It’s the system: the 85-15 principle

Written by webmeester on . Posted in PMC Articles

It’s the system not the individual most of the time that determines the ability to get things done in a church staff. The system of relationships, the dynamics of those relationships, their engagement with the missional vocation of the congregation, overwhelmingly dominate the energy of any one person in a staff system.  We give a percentage to this reality: 85/15 principle.

The 85/15 principle means that the power of the system of relationships in a staff system accounts for 85% of the achievement of the staff and the power of anyone individual accounts for 15% of the achievement of the staff.  Similarly the power of anyone individual only accounts for the failure of the staff 15% of the time.  So, while it surely is true, a staff is only as strong as its weakest core member, such a so-called “weak link” cannot account for most of the failure of a staff. Indeed, the failure of any one weak link over time is clearly a failure of the system, too.

We have seen many a staff allow one person shape the emotional field of the staff for good or ill.  We have watched one staff person energize the complete staff or create such negative energy that the entire system seems to freeze. 

The 85/15 principle means that no matter how powerful a particular individual or individual event is, it is the ability of the system of relationships of the staff to change either positively or negatively in response to such high point moments that determine the long term strength or weakness of the staff.  When such moments, persons, and events prove energizing, it is a sign that the system of the staff, itself, has grown or realized its own strengths or, in the case of the negative energy, has weakened or realized its own weaknesses.

So, we have learned that when we are invited by congregational leaders to work with a “problem staff person,” a so-called “designated patient,” we are as interested in finding out the dynamics that give that person so much power in the system and the embodied values of the system that shape that persons actions.  We have observed many times that removing one person in a system without addressing the system usually leads to another person filling the role in the system that the original “problem staff person” filled.  In short, we changed the personnel but not the system so that we only marginally changed the system for the better.

It’s the system.

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