The Leader’s Best Friend
By Glenn Reynolds
Often described as a pitcher’s best friend, baseball’s double play offers an incredible example of teamwork. Nothing disrupts an offense’s momentum more than “turning two” to end an inning, crushing the offense’s threat to score.
The most common double play involves at least five players — the pitcher, catcher, shortstop, second baseman, and first baseman. The pitcher, in connection with the catcher, selects a pitch the batter will more likely hit as a ground ball. The shortstop scoops up the grounder, tosses it to the second baseman where he tags the bag for an out, he then throws the ball to the first baseman for the second out. An inning-ending double play usually results in high fives for the defense and dejection for the offense. The offense suffers the dejection of what could have been, while the defense celebrates the escape from near disaster.
The double play is a picture of teamwork in action — it’s an acrobatic, synchronized execution of individual and team skill that keeps the team in the game — often in a pressure-packed situation. No wonder players call it the pitcher’s best friend.
This kind of teamwork is not only the pitcher’s friend, it is the leader’s best friend, too. The best defensive teams usually average only one double play per game, while the worst defensive teams can only count on a double play every other game. So, how do you move your team toward that level of teamwork? The answer is the process of taking your team from competing with each other to collaborating with one another.
Often leaders use competition for raises, bonuses, and promotions to increase productivity in the team, but too much competition can be deadly. In an overly competitive atmosphere, team members (both volunteer and paid staff) compete for budget dollars, public recognition, space for programming, and the attention of the leader.
Competition releases the toxins of distrust and doubt into the organizational culture. No team member is sure anyone else has his or her best interest at heart — so team members hoard information, end runs become common, and politics dominate the office atmosphere — whether a church board room, staff meeting, or meeting of volunteer leaders.
In the extremely competitive atmosphere, stakeholders become overly defensive of their territory — whether it is space, dollars, or volunteers. In a competitive environment, classrooms become the property of ministries and volunteers become the pawns in the competitive game between department leaders. To break the competitive environment, the leader must accomplish three critical tasks.
First, the leader must clearly explain the vision of the organization and how each part fits into the whole. The shortstop does not pitch and the first baseman does not play shortstop. Without a clearly defined vision and clearly articulated roles for the various team members, each member defines ministry in the light of his or her department’s vision. It becomes a youth ministry attached to a church or a small group ministry that happens to be part of First Assembly. Here, the tail begins to wag the dog. Department leaders fight for their departments because they do not understand the vision for the entire organization.
Second, the leader must help team members see each other as people, not just opponents. To fight and kill an opposing army, soldiers often dehumanize their foes. The same is true in the competition at work. The leader must reverse that process — humanizing the team to each other. When your team hears each other’s stories, prays for each other’s families, bears each other’s burdens, it becomes much harder to see them simply as the competition.
Third, the leader must put an immediate end to any and all systems that created the competitive dysfunction in the first place. Is the budget process tilted toward a certain ministry? Does the leader’s time exclude certain team members? Does the leader give unfair advantage to pet projects? Do some systems in the church serve to undermine collaboration?
Perhaps the team is no longer competing; now, it’s communicating. The shortstop is calling for the ball so he does not run into the second baseman. This is a good step, but the team is not ready to “turn two” yet. When the team starts communicating, it simply means they are talking about budget, calendar, and volunteer management. The team still is not necessarily working together; instead, each part informs the other parts of what is going on in their areas.
The youth pastor tells the rest of the staff what is going on this month in the youth department and then checks out (usually playing Angry Birds on his iPad), while the care pastor talks about all that is happening in divorce recovery groups. The team is talking at each other, but that is about it.
There are three things a leader can do to take communication to a deeper level?
First, use staff meetings to set the agenda. Setting the agenda for a meeting is much more important than it seems. The agenda for the meeting is often the agenda for the organization. The agenda for the meeting should focus the entire organization on the goals as a whole and how each part of the team plays a role in those goals. In the meeting, the leader must engage in listening as much as talking and not let a single team member dominate the meeting or “nap” through the meeting without making a contribution to the discussion. The leader’s goal is to get every brain in the game by setting an agenda that invites everyone’s participation.
Second, the leader refuses to have shadow meetings. I was involved in an organization where the meeting was not the real meeting. The real meeting took place with a smaller set of team members who eliminated members who clashed with the leader. That type of meeting debilitates communication and teaches the wrong lessons to the team.
Third, the leader works hard to keep the team on the same page by initiating a common language. To defeat the enemy of competition, the leader must establish a common vision; to take the team to a new level of communication, the leader must initiate a common language. In other words, everyone has to be singing off the same piece of music.
For example, people from 36 nations make up our church, but we strive to build a church with one culture — not a multicultural church. At its best, our church is multiethnic, but not multicultural. If every team member does not understand and distinguish the nuanced difference of that language, then trouble is coming. The leader has to make sure each team member employs a common language to describe the common vision.
In the next level, the team not only talks to each other, but the team works with each other. Team members no longer simply report what is happening in their areas, they cooperate around the agenda of the ministry as a whole. The difference is remarkable. How do you move from communicating to cooperating? By creating systems that engender cooperation.
First, develop cross-departmental teams. Too often team members only work in their area of ministry. As a result, their vision narrows and they become insular in their thinking. Putting people from different ministries on the same team helps tear down the silos of individualistic thinking and moves the team from communicating about what each other is doing to working together.
One of the most important monthly meetings at Bethel is our synergy budget meeting. Here, representatives from a variety of ministries track through the budget each month to monitor progress concerning financial goals. Each person hears the heartbeat of the other ministries, celebrates financial wins, and (when it works right) shares financial resources with a team member who comes up with a great idea, but has no money left.
Often, we divide our staff into small groups for prayer or Bible study. This presents an incredible opportunity to get people from various ministries connected to each other cross-departmentally. But the leader has to do it on purpose because it will not just happen on its own. People gravitate to their own corner every time.
Second, celebrate cooperation. Do not just applaud what one person or one ministry did to succeed; instead, brag about how two ministries came together for a project or an outreach.
Third, add cooperation to ministry descriptions and ministry job reviews. In each yearly performance review, ask the team member to describe a time when he or she cooperated with another ministry for a church-wide goal.
Sometimes cooperation can seem forced — like making up with your sister. The summit of the teamwork mountain is not just cooperation, but collaboration. Here, team members stop competing, don’t just talk at each other, or cooperate because the boss says so; they collaborate out of a genuine interest in each other’s success.
Here, team members offer to serve each other, share resources, and have each other’s best interest at heart even when they are not in the room. This is a culture of teamwork that becomes the leader’s best friend. But it does not happen overnight. It is the lengthened shadow of a leader who refuses competition and embraces communication, cooperation, and collaboration. It bleeds from the heart of the leader into the DNA of the ministry.
Teamwork is the leader’s best friend, but it does not happen without the leader taking concrete steps to make it happen. In review, competition stops when the leader instills a clear vision. Communication starts when the leader initiates a common language. Cooperation starts when the leader creates systems that engender cooperation. Collaboration starts when the leader models the culture he or she wants to create.
Your staff may be volunteers, but competition may be just as real. The principles presented in this article also work with volunteer leaders. Look for ways to increase communication, cooperation, and collaboration among your volunteer leaders.