This is our third article in the series on team unity. We’ve been asking questions about what will make people love working with your ministry and what leads people to commit for the long run to children’s ministry. In this post and the next, we’ll continue focusing on how to build team unity and share how you can create a culture of commitment within your ministry.
When communication is non-existent or breaks down, bad stuff happens. It’s as simple as that. Across the board, poor communication is one of the leading causes of unhealthy organizations. When good communication is not in place, your people will feel left out, marginalized, and, worst of all, that you don’t trust them. Nothing will erode confidence and loyalty faster than this. Therefore, it is absolutely vital to the health of your team that you as leadership practice excellent communication.
I want to briefly note that in addition to the topics discussed below, integrating good meeting practices into your team is also of vital importance. I’ll talk about that in a future post.
Clarity and Transparency
Without clarity and transparency in communication, your leadership style will likely come off as confused, secretive, fearful, and/or untrusting. Like I said above, this will dramatically reduce your effectiveness as a team, and your testimony for the gospel of Christ will suffer. How then do we lead with clarity and transparency?
There are three specific areas I’ll talk about: decision making, clarity in roles, and giving and receiving feedback.
1. Decision Making
Your decision-making process reveals a lot about what you actually believe regarding communication in your organization. If decisions are made strictly from the top down without involving your team, that will communicate a lack of trust and care for your people.
I realize there will always be some decisions that just need to be made by top leadership, and that’s okay. However, these types of decisions are few and far between; most of our decisions as leaders ought to meaningfully involve the people we’re working with. This will communicate trust, build loyalty and unity, and create buy-in.
Get people together, talk to them about the decision, listen to their ideas, engage in meaningful dialogue, make the decision, and then communicate the decisions and reasons for them to anyone impacted.
When you do this well, you’ll often avoid not only the pitfalls of a poor decision process but also poor decisions—the people with “boots on the ground” often have a better and more realistic perspective of what’s happening and what’s needed. In this case, if someone ends up disagreeing with your ultimate decision, they will almost always still support you because their views were taken seriously.
Questions to ask when making a decision:
- What and whom will be impacted by this decision? Are there unintended ripple effects we can consider?
- In what ways could they be impacted? Do these people have any jurisdiction over the things impacted?
- If so, they need to be involved in the decision-making process. Get their input. What do they see as the problem? What solutions would they propose? Listen to them and talk it through with them.
- Before the decision is made, it can be a good idea to let anyone else impacted know that you’re considering the issue and will be making a decision soon. Once the decision is made, follow up and tell them the decision, why it was made, and in what way they’ll be impacted.
2. Roles & Responsibilities
When each of your staff has a clearly defined role and is released and empowered to succeed, your team will thrive. Few things build trust and commitment more than your leader giving you responsibility and then taking his hands completely off and trusting you to do what he’s asked.
Now don’t get me wrong… this must be done with care and wisdom. Here are a few principles to follow that will give you a framework to delegate responsibility in a life-giving, growth-cultivating, and people-empowering way:
- Give a clear role or responsibility. If they don’t know with absolute clarity what their goal is, you’re setting them up to fail. Without a finish line, you can’t win.
- Release them to do what you’ve asked. Trust them. Let them do their job. It’s that simple … if you feel the need to look over their shoulder or micromanage, either you should stop it, or you picked someone who isn’t ready. In most cases, it’s the former.
- To balance the point above, be readily available to coach them through their new role. It’ll be a growing process for them, and they’ll need your counsel and wisdom. When you do step in to help, be careful: don’t do their job for them. Show them what to do and how to do it. Don’t succeed for them; show them how to succeed.
- Create accountability measures and then follow up regularly. When you create the new role, make sure this is already in place and clearly communicated. When you have good accountability set up, you won’t need to worry about micromanaging because your accountability and follow-up system will take care of issues as they arise.
A quick example of this is the worship team for our Heroic Life Discipleship nights. As a leadership team, we asked them to lead worship with the children for a set period of time each Tuesday and gave them a list of songs to pick from. After that, we didn’t worry at all about the worship.
We trusted the team to be there on time, set up, know their songs, and lead well. If they had questions or if we had feedback to give, we’d talk about it briefly and then carry on. As a leadership team, once we set up the team and songs, we didn’t have to think about it again for a whole semester, because we delegated the role and responsibility well.
3. Giving and Receiving Feedback
The final aspect of clarity and transparency I’ll discuss here is creating a structure for giving and receiving feedback. This can be a tricky topic to navigate with your team since giving feedback can often be seen as critical or creating conflict in a negative way. This is just natural.
As humans we’re all wired to want to be right, and when someone says we’re wrong, that’s not a comfortable experience. But the reality is that if we’re going to have effectively growing and communicating teams, we need to check our pride at the door and realize that we’re not the most important thing in the equation.
One of the mindsets I’ve found to be helpful both personally and in working with a team is what I call “Mutual Submission to Truth.” Basically, this means that feedback needs to be given based on a standard external to myself. I can’t make people change because I think a certain way. I need to ask people to change based on something that we’ve both agreed is a higher authority.
When I approach giving feedback this way, it’s no longer me saying, “I’m right, you’re wrong, and you need to change.” Instead, it’s saying, “Based on my understanding of truth, I believe that you aren’t in alignment with it. Let’s look at this together.” When this happens well, the result is two people walking in humility and standing on an equal level together, looking at and submitting to truth alongside one another. The dialogue is then no longer centered on people; it’s centered on ideas and truth.
I read recently that “The people in the best position to provide leaders with honest feedback on what’s working and what’s not have the most to lose by providing that feedback.” As leaders we need to be particularly sensitive to this and realize that it’s difficult for people on our teams to offer meaningful feedback to us. In light of this, here are a few tips for giving and receiving feedback in a meaningful way:
- Do it with humility.
- Base your appeal on truth, not just on what you think.
- Engage in dialogue and be open for pushback.
- Cultivate feedback. People aren’t likely to just offer their perspective. So make a habit of talking to your people and asking them questions to draw out their feedback.
- Listen. It’s extremely easy to get defensive and start explaining why we did or didn’t do something, but this is exactly what you shouldn’t do. Ask more questions, listen, and try your utmost to truly understand what your people mean.
- Take it seriously. Seriously. Don’t just brush off the feedback you’ve received—it would probably be better to have never cultivated it in the first place. When you get feedback, either implement what’s suggested or have good reasons for not doing it. And either way, talk to your people and make sure they know they’ve been heard and taken seriously.