Ministry is a team sport. Whether designing worship, writing a teaching curriculum or producing a video, we as church leaders both create our best stuff and model God’s call to the body of Christ when we learn how best to work and live as a team. The problem is, there’s just no getting around it: Conflict is an inevitable part of working with other people. Here are five things you can do to improve your ability to collaborate and make good team decisions together.
1. ELIMINATE THE GATEKEEPER MENTALITY
Have you ever been in a group decision-making process, and felt like one person had a unbalanced amount of power and control in the room?
Good collaboration begins with mutual respect. This means a balance where each person in the room acknowledges one another’s individual expertise, and individual experts don’t use their expertise to prevent listening and learning.
For example, a graphic artist doesn’t solely decide which visual ideas make it through the gate. The team debates the merits and demerits of each visual idea. The group then, hopefully, comes to a consensus, based on what best suits the worship experience’s direction, not what best suits the graphic artist’s aesthetic tastes.
It means music ministers allow others to participate in song selection, and that pastors are aided in the development of the sermon. Every aspect of worship becomes open for discussion, for each person in the room.
In a healthy collaborative environment, the role of individual team members becomes more about leading the discussion around a particular aspect of worship, such as music, rather than dictating what idea will become the final decision for worship. This can be difficult for dominating personalities, and for those in long-established roles such as preacher and music director.
I have been involved with teams where a particular voice was so strong, that it drowned out others in the room. Without a counter voice or voices against which an idea can be tested, the quality of design suffers. Say for example, someone on the team likes candles in worship planning. This person has strong vocal opinions on why they are theologically good and why they are aesthetically nice, and even does a good job of making pretty candle displays each week. Other team members, tired of fighting this weekly assault, allow “Candle Person” to do his or her thing without resistance.
At first the congregation is moved by the beautiful candle displays. Over time, though, candles… Get. Really. Old.
A feeling of surprise and anticipation is important. And the only way in which unpredictability can be fostered, is in a team environment where multiple voices are heard with respect.
Don’t allow one or two voices to dominate.
Remember that everyone on the team may not be in love with the themes, metaphors, images, prayers, songs, etc., for a weekend. The more variety, the better.
True consensus means losing personal agendas and agreeing that a concept is good for the gospel and good for your own unique congregation. Every aspect of worship can benefit from creative collaboration. With Christ as the head, we can become the body in a new and fresh way. Worship can only get better as a result.
2. ELICIT COMMENTS FROM THE QUIETER MEMBERS
Silence doesn’t necessarily equal consent. There may be silent toxins growing on your team that you are unaware of.
In the case of “Candle Person,” others on the team may be growing to dread and abhor candles, yet feel powerless to speak up. The best antidote, while perhaps challenging to implement, is to work to ensure that everyone has a voice and feels free to speak his or her mind.
For extroverted or talkative team members, discerning an opinion is relatively easy. It is more difficult, though, to draw out the true feelings of quieter team members. This may require specific feedback requests: “Quiet media guy, what do you think? Tell us your honest thoughts.” Only when everyone vocally agrees that the idea is good for the congregation and the direction of worship, can there be true consensus.
3. WRITE A TEAM-DEVELOPED STATEMENT
This idea may sound passé to some, but consider creating a goals statement for your team. A true statement helps define what the team’s objectives are and how they will be carried out. The more specific the statement is, the better off the team will be, in moving from a group of agendas to one central agenda.
The purpose statement can be an invaluable tool when conflict arises. One team I worked with spent portions of their first six meetings together formulating a series of agreed-upon values and goals. Once they all signed the document, the team’s scribe posted it with a piece of Scotch tape on the meeting room’s wall. A few months later, the team found itself in the middle of a serious disagreement.
After extensive and heated debate, one of the team’s members reached over to the original document, pulled it from the wall and calmly began to read its contents. The solution to the disagreement became clear in light of the team’s stated and agreed-upon purpose.
All teams have either:
a) experienced conflict
b) are currently experiencing conflict or
c) will experience conflict.
There’s just no getting around it: Conflict is an inevitable part of working with other people. In fact, a group of individuals doesn’t really move toward becoming a team, until they’ve weathered their first conflict together.
If a statement is given proper attention when it’s written and is signed by every member with no reservations, it becomes a roadmap for dealing with any situation that may arise. Statements should be written over the course of several meetings. They should be as specific as possible. Each and every person on the team should be a part of writing the statement, and should be able to sign their name to it when completed.
A word of warning: conflict may arise even as a purpose statement is written. Use the conflict to help define even further what the goals of the team are.
4. EMPHASIZE JOINT OWNERSHIP OVER FRIENDSHIP
When teams successfully move from individual agendas to a single agenda, and discover the possibilities of consensus, many wonderful things happen. Brainstorming becomes less tense, camaraderie and mutual respect grow, and joint ownership over the process is felt.
Joint ownership makes each individual feel more like a part of a team. A general excitement begins to accompany the process when everyone feels like they’re a part of what is being achieved.
This doesn’t mean that everyone on the team is the closest of friends. As stated, personal styles and preferences may vary. It does mean that the team operates out of mutual respect and agreement that the decisions being made are the best ideas for worship in its own unique time and space.
5. USE “WE” NOT “I” LANGUAGE
One important change to make is in the language used to describe the process. “We” becomes a very important word. Since the creative process is pretty messy, it’s often hard to remember who said what when. One might have spawned ideas that come from another. Keeping track of who thought of what is an egocentric minefield that is sure to destroy the team.
This is where “we” becomes so important. Walking out of a team meeting and using the word “I” to talk about certain aspects of the design process can do a lot of damage to others on the team. Nearly every idea that is implemented from a design team meeting is underpinned by other unused brainstorms. That makes the “final” idea that has been arrived at, as something that was in truth jointly achieved.
In my experience, I have encouraged teams to always say “we,” when talking about mutual work, even if there is a clear distinction in our own minds as to which person implemented any given idea. We’ve learned that one can lose a lot by saying “I,” but we can’t lose anything at all by saying “we.” In fact, we can gain a lot by saying “we” when team is involved.
There is power in the Body of Christ. We can do so much more together than we can do so alone. For the sake of the world, we must function as the body, if we want to make disciples of Jesus. It’s time to throw out our egos, and learn to make decisions as a team.
(Note: This article is adapted from my book, co-authored with Jason Moore, Taking Flight with Creativity: Worship Design Teams That Work and first appeared on Worship Tech director.)