great teams don’t just happen – part 4

We were halfway through dinner, three roommates seated around a small table, discussing the family traditions of our growing up years. One roommate, in a forlorn kind of voice, said, “When we came home from school every day, whoever was home came out and greeted us, usually my mom. And in the mornings when anyone was leaving, the whole family went to the window to wave good-bye until the person was out of sight. I get so disappointed when I come into the apartment and no one comes out to greet me, or when I leave and nobody walks me to the door.”

welcome homeThe other roommate and I looked at each other with wide eyes.We were so surprised! Neither one of us had that kind of family experience. We had no expectations of being greeted or of greeting anyone other than a shout of “Hello—I’m home!” In my case, my mom was busy with other kids, so I would go to where she was to let her know I was home. My other roommate was active in sports and had a working mom, so coming home was also a different experience for her.

That one difference had created some real hurt among us. We inadvertently implied to the first roommate that she was not a part of the “family.” It was not her “normal.” We acted differently from her “normal family.” She felt rejected.

 How do you define “normal”? 

In most situations people define normal as what they are accustomed to, in this case, what they grew up with. Those practices are part of us; they are how we express value, closeness and belonging. They are different for each one of us.

Rev. Peter Scazzero, in The Emotionally Healthy Church, describes how our families lay the patterns for the ways we communicate, the ways we handle conflict or hurt, and the ways we signal belonging. They establish what is normal for us. When joining the family of God as new believers; we must be discipled into a “new normal,” in order to become spiritually mature and emotionally healthy disciples.

We mix it all up when we create ministry teams! Each of us comes with our own practices, values, and different maturity levels. Increasingly, teams around the world are a mix of people from different cultures and countries, ages and experience. Think of the challenges as each person on the team adjusts to the values and practices of the new team.

The Bible gives us a lot of food for thought for a new normal in the “one anothers.” That “new normal” means that we become aware, sometimes painfully, of ways we need to change.

The “old normal” may cause pain, just as I did to my roommate. Because of different experiences, values, and habits, a person can easily undermine team unity by holding on to a comfort zone.

What we learned as children helped us get what we wanted when we were kids. Those defense behaviors that worked well at age 12 or 15 are no longer productive or helpful in moving a team task forward. Neither are they respectful to others on the team:

  • Passive-aggressive behavior*
  • Dominating discussion
  • Deflecting topics
  • Topic jumpers
  • The chronic objectors

In addition to these problem behaviors, there may be more subtle signals related to belonging or not belonging. In 1973, Mary Rowe, PhD., found that people in particular minorities (race or gender) were affected by subtle messages of devaluation that kept them from flourishing. These messages are called “microinequities.” Here are some examples:

  • Constantly being interrupted
  • Being excluded from discussions
  • Not getting full attention from the listener (on cell phone, continuing to work while talking, etc.)
  • Cutting down ideas before they can be entertained
  • Mispronouncing or misspelling your name
  • Change in voice pitch, rate or volume
  • Change in body language

These kinds of behaviors over time can leave a person feeling devalued. They are a way to say “you don’t belong.” Part of the problem is that these behaviors may be unconscious behaviors, part of the “old normal” that we grew up with.

Messages of Devaluation AB 4

Jesus gives us specific instructions on how to deal with relational offenses or microinequities. They are the basis for our “new normal” in relationships. In Matthew 5 and Matthew 18, we are to go to someone when we become aware that he or she may have an issue with us, or that we have been hurt.

Our roommate did that—she took the initiative with us. She was the youngest of the three of us, so I don’t imagine it was easy for her. Even if there’s a remote possibility of a problem, it’s better to go and check it out, rather than to simmer in vain imaginations. In either case, offender or offended, we take the initiative to go to the other person.

If you recognize yourself in any of these behaviorsseek feedback from your teammates. Give them permission to let you know when you’re engaging in them. If you become aware of offending a teammate, repentance and seeking forgiveness are your first two steps. Take the initiative to go to the person. You know the rest! In practice, differences tend to divide. People tend to befriend those who are most like themselves.

As believers, our “new normal” is that we reach out to people who are different from us. Both Romans 12:13 and I Peter 4:9 tell us to practice hospitality, i.e. to love strangers, to make people feel “at home.” Interesting to note that in both passages, the commands to love and offer hospitality come in the context of differing gifts.

As members of His body,  our differences are good and necessary (I Cor. 14). God instructs us to encourage, to build up, to be kind, to forgive, and to speak the truth in love. The research shows us that people respond to small acts of affirmation.

Dr Mary Rowe shares that micro-affirmations need to replace micro-inequities.

“Microaffirmations are tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening.Micro-affirmations lie in the practice of generosity, in consistently giving credit to others– in providing comfort and support when others are in distress, when there has been a failure at the bench, or an idea that did not work out, or a public attack. Microaffirmations include the myriad details of fair, specific, timely, consistent and clear feedback that help a person build on strength and correct weakness.”

She says it well. Inclusion, caring, listening, generosity, giving credit, comforting, feedback— hmmm, that sounds like love and hospitality to me.

Great teams require courageous people who pursue right relationships before the Lord. They are willing to look foolish or weak in order to be at peace with each other, forsaking their pride, so that Jesus is honored. They don’t let offenses build up. Team leaders need to pay attention, not only to the agenda or content of the meeting, but also to the small things, to the little ways we encourage or discourage each other. They have to pay attention to whether we are moving toward our “new normal.”

That night, with the three roommates around that dinner table, our differences resulted in hurt. Love and hospitality meant adopting a new practice at our home. Each of us was willing to change our “old normal” once we knew how left out our roommate felt. We developed our own “new normal.” That made all the difference on our home team!

What new practices have you learned to adopt to make someone feel valued on your team?  How does your team express you are valuable to them? 


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til everyone knows someone…

It was an unbelievably humid morning.  September is a hot month in Florida.  I was up early to try to get a walk in before it got hot.  The air was thick with moisture and my first breath felt like work.

I was thinking about the third verse in Psalm 110.

Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.[b]

And as I crossed the street to walk around the lake, the grass and trees glittered as they were covered with dew.  No photo has done justice to what I saw that morning.

morning dew

Every blade of grass was covered with dew. The trees were literally dripping with dew.

iphone 1579All I could think of was that someday, in the day of the Lord’s power, people will freely stand up and say, “I belong to You.  Here I am, send me. Use me for Your glory.”

 iphone 1582

iphone 1574 morning dew 2

  And in that day, everyone will know someone who truly follows Jesus.

I can’t wait.

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great teams don’t just happen – part 3

“I like working with this team!” she piped up right in the middle of a discussion.  “Each month I can see the progress we are making! On previous teams, we discussed a lot, but didn’t get to see things change very much.

“I like being part of something that is moving forward.”

And who doesn’t?  That’s what teams are all about– accomplishing more together than individually. In the past two posts, we’ve looked at attitudes necessary for great team work, and the process of team formation. This time, we will look at four criteria for a team to achieve their goals:

 1.  Everyone knows where they are going.  


When each person on the team knows the direction, each one is capable of self-correction. Engaging in a strategic planning process together helps get a team going in the same direction. Here are six simple steps:

  • Vision – what will the desired future look like?
  • Situational analysis – what is the current reality? What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
  • Resources necessary – what resources will be needed to take the first two steps on the plan?
  • Strategic path steps – what steps take us from the current situation to the vision?
  • Resource allocation – what people and money will be invested in each step?
  • Evaluation and learning – how did we do and what do we learn that we can apply?

This process can begin at any point; it is not linear. Working through each of these steps together paints the picture of the direction with clarity.

2.  Team members know why, what and how to do their parts.

women shaking handsWhen the team does strategic planning together, the rationale for different decisions is clear. At the end of that process, each person can usually articulate why the team is taking a particular course of action. The “what to do” and “how to” parts need assessment and clarity. The staff development cycle is a leadership tool that makes use of two key processes-position focus and personal development-that make this possible.

Establishing a position focus is as simple as a team leader and members agreeing on the key responsibilities and results that each person will be accountable for that year. They agree on goals, key projects and/or processes for which the team member is responsible. The team leader makes sure that the person has the training and resources necessary for the task.

There are two other “formal” conversations in this process: the mid-year review and the end of year review. The mid-year review gives both the team leader and the team member an opportunity to look at how the team member is doing. Given the fluid nature of ministry life, it provides an opportunity for adjustment, encouragement and/or correction. These are the key areas where the staff member will be evaluated on at the end of the year.

The personal development process is the second part of the staff development cycle. It ensures that each person is receiving feedback on key areas of strength and needed growth, followed up by a personal development plan. That the person is making progress on their development plan becomes part of their accountability in their position focus.

3.  Team members fulfill their commitments to the team.

heart gearFor the vision to become reality, each team member is necessary. In a team that is making progress, team members develop the healthy habit of keeping their promises to the team. They are accountable to each other to do their part.

Incomplete work affects the whole team, not just the individual. That realization is important for every team member. Great teams require great team members. We have all seen the example of the classic sports “all-star” teams. The pursuit of outstanding individual performance can disrupt or distract from stellar team play. For great teamwork to be a reality, each team member has to see his own work as essential in helping the team accomplish the vision. “We” becomes more important than “I.”

Recently a team member was the point person for a significant project with an approaching deadline. He realized that he had prior work and family commitments that would affect fulfilling that deadline. He engaged another team member to work with him, handing the project off for the time required by his commitments. The other team member took charge, moved the project forward and then handed it off to the original team member in charge. With no disruption to the project, each of these two team members contributed what was necessary to get the project done. Each one realized that leaving the work undone or postponed was not an option.

4.  Great teams evaluate their results and learn how to improve.

feedback-form-excellent-866529-mHow do we get better if we don’t know how we did? Teams can fall into the habit of repeating things without critically evaluating the effectiveness of their activities toward the vision. The main purpose in evaluation is course correction. What do the results tell us about the effectiveness of our decisions and actions toward our vision?

Great teams pay attention to the fruits of their labor. They look for ways to improve their effectiveness and to learn from their mistakes. They are willing to change, even at the expense of methods they may have developed themselves. Teams need to be clear about what they are going after and use those key criteria as measures against the vision. Looking at results provides the information needed to make the corrections necessary to keep a team on course.

People like to contribute their best towards work that is making a difference. As team leaders make time for strategic planning, clarity of responsibilities, healthy accountability and evaluation, team members have the opportunity to “stand together with one spirit and one purpose, fight together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Phil 1:27, NLT).

That is the best work of all!

What are some lessons that have helped you to contribute your best to your team?


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