The Messenger :: How to Find Your Role on the Team

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Whether you played sports, attended public school, or grew up with a household full of brothers and sisters - you have had some experience with team dynamics. Right now you may be serving on a mission team far from home trying to find your role on a new team. No matter where you go in life, you will always find yourself in some type of team dynamic. Just as Mark Brazle shared last month, God didn't create us to do this life alone.

This quarter we wanted to continue in our theme "Team Work Makes the Dream Work." We've asked Dale Hawley, one of our Missionary Care consultants to help us better understand team roles on the mission field and how to develop healthy team dynamics. Enjoy these four tips!

Better Together: Addressing Disciple Maker Resiliency and Attrition

How to Find Your Place on the Team and Develop Better Team Dynamics

Every team has roles. Whether it is nine positions on a baseball field, a variety of instruments in a band, or a group of friends, every team has individuals who perform distinct tasks for the betterment of the entire group. Paul captured this notion beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12 when he compared the church to a human body. A body has a host of different parts - eyes, ears, hands, feet - and each part performs a specific role so the whole body can operate as it needs to. So it is with the church. Each person contributes in a unique way so that together we can glorify God.
Mission teams are no different. Each team member plays a particular role that benefits the entire team. One may be a great teacher, another an encourager, a third a visionary. To co-opt Paul, each plays a critical part in the mission. The entire group would not function optimally without the contributions of each person. With that in mind, here are a few observations about roles on healthy teams that I think may prove helpful for you:

Roles tend to emerge.

Many mission teams follow a democratic, leaderless model. Teams generally operate on a flat hierarchy without an appointed leader or organizational chart. While this may not be the most efficient means of organizing, it allows team member roles to develop naturally. Teams look different when they are on the field than when they are in their formational stages stateside. Some team members acculturate more rapidly than others. Some may easily find their ministry niche while other teammates struggle with developing a meaningful area of service.

I am reminded of one team where the couple who led the charge in capturing the vision and recruiting team members lasted less than a year on the field due to cultural challenges. It may take a period of years for teams to settle into a pattern where members are using their unique gifts in ways that benefit the whole. And often this is an organic process that occurs over time. 

In the long run, this contributes to a healthy team. However, it may be a useful exercise for teams to take stock periodically and to explicitly identify the roles they are playing. Having a common awareness as a group as to “who does what” can clarify ambiguity and help you work together more effectively.

Not all roles are “work” roles. 

Mission teams usually go to the field with a clear purpose. Whether they are planting churches, serving in a medical setting, or helping local citizens develop businesses, roles are often defined by the work context associated with this purpose. But mission teams are more than workgroups. Team members depend on one another for spiritual, social, and emotional support. Being a friend to share coffee with, serving as a spiritual accountability partner, or providing encouragement in times of disappointment are all viable and important roles on a mission team. 

I recall a team sharing about one of the families that would periodically plan an elaborate social event and invite all their teammates. These events were spirit lifters that built team cohesion and had long-lasting, positive effects. I suppose you could say it was not part of their "job," but it sure helped them function better as a team.

Identify missing roles. 

As roles on a team emerge, teams may discover gaps that impact their effectiveness. They might find that no one is particularly good at dealing with technology, communicating with supporters, or speaking to large groups of people. Being able to identify missing roles is a strength for teams because it means they can make adjustments. This might mean that someone on the team needs to learn a new skill to fill a needed gap, or that the team may need to recruit someone to help fill it.

In some cases, the team may need to alter a strategy to better fit their existing set of skills and accommodate for missing roles. In any event, an awareness of holes in their make-up (and every team has them) can help teams function effectively.

Every role is important. 

In addressing the Corinthians, Paul affirms the value of each part of the body. If every part were an eye, he cautions, where would the sense of hearing be? He stresses the interconnectedness of the body (if one part hurts, all parts hurt with it) and he goes so far as to say that we give special attention to those parts that are hidden. Paul’s message is crystal clear: Every part of the body is important. While this makes perfect sense on a theoretical level, it can be problematic for mission teams on a pragmatic level because our human tendency is to assign greater worth to some roles than to others. 

The person who seems to be a natural linguist can do things in a culture that other team members cannot do. An extroverted team member seems to make quicker connections with local people than an introvert who gets worn out being around people for extended periods of time. While one team member is a gifted speaker who can provide challenging lessons, another may have a hard time getting through a three-minute devotional thought.

It is tempting to wish for a gift another possesses and this can give way to petty jealousies. But, as Paul reminds us, the person with less noticeable skills can do things for the team that others cannot.

I am reminded of a missionary who spent one day a week in government offices making sure all the paperwork necessary for keeping people on the field was completed. It wasn't exactly glorious work, but he did it well and it was essential for others to perform their roles. We are at our best not when we wish for the ability to do other roles but when we perform the ones we have as ably as possible.
There is a trite and true saying about teams most of us are familiar with: There is no “I” in team. The idea behind this aphorism is that the well-being of the team is greater than the good of any one person. There is some truth to this, but it does not imply that a team is not composed of individuals.

The beauty of a team is that each person contributes their unique gifts so that the whole group flourishes. As Paul reminds the Ephesians, teams are at their best when they are centered in Christ from whom “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).

Need help with team dynamics? Please don’t hesitate to contact us.


RESPITE 2019 | August 1922 | $30/Family

What if there was an opportunity to rest before heading back to the field? Some think of furlough as a race to see how many supporters and family members they can connect with in the short eight weeks away from the field. How does a rest sound? RESPITE from the race. Get away in an out of the way location with nothing scheduled but quiet conversation, great food, time in the Word, and worship.

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