Collaboration

Have you ever spent time in seemingly unending meetings, where the collaboration among departments or team members felt limited to the opinion of the heavy hitters and usually proved little long term value, but much short term frustration? When you end up frustrated because the “collaboration” is poorly facilitated, what can you do?

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How to Influence When You Are Not in Charge

The biggest challenge is “how can you influence when you’re not in charge?” or “how do you challenge the status quo without challenging the authority of the leader?” I think the first thing you’d need to do as a participant in meetings that are frustrating you—and when you’re not in charge—is you should speak to the chair of those meetings in private. Be respectful. Be specific. Identify the problem. Which in this case, is that the leader is not getting feedback from everyone in the room. I am sure that is a frustration to them as well. If it is not, then there is a bigger problem. But, don’t just talk about the problem come with some solutions to make it better as well.  You want to challenge the process without challenging the authority of the leader. So, come to a place of agreement about the problem and then you might kindly suggest a  book you read that addressed similar problems and had very workable solutions that the chair might find interesting. Books like “The Six Thinking Hats” can be used as a template for the meeting and as a way to get full involvement and input of everyone in the meeting. Then encourage the chair to introduce the concepts as their idea in the next meeting. That way, they keep their authority in tact and you alleviate the frustrations of limited participation.

Train Your Team for the Future

I have discovered in planting churches that not everyone that is involved at the beginning will stick with you through the launch process and into the establishing of the church. Some people are there, just as scaffolding, they are their to help get the structure up, but once it’s up they will disappear. Others will stick with you through the entire process. Those are the ones you must invest in heavily. I think right from the beginning it is important for the leader to intentionally train all of their volunteers in the culture, vision, mission, and best practices for the type of church you want to lead. Train today’s volunteers as if they will be tomorrow’s staff. This way, as the church grows, you will have people ready and able to step into the demands of the day. Don’t just train them for today’s problems, train them for the church you see in 5 to 10 years. It is an imperative practice to always be intentionally training your people.

Don’t train your staff for today’s problems, train them for the future ones Click To Tweet
Create A Culture of Change

At some point, a new work grows to the point of needing to diversify members of the original collaboration. I teach my staff and volunteers that we will always be tweaking and improving our systems. It is so easy to outgrow systems. So, as the church grows, the systems that once worked won’t work anymore. When this happens we must change. Sometimes that change means changing people, by either removing them from their position or moving them to another position. If you create a culture of change, your leaders will embrace it and look forward to shaking things up. I think it is also key to train leaders instead of specialists. What I mean by that is—don’t train someone for just one role. Train them to be a leader who could take on any role or department. This way, when you shake things up, to get things moving in the right direction, you will have leaders you can move in and out of positions instead of having someone who can only work in one area—doing one task. I have found that shifting leaders into different positions often has a huge benefit on the organization as a whole because they come into the new department with fresh ideas and new energy that tends to breathe new life into that department. 

Train leaders, not specialists. Click To Tweet
Share Your Knowledge

I love collaborating with as many different people and organizations as possible. I find that every organization has strengths and a “secret sauce” that makes them tick. I love to learn from them and apply their strengths and insights to my organization. The most frustrating thing for me is when organizations become selfish, overprotective, and fearful of sharing or working with others. To me, this is destructive. This is especially frustrating for me in the church world, because, regardless of our denomination or organization, we are supposed to be on the same team. A win for you is a win for me and vice versa. So, you would think we could openly share with each other to make each other better. But that does not always happen. And when it doesn’t, it is frustrating. I have been so blessed by so many churches and organizations that have openly shared with us. In fact, much of what we do we have learned from others. Only on a few occasions have I been roadblocked by someone who refuses to share and when that happens, I find it tragic.

Establish a Clear Why

Sometimes organizations or churches try to coordinate an event for the common good of their community.  The players come together initially but further in to the project, they back out or at least get distracted by their obligations at their home base.  Sometimes, it ends with the event becoming a one person show. Where did it go wrong? Is it the event, the facilitation or the bad blood from past attempts?

I think each of those situations have unique reasons that cause a cooperative event to fall apart. In my opinion, it’s all about the “why” of the event. The stronger and clearer the why, the stronger the buy in from those participating. There has to be a clear cut benefit for the whole, not just for one or two participants. The why is usually attached to the benefits and the benefits are most keenly understood by those who originally birthed the idea for the event. In the end, they are usually the ones committed to see it through. But, if they have the ability to clearly communicate the benefits of the event to everyone involved they will be more likely to see everyone stick it out to the end.

Know Your Team Strengths

John Maxwell says the mark of a great leader is the proper placement of people. There are so many tools out there to help leaders find the right for their people. I’d recommend personality tests like 16 Personalities (which is a Meyers-Briggs test) or DISC tests to discover people’s natural tendencies. There are other great tests like the Strengths Finder test that help leaders discover their people’s strengths and where those strengths will most benefit the team. Otherwise, a leader sometimes needs to trust their instincts and needs to know which person will fit where and who on your team will work together best, to maximize the best results for the organization. Again, don’t be afraid to experiment and if someone is not working out in a position, don’t be afraid to move them to a different position until you find their perfect fit—both for them and for the team as a whole.

Shake it Up

On-going collaboration efforts within an organization often need “fresh eyes” and “new blood”.  We tend to get comfortable in “our” place, even territorial. Then collaboration goes stale, predictable and more about relationships than results.  

So, sometimes a shake up is enough to reboot a stale department or organization. But that is not always necessary. Sometimes a new challenge, a new product, or a revision to an old product is enough to get a team excited again. Try introducing a new approach, a new look, a new location, a new idea to the stale team. If any of those don’t work then a shake up of personnel might be necessary. That might not mean moving someone out, it might mean bringing someone new in. Leadership really is about knowing your people and their situation and doing what will work best for them and the organization. I don’t know that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to fixing staleness. Just make sure you do something, experiment if you have to, but do not tolerate staleness in any department or it will be deadly to the entire organization eventually.

Guard Against Personal Agendas

Nothing will kill collaboration more quickly than politics. Politics is really all about personal agendas and individual egos. These kill teams. So, it is vital that the leader constantly guards against personal agendas. One way I have discovered that works best to get a team focused on a common goal is to ask the team, “what problem are WE called to solve?” I have the team answer this question together, so that they each take personal ownership of coming up with solutions to the problem the team as a whole is called to solve. Once they have an answer, they can go to work solving it—together. They will have something to focus on—together. Once the problem is solved, the team dissolves or it must find another problem to solve. If the leader doesn’t lead his team to answer this question together, each team member will seek to answer the question on their own—from their own perspectives—and this is what creates tension and politics among teams.

Honour the Past, Embrace the Future

Sometimes the “old guard” on a church or organizational board isn’t open to new talent in a collaboration because they feel threatened.  The balance between honouring past leadership while allowing fresh talent to breath life and new “best practices” can be tricky. 

It is so important to honour the past and celebrate the past achievements but at the same time not get stuck there. The past is there for us to learn from and to grow from. As leaders we need to look at the past as the ceiling for tomorrow’s floor. If we want to go up, the quickest way there is to build on the foundation of the past. If we ignore the past, we are in danger of foolishly repeating the mistakes we could have learned from if we had just listened to those who had gone before. In contrast, if we dwell in the past, and don’t keep building up, by refusing to bring in new ideas or new talent we are in danger of getting passed by those who are willing to press forward. I think it is wise for leaders to include very experienced leaders on their team as well as young, inexperienced, but highly innovative leaders. The combination of these generations and their view points will keep an organization very healthy because we will both learn from the past and press on with new ideas for the future.

Look at the past as the ceiling for tomorrow’s floor. Click To Tweet
Invest in Your Leaders

The collaboration of talents, experience and vision is vital to the mission of most organizations. We must follow the example of Jesus. He modelled it best for us. He both invested in his leaders, training the 12 intensely for three years, while at the same time remained true to the gospel by ministering to those who had need. I think we can do the same. We can best train our future leaders by involving them as participants in today’s ministry. We have to keep raising leaders and we have to keep true to the mandate of the gospel because the church is the hope of the world and we’re on a mission to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.

 

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