Take a Moment
- In a team context what does the term “diversity” mean to you?
- In what ways might team members be different? Make a list.
- What do you feel are the benefits and challenges that arise within your team (or a team) from each of those aspects of diversity?
- How do you react to people exhibiting these differences?
The Nature of Team Relationships
A team is a set of different people who relate to each other because they are all members of the team. The question is what is the nature of the relationship? Do they need to be good friends or is being good colleagues sufficient? What do you think?
Friendships are built upon commonality; shared or at least compatible interests, values and so on bring strength to friendships. The best and most effective teams are collections of individuals chosen for the differences they bring to the team; for their diverse skills, experience and outlooks; diversity brings strength to a team. This means that the foundations within the team upon which friendships can be built may be few and far between.
A team gains strength and capability from the diverse nature and backgrounds of its members, although mismanagement of this diversity can lead to strife. However, creativity and energy will flow from positively engaging the diversity within the team. When we look at vision and creativity in the last module of the programme – Leading the Journey – we will return to this theme.
Christians and Diversity
Our context for Growing the Servant Heart is serving God in the Kingdom with a Christ-like servant heart. A result of the Gospel is that Christians are united together because we are united to Christ and we share the same indwelling Holy Spirit. As we have reflected in other modules, we are to be renewed and aligned with Christ in the attitude of our minds (Ephesians 4:23 &24) and we are now united through the Gospel and the Holy Spirit, to all be fellow citizens of the Kingdom with all God’s people. We are also members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19). We have been bound together in Christ.
Thus in this one, very significant respect we have been united and have a strong and specific commonality. However, we are all on an individual journey from different places, with different backgrounds, experiences and understanding, and in some cases hurts. In short we are all different and all remain imperfect. Until we reach the conclusion of our journey, when we are ultimately united with Christ on the Last Day, we remain imperfect. This means that in our service of God we need to manage our diversity wisely and grow in love for each other.
Addressing the Complexities of Diversity
Within a team diversity is a fact of life. Wise team builders will have deliberately sought to bring diversity into the team because of the benefits it brings. To realise these benefits team members must understand and accept the differences with a view to mutually accommodating and adapting to each other.
This means that team members accept each other as individuals and learn how to work together. We spent time considering this in the second module of the programme – Leading with Insight. We investigated difference due to national culture and also emotional intelligence, which is an essential skill.
It is important when learning how to work with each other that we leave stereotypes and prejudices behind. In so doing we model our behaviour on the gracious, servant character of Christ who is concerned for each of us as individuals. You may find it helpful to review the Leading with Insight module.
Building Solid Relationships in a Team
The reason we need solid relationships in a team is because the team needs to work not only on the days when it all goes right and it’s easy. Teams must function effectively, arguably more effectively, on the bad days, when it’s all going wrong and it’s hard. It’s in such times of stress and difficulty that good, solid relationships are needed between all team members. That is the time when one needs to know that one can rely upon one’s fellow team members. When the crisis hits it’s too late to build the necessary relationships. They need to have been built beforehand.
The six essential qualities of Trust, Understanding, Acceptance, Respect, Courtesy and Mutual accountability need to be developed in order to grow solid relationships and the leader must take the lead in this:
Trust is the bedrock which underpins the relationships in an effective, high performance team. It is an essential quality without which team members are unable to rely upon each other. This is because they subordinate themselves to the team in order to collaboratively achieve the team’s purpose. This makes team members vulnerable because they give themselves to the team, so if the team fails they fail and the team fails if another member is unable to live up to their promises and commitments. Trust mitigates the risk of relying upon others. Where there is insufficient, team members will strike out alone in an attempt to achieve their goal because they trust themselves when they are unable to trust others.
We looked at the issue of trust earlier in this lesson so now we would be a good time to review that section.
Team members need to understand each other in order to develop mutual trust. They need to develop a clear understanding of each other’s capabilities and the potential for contributing to the common purpose. As we saw when considering emotional intelligence, team members also need to develop and understanding of how each other thinks. This helps when it comes to tailoring our communications so each member enables their colleagues to respond appropriately and achieve their full potential. This becomes the ground on which effective collaboration can be built.
How can this knowledge of each other be established? Simple activities such as the Coat-of-Arms exercise can help. Each member of the team draws their own Coat-of-Arms which clearly communicates what they want others to know about them. Using the JoHari Window to assess relationships between members. Using the retirement speech exercise can be helpful. Each member prepares the speech they would hope their boss would give about them on their retirement.
Personal inventories such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and DISC, when used in a team setting, allow individuals not only to understand more about themselves, but allow team members to gain similar insights about each other. In team contexts the Belbin Team Roles Report can be also be helpful (we will look at this in a little more detail shortly). Such inventories can be invaluable in helping team members to get to know each other.
A word of warning: Inventories such as MBTI, DISC and Belbin should be administered by qualified people. The feedback from these instruments needs to be explained and discussed with the aid of someone who really understands them. Amateur use of them can cause more harm than good. If you need assistance with the use of personal inventories to help your team please contact One Another Ministries using the phone number or email provided on the Acadamy.Christian-Leadership web site.
Understanding is a foundation for the trust that is necessary within a truly effective team. Where understanding does not exist then suspicion grows. Recall the Ladder of Inference which describes how our reactions are determined by what we believe. Where our beliefs are wrong, then so will our responses be wrong. Understanding those with whom we work will remove suspicions and erroneous beliefs and assumptions, replacing them with the knowledge that enables trust. Thus understanding one’s team members is essential for the trust that is needed in a highly effective team.
Understanding not only underpins trust but it also enables team members to accept each other, especially those who are different to us. Acceptance is the acknowledgement of who people are; how they react and respond and the benefits their difference brings to the team, so that the team can be more effective. It is more than simply acknowledging that diversity makes a wider set of tools available to reach the goal. It is about acknowledging individuals and the contribution each can bring. It is accepting who they are and how they work so that their contribution can be included and differences can deliver a significant benefit for the team.
Respect means to honour and esteem the contribution that each team member makes to the team. It is recognising their distinct contributions and valuing both that contribution and the person making it. This second point is clearly something that would be expected in a Christian setting. Alas, as fallen people not yet at the end of the road of sanctification we will often fall short. None the less, it should be our desire and goal to accept people for who they are before God. When working in teams this, therefore, needs to be one of our spiritual objectives.
How might respect work out? Including people and thanking people, with sincerity, for their contributions is an easy way. Spiritually this needs to be the genuine outworking of heart attitudes.
As Christ-centred servant leaders we need to acknowledge individual contributions and achievements both one-to-one and publically. On this point please review the “Encouraging the Heart” practice we examined in the previous lesson – The Effective Practices of a Servant Leader.
Courtesy between team members is a vital indicator of the state of relationships in a team. Courtesy is demonstrated by sincere graciousness and consideration for our team mates, especially when they are not present. The humour we use about others is an indicator of attitudes. Because it’s made in jest, a negative or unloving comment is no less a true indicator of heart attitude than outright verbal assault. Jesus said “out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45.
In diverse teams there will always be moments of conflict. However, where there are solid relationships characterised by trust, understanding, acceptance and respect, then the personal issues that arise will be quickly dealt with. This should be never more so where the servant character of Christ is evident. Where such qualities do not exist then the alternative is contempt. Then lack of civility and courtesy will rapidly become visible on the “good days”. What then will happen on the difficult days?
Where a team understands that they succeed or fail together and that they must work collaboratively to succeed, then mutual accountability exists. “For me to succeed we must succeed and for you to succeed we must succeed”.
The accountability relates to one’s preparedness to do what it takes to not only do that which they have committed to do, but to ensure that others can fulfil their commitments too. Where they are having difficulty the question is “How can I help?” It’s a mutual accountability because all in the team have the same attitude towards each other.
Accountability can be difficult in individualistic cultures such as the UK and the United States because it requires individuals to decide to commit themselves to, and be reliant upon others. In collectivist cultures a mutual accountability exists within the in-group. But what about situations where the team includes members of the out-group? (Refer back to the Gaining Cultural Insight lesson the Leading with Insight module.)
Developing Solid Relationships
To bring about the solid relationships in a team that enable them to overcome the bad days, the Christ-centred servant leader needs to foster the qualities and spiritual character we’ve just looked at.
Formulating these characteristics into the ground rules for the team can help achieve this. Such ground rules cannot be imposed they need to be developed collectively by the team because heart-felt ownership is required. Ground rules can then remind members of how they have agreed to behave as members of the team.
Agreement to the ground rules also gives permission to challenge those who “break the rules”. This permission is especially important when a team comprises people of varying levels of seniority. Can the junior manager challenge the Chief Executive? In such a case the Chief Executive must walk the talk and acknowledge and respond to justified challenges. They cannot override the ground rules by virtue of position and status.
An example set of ground rules to be found in Pat MacMillan’s “The Performance Factor” are:
We are open and honest with one another.
We treat each other with dignity and respect.
We listen to and respect each other’s ideas and opinions.
We hold confidences
We honour our commitments
We support and invest in each other’s development
We routinely critique our process
We have fun.
Note that this is expressed in the present tense because it’s about what we do now, every moment. It’s not a statement about what we WILL do in the future which allows wriggle-room in the mind, giving permission to avoid compliance now but promise it tomorrow.
A leadership practice of the servant leader, we discovered in the previous lesson, is to “Model the Way”. Thus the Christ-centred servant leader should take every opportunity to live out the example of such ground rules. Even if they have not yet been formally worked out and declared by the team.
Take a Moment:
- Reflect upon your initial thoughts on diversity compared to what you think now: How have they changed?
- How will those changes affect you as a member/leader of your team?
Take a Moment:
- Consider the team to which you belong or which you lead:
- How does it compare against the six qualities needed for solid relationships?
- Briefly review the previous modules. What can you do as a team member/team leader to enhance the relationships in your team?
Take a Moment:
- Review and reflect on the seven practices of a Christ-centred servant leader that we looked at in the last lesson.
- How would they workout for your team, as you seek to establish solid relationships in your team?