the shape of leadership

Staff Meetings, Sticky Notes, and Synergy

What pastors can learn from how Silicon Valley brainstorms ideas

Kayla Pierce on January 27, 2020

As leaders, our job is to harness the power of one of our most important resources: our team.

First Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace ... .” Leadership is a gift (Romans 12:8), and to be good stewards of this gift, we should help our team achieve its creative potential.

Research in social psychology shows that when it comes to group creativity, the sum of each individual’s contribution can be greater than its parts, resulting in synergy. But how do we cultivate synergy?

Because I am a sociologist by trade, I spent last summer conducting research for a company in California’s Silicon Valley. I sat through hundreds of meetings and observed how some of the smartest and most efficient people in the world mine the talent of their teams.

I was surprised to discover that one of their most effective tools is not a futuristic digital device, but the lowly sticky note. Every conference room table had a stack of sticky note pads in the center. Stickies cluttered walls and hallways. And they played a crucial role in facilitating teamwork.

I believe we can put sticky note strategies to work in our churches. Whether in meetings with church volunteers, deacons, or staff, here are three ways sticky notes can help produce synergy:

Better Brainstorming

When teams in Silicon Valley needed to maximize creativity and generate new ideas, they did something counterintuitive: They stopped talking.

Team members started with a prompt like, Where do we see ourselves in six months? What are we doing well? How can we improve? Five to 10 minutes were allotted for everyone to write down as many ideas as possible. The ideas could be outrageous and ambitious or modest and sensible, but each got its own sticky.

Leaders encouraged team members not to overthink their ideas, but to jot down everything that came to mind. After 10 minutes, there were dozens of ideas to build upon collectively, some of which overlapped. Because sticky notes are mobile, the team could rearrange them, putting similar ideas together or categorizing them by type.

Verbal affirmation is great, but don’t underestimate the power of written affirmation.

This brainstorming exercise works for three reasons. First, if we want our groups to be creative, we must maximize the creativity of every team member. Unfortunately, decades of research in group processes demonstrate that some people are more likely to talk than others, and these patterns extend beyond personality.

Women and racial minorities are often hesitant to speak up, and they are more likely to experience interruptions. That means people who are well positioned to bring fresh perspectives are least likely to get their ideas on the table. Having everyone write down their ideas at the beginning captures good ideas you might otherwise miss.

Second, it discourages groupthink. Ideas iterate through discussion, so early ideas shape later ideas. This process is effective and necessary, but if it comes too early, it can dampen creative thinking by limiting the pool of options prematurely. Generating an abundance of ideas early reduces tunnel vision.

Finally, everyone gets recognition for their contribution. Normally, if two people have the same idea, only the first one to speak gets credit for it. With sticky notes, everyone receives acknowledgement for their good work, which boosts confidence.

Whether your team is generating goals for next year, inventing ways to increase visitor retention, or creating outreaches, sticky notes can help get your team’s creative juices flowing.

Fewer Interruptions

When a meeting is going well, people get excited and want to jump into the conversation, which results in interruptions. Despite good intentions, the habit is hard to break because people interrupt to prevent themselves from losing their train of thought.

Interruptions can be especially problematic on ministry teams because people are not just teammates — they are usually good friends. Familiarity can make interrupting easier.

Silicon Valley leaders reduced interruptions by encouraging people to write down their thoughts when they felt the urge to interrupt. That way, the speaker can finish and listeners don’t lose their lightbulb moments.

Improved Morale

The emotional and spiritual labor of ministry can be taxing. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.”

Verbal affirmation is great, but don’t underestimate the power of written affirmation. In Silicon Valley, people frequently left sticky notes of encouragement on one another’s desks. When I received one, I felt valued and energized. It encouraged me every time I saw it.

When people affirm us verbally, we experience a momentary rush of satisfaction and esteem. When that affirmation is visual — such as words on a sticky note — we can experience that boost again and again.

Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, strategizing with sticky notes can help us better steward and maximize our team’s creativity.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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