Duplicated Effort vs. Partnership

Why not just stop the duplication of effort and combine our efforts?”

It was not the originality of the phrase that arrested my attention as much as it was the self-realization that the large U.S. ministry I represented had in fact just identified that very issue as one of our chief struggles within our own walls, let alone on the field! Why is it, then, that duplication of effort exists? Or, when identified, is allowed to persist?

As a strategy consultant to non-profit organizations and in my broader exposure to ministries over the years, I have observed this pattern surfacing both inside and outside of organizations for almost precisely the same reasons: ignorance, pride, and/or confusion.

Duplication of effort arises within an organization because of:

  • Ignorance. Different business units are unaware of similar efforts by other business units.
  • Pride. Different business units believe their approach to meeting needs is the only correct way.
  • Confusion. Different business units are unclear about who should be doing what in relation to each other (no integrated plan).

Duplication of effort arises outside of organizations because of:

  • Ignorance. Organizations are unaware of similar efforts by other organizations.
  • Pride. Organizations believe their approach to meeting needs is the only correct way.
  • Confusion. Organizations are unclear about who (which organization) should be doing what in relation to each other (no partnership plan).

If you are reminded of your own organization or others that you know, you will be encouraged that there is a 3-step process to overcoming this limiting practice. However, there are a couple of significant caveats before undertaking any such remedy:

First, leadership must want the organization to move beyond its current impact level. What I mean is that some organizations are entirely content with mediocre performance. I do not mean this disparagingly, but only to indicate that patterns of duplication cannot, by their very nature, leverage the economies of production from partnership.

Second, leadership must be committed to incorporate and model this solution both down and across the organization. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” The following practices must become part and parcel of the organizational culture, if they are to have any chance at success.

Steps toward Awareness
Scripture implores us over and over to “pay attention” (Hebrew, qashab; Greek, prosechó)—to hear, be attentive, heed, incline (one’s ears), attend, hearken, or listen. The 3-step process is rooted in biblical awareness principles.

Step 1: Overcoming Ignorance. You must be aware that “you’re not alone” and others are also at work. A key adaptive capability for any organization involves pausing to evaluate who else is engaging in the same practice or place as you. Many ministries are afraid to perform “competitive analysis”; however, this practice can uncover very real, un-Christian voices vying for the attention of your audience, as well as potential partners.

Example: In January 2009, a partnership discovery summit was held in Sydney involving several major ministries, including Compassion Australia and Focus on the Family Australia. These two groups were unaware of each other’s activities, but subsequent to the meeting, they discovered an opportunity to collaborate in the area of reaching indigenous peoples both within Australia and in Papua New Guinea, where Compassion has conducted significant research and saw a match for Focus on the Family resources. Shy of looking, neither would have discovered the opportunity.

Step 2: Overcoming Pride. You must be aware that the Body of Christ consists of many parts and you represent just one member. Furthermore, as one member, you can only do so much. The current economic crisis provides an interesting opportunity to lay down this prideful attitude. As Proverbs 16:18 warns, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” If your organization is facing diminishing income streams, you likely have no place to be proud, which ironically could open some new doors for you! Combining efforts with another organization may become your only viable option.

Example: In June and September 2009 a number of U.S., Australian, and Indian organizations and individuals convened in Colorado Springs (Colorado, USA) and then Hyderabad, India, to first that they did not possess the sole capability to reach India’s unreached people groups (I know, big surprise, but you would be amazed at the hubris of some large, single-solution ministries). This opening salvo opened the doors for the formation of a jointly-owned entity under which all the organizations could conduct their work in a broad, holistic gospel outreach. The big ministries put aside their need to “brand” the effort with their name and enjoyed the opportunity to partner with brothers and sisters in a much larger effort.

Step 3: Overcoming Confusion. You must be aware that God intends to work through many organizations, which are comprised of individual believers. Just as the Body of Christ must coordinate ourselves to build up the Church, so too organizations must pursue coordinating our separate efforts to work toward that same end as para-church entities.

Example: A Christian micro-finance organization that desires people to come to Christ was restricted by the government of the country they were entering from engaging in any form of proselytism. The board of this organization struggled with this limitation, but in consultation with a new partner they had begun working with, they realized that they could “plow the ground” by introducing economic and social transformation, and then hand off to their partner to “sow and harvest” in spiritual transformation. Identifying and planning specific transitional opportunity engagements made the two organizational visions one shared vision.

Most organizations are primarily focused on aligning their own organization’s efforts, much less on even considering how they can jointly plan with another organization. However, if you adopt this multi-organization mission perspective, you’re ready to look at the planning process. However, partnership planning doesn’t just happen. Phil Butler, founder of visionSynergy and Lausanne Senior Associate for Strategic Evangelism Partnerships, has much to say regarding the opportunity, power, and practice of partnership.

Beyond Duplication of Effort
There is a world of opportunity waiting to be explored. We will likely need to change many of our preconceived practices and mindsets in order to overcome the debilitating forces that infect our efforts with a duplication of effort. The path beyond via partnership seems a ready vehicle.

Ken Lane is senior director of global strategic development for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA. He also serves as a member of the Lausanne Strategy Working Group.