The Messenger :: The Way to Healthy Team Expectations
Last month, Dale Hawley shared some great insight about identifying team roles on the mission field to better accomplish the mission. This month, we've asked Jay Jarboe, leader of MRN's Empower Team and former missionary to Mexico, to help us tackle the topic of team expectations.
Expectations. It's a word that can have a positive or negative meaning, depending on the context. Being expectant isn't a bad thing. Even the Bible encourages us to go before the Lord with our requests and wait expectantly (Psalm 5:3). Expectations become dangerous when they are unrealistic and unspoken. If you've ever taken pre-marital counseling, you were probably encouraged to communicate, communicate, communicate AND to not put unrealistic expectations on your future spouse. (Easier said than done, right?!) Even outside of marriage, we often fail to communicate what's going on inside our head and end up placing unrealistic expectations on our children, friends, co-workers, and teammates. So how do you find the balance between unhealthy and healthy expectations? Keep reading to find out!!
Body Life: The Way to Healthy Team Expectations
I expected challenges. When we went to Mexico City with five other families to do mission work in 1987, I knew it would be hard. I had no idea how hard it would be working with a diverse team with differing backgrounds, opinions, and personalities.
I also expected blessings. Yet, I never knew the richness of the lessons and love I would receive through the families I served alongside.
Working on a mission team was one of the greatest blessings of my spiritual journey. And it was one of the biggest tests I faced. One of the greatest challenges we faced as a team was dealing with unspoken expectations. Unspoken expectations are one of the tools Satan uses to frustrate the unity and effectiveness of a team.
In my work with mission teams over the years, I’ve heard something similar to the following dialogue:
“You’re not being a good teammate!”
“Wait a minute! Look at the people I’m sharing my faith with, in my area of the city. How am I not being a good teammate?”
“You weren’t there for me when I needed someone to help me organize our discipleship groups. You aren’t spending time with me in my ministries.”
Sound familiar? Different expectations of what it means to “be a good teammate” exist in each team member’s mind. Therefore, judgments are quickly made about who is a good teammate and who is not. This lack of clarity is the open door Satan needs to divide and devour individuals, families, teams, and churches.
Below are some important steps that can help you manage expectations and build a healthy team:
Have a common definition of what it means to be team. Don’t assume everyone on your team will have clear expectations of what it means to be “a team.” One of the simple exercises used at MRN when forming a team is to create a common definition of what it means for a group of people to be a team.
Katzenbach & Smith in their study of The Wisdom of Teams uses this definition: A small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goal, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.
Notice the six basic elements of a healthy team:
Small in number
Complementary skills (because individuals cannot do it all alone)
A clear and meaningful purpose
Specific and measurable goals
An agreed upon working approach
A practice of mutual accountability to assure all contribute to team achievement.
Be clear on the purpose of a team. The reason for the existence of a team is to submit to God so that He uses each member for His Kingdom purposes. I’ve watched mission teams spend their time as if their only purpose was to have a united team who cared for one another. While important, a unified team is only a means to an end. Seeing others come to know Jesus and grow in Him should be your primary focus. Aiming only for team peace can be an obstacle to the ultimate goal: That the world might know that God sent His Son to save those who are lost (John 17:20-21; Luke 19:10).
Learn to appreciate diversity. Diversity can be one of your team’s greatest strengths AND greatest threats. Teams must spend time learning the way God intends the body (His church) to function (Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26; Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Peter 4:10-11). God made His body with creativity and diversity, just like our physical bodies. The Spirit gives each member of the body gifts. Each one is to use these spiritual gifts for the proper functioning and building up of the body, empowering it to function the way God designed. We are incomplete without the entire body of Christ.
Define your mission team in terms of body life relationships. Sadly, I’ve seen mission team relationships be poor examples of how God intends the body of Christ to function. We often speak about one another rather than to one another. We often compete rather than collaborate. We often show a lack of love for one another by not speaking truth in love. Missionaries often leave churches who imitate what they have seen exemplified in the life of mission team members. No wonder we have mission churches who don’t handle conflict well and don’t grow in the Spirit of Christ.
A study of what are commonly referred to as “one another passages” in the New Testament (love one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, etc.) should be the model for team relationships and commitments.
Identify and affirm giftedness. God wired you for a purpose. We all desire to make a contribution to something beyond ourselves. One of the greatest gifts God gave you is a purpose that flows from your identity in Christ. Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are being transformed into the same image intended to radiate the glory of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). You and I were not intended to do this alone. We need one another to experience the fullness of God working through us.
When working with teams, there are three questions we challenge individuals to answer regarding team dynamics:
Where am I strong (as in gifted)?
Where am I weak?
Who do I need?
A western “can do attitude” would say: If you give me enough time and I put in enough effort, then I can grow to be completely independent, not needing anyone else. But, this is not the way God designed His Kingdom. We need one another. We need to submit to one another. In our weakness, God is shown to be strong.
Having clarity in these and other expectations helps empower a team to have unity, focus on what really matters, and accomplish the mission together. Team relationships don’t happen overnight. It takes honest, vulnerable, and open communication on a regular basis. And hard work. The benefit is the transformation of your life and the lives of others touched by a Christ-like team.
If you would like more clarity in how to develop your mission team, we would love to help you. Please contact us today.
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