October 25, 2021
by Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary; David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary; and Shanda Stricherz, Chief Creative Officer at Sioux Falls Seminary
Today, we conclude our exploration of Kairos’ five practices of transparent communication. After discussing Predictable Rhythms, Clear Data, and Equal Access last week, we will talk about the last two practices, Open Meetings and Asking Questions/Sharing Concerns, in more detail.
Equal access, clear data, and predictable rhythms are supported by the practice of open meetings. That is to say that every meeting that includes a significant number of people and/or is a standing meeting of some sort is open to anyone. In our experience, having open meetings does not mean everyone joins every meeting (no one has that much free time). It does mean, however, that nothing is hidden from view and that we encourage people to meet with others who are doing different work within the community (i.e., faculty to be in meetings with staff, board members to interact with therapists, and so on). By encouraging meetings with people engaging in various roles in the organization and opening them to others, the community as a whole learns more about what is happening, develops a deeper understanding of how everything works together, and experiences the benefits of the “integrative system.” Open meetings also help everyone learn and engage in the practice of asking questions/sharing concerns.
Asking Questions/Sharing Concerns
Even with a strong commitment to predictable rhythms, clear data, equal access, and open meetings, the reality is that sometimes information is not shared as timely as it could be. We are human after all. Sometimes an update is not shared early enough or a change occurs but the details are not shared immediately, or someone has a question or is concerned about something but didn’t attend a meeting. This is where the final practice comes into play. We ask questions “without ceasing” and share concerns openly.
That is to say that everyone – students, mentors, faculty, staff, therapists, board members – is expected, even encouraged, to ask questions and share concerns. If something doesn’t make sense, or if information in an email seems out of place, or if someone just wants to know more about a particular topic, the best step is to ask. For students and mentors, the first step is to ask by sending an email to [email protected]. When staff, therapists, faculty, and board members, have questions, they can ask them to any number of people. The key is that no question or concern is off limits, and everyone is welcome to ask at any time – to anyone. That last part is important. There is not communication hierarchy. That is to say that staff don’t have to “work through supervisors,” and students don’t have to “work through advisors.” Anyone can talk directly with anyone.
This is an important practice not only because it invites everyone to ask questions/share concerns regarding the activity of the organization as a whole but also because it fosters healthy conversation. Organizational communication and relational dynamics within organizations can be stifled by an unwillingness to ask questions or share concerns freely. For example, if someone is “afraid” to ask a question or share a concern in any meeting or with anyone (i.e., they feel as though the question can’t be asked if “the president” is in the room or they feel more open to share if certain types of people are in the room), that could indicate the organization is failing to create a culture of trust and/or is growing quickly and not enough time has passed to build trust. In either situation, the best way for trust to be built is through the experience of asking questions and sharing concerns openly. As people see positive and non-threatening examples of this practice, they will become more comfortable doing the same. If people are not experiencing non-threatening responses to their questions/concerns (and therefore trust is not being built), the organization has much more work to do! Ironically, it can only do that work if the community shares its questions and concerns!
The practice of asking questions and sharing concerns may be the most important because of the impact it has on “cross-knowledgeability” and relationships. Transparent communication is vital to the effectiveness of any movement or community of people. Asking questions and sharing concerns plays an important role in that work. As such, within Kairos, we encourage people to give voice to their questions and/or concerns in the presence of the community rather than in “special” meetings reserved for “certain” people.
Taken together, these five practices (Predictable Rhythms, Clear Data, Equal Access, Open Meetings, and Asking Questions/Sharing Concern) help create an atmosphere of transparent and effective communication. With such an atmosphere in place, Kairos is able to be more nimble as it discerns where God is inviting us to go next. It also empowers the community to operate in ways that push against, or at least challenge, commonly held assumptions about how corporations or schools should function.