with what Google found. In the 2016 April General Conference Elder Ballard said, “When parents are prepared and children listen and participate in the discussion, the family council is truly working!” (Family Councils, 2016 emphasis added.) In section 5.1.2 of The Church Handbook of Instructions Book Two it reads “Member missionary work is most effective when ward council members are fully engaged in the missionary effort.” (emphasis added.)
As the Freakanomics Radio interview drew to a close Laszlo Bock made mention of two other things that Project Aristotle showed was important to the productivity of a team.
1. Look for and include those who do not often speak up
Including those who do not speak up often goes back to making sure everyone feels like they have a voice and are welcome to speak. Make sure that we include everyone in the discussion. This sounds obvious but are we doing it? This is a small thing that can go a long way in building the trust people have in you. It is a well known fact that people trust those who trust them. If you take the time to seek the advice from someone who does not usually speak up, then they begin to feel more confidant and will speak up more. Others will learn from your example and will have confidence that you really do value everyone’s opinion and they will also have more confidence in the formerly quiet person in ward council.
2. Hold regular one-on-one meetings
Did any elders quorum presidents’ jaw drop? I think this is one of the single most important things we can do to improve home and visiting teaching. Bock said “Are you having regular one-on-ones? — which is obvious, like you should have one-on-ones with your team members. Turns out most people don’t because they are not that fun, they’re kind of boring, they take time. But when you do them, your team performs better.” That sounds like it came right out of the Church Handbook. It is so true, regular one-on-one stewardship meetings with home teachers, visiting teachers, counselors, teachers in your organization, ward missionaries and countless others is a very effective way to help your team be more productive.