‘Our MSA would be so awesome if we just had more volunteers like that other MSA…’
‘Our masjid would be so awesome if we just had a better president…’
‘We were going to organize an outreach event, but we just couldn’t agree on anything…’
Harvard Business Review recently posted an article entitled the Six Common Misconceptions About Teamwork. The misconceptions listed are strikingly similar to what our communities often blame for shortcomings. I have taken three of them and presented them below in light of this.
1. Harmony helps. Smooth interaction among collaborators avoids time-wasting debates about how best to proceed.
Or, in other words, there are to many disagreements on things. For some, the only solution to a disagreement is to toss it into the black hole of “masjid politics.” The sad truth is, most people simply give up the second harmony is threatened. The reason is because, seemingly, we have not learned to discuss issues without making them personal (or taking them personally).
Success demands debate and discussion. If you are organizing a conference, for example, then your team members must engage in lively debates over multiple issues. There needs to be a spirited fight over the venue, the caterer, the ticket price, the topic, the speakers, and other facets of the program. If these issues are not debated out thoroughly, you will never achieve the best level of quality. The key is making sure the debate stays on topic, and does not become personal. Creating consensus in an organization is almost always impossible. What is reasonable, however, is creating a culture of buy-in where everyone’s concerns are aired and listened to. The best decision is then made taking all those factors into account.
2. It’s good to mix it up. New members bring energy and fresh ideas to a team. Without them, members risk becoming complacent, inattentive to changes in the environment, and too forgiving of fellow members’ misbehavior.
Board elections: The cause, and solution to all of life’s problems.
Anytime anything goes wrong, we have a tendency to simply demand new personnel. Get a new group of volunteers. Those guys have been at it for so long and haven’t accomplished anything.
There are always exceptions, but in general, teams that stay together also perform better. This is why team chemistry often overrides star-power in professional sports. A smooth ship requires crew members who are accustomed to working with one another. Invest some more time and energy before you give up on the crew and try to move on.
It is easy to cast blame at the board member who has been at the masjid for 20 years. We see myriad problems, and then point the finger at the person who has been present for all of them. What we ignore though, is that this person’s presence contributed substantially to the stability of this organization. Had they not been there, the problems may have been significantly worse.
3. Bigger is better. Larger groups have more resources to apply to the work. Moreover, including representatives of all relevant constituencies increases the chances that whatever is produced will be accepted and used.
This is one of the biggest excuses we see. If we just had more manpower. If we just had more/better volunteers.
Many times more people simply means more problems. There are more people to coordinate, more complex communication, and in some cases more egos – “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” or “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” This is not to say that we should turn away help, but it means you can get started without it.
Most people who have volunteered for a masjid, MSA, or almost any other activity know the hard truth: the vast majority of projects are run on the shoulders of a handful of people, usually less than five. This is even the case where hundreds or possibly thousands of people are being impacted by the project. Its built on the backs of a few dedicated individuals.
Making a lasting contribution to the ummah is no easy task. We have to learn to overlook the roadblocks and bootstrap with what we have. It’s easy to envision how much easier a task could be if such-and-such things were there, but we will never find a perfect situation. Success comes after obstacles, and sometimes even repeated failure. Those who succumb to the excuses though, never succeed.