SEND U blog

Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Teaming Page 1 of 3

a challenging climb

Both invitation and challenge needed

A disciple-making culture?

In the past few years, we have talked a lot about changing our organizational culture. Back when SEND U (our training department) was being launched, we wanted to establish a coaching culture in our organization, meaning coaching will become a pervasive method of supervision, leadership development, and membership development. I think we have made a lot of progress in establishing that culture. In more recent years, we have talked about creating a culture of collaboration, intentionality, and accountability. Many missionaries long to break away from a highly individualistic orientation and work on stronger teams. But we are an organization that describes itself as a global movement of Jesus followers making disciples among the unreached.1https://send.org/about. If this is to be true, then we need to have a disciple-making culture within the organization. What does it take to create a disciple-making culture?

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Can we put too much emphasis on healthy teams?

Sometimes it seems as if most of my conversations with other missionaries are about teaming. To some extent that might be because I am facilitating two training courses for team leaders right now, and am preparing again to teach on teaming in our upcoming pre-field training. But the conversations go beyond interactions with my students. Missionaries tell me about their frustrations and joys with their previous and current teams. They share their dreams and desires for future teams. They compare their teams with teams of which they have heard in our areas. Particularly for our first-term missionaries, the quality of the teaming experience seems to be a major criterion for deciding where they will serve and whether they will continue to serve in a particular location.

As mission leaders, we can easily come to the conclusion that forming and nurturing healthy teams should be one of our top priorities to attract new workers and help current workers to flourish. There is no question that there is much that we can learn and improve in our mission teams. I am passionate about strengthening our mission teams and training team leaders.

But we also need to recognize that too much emphasis on teaming can be unhealthy. Dick Brogden in his Global Trends presentation at a recent Leadership Connexion workshop noted that teams can become the new missionary compounds.

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Are multicultural teams more innovative?

In theory, a multicultural team should have many more creative ideas than a team made up those of all one culture. But in reality, multicultural teams are often stuck in even deeper ruts of tradition than mono-cultural teams, because so much of their energy is devoted to keeping the peace and learning how to communicate. Rather than coming with a fresh new strategy, the team just continues to do what they have always done because the “way we have always done it” is the least risky and requires the least amount of explanation.

Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity by [Livermore, David]

In his book, Driven by Difference: How Great Companies Fuel Innovation Through Diversity, David Livermore of the Cultural Intelligence Center helps us understand what team leaders and team members on diverse teams need to do to create a climate and a process for true innovation. 

As Livermore says, multicultural teams are not automatically more innovative.

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Multi-tasking is a cultural trait

Over the past few weeks, I have been listening to a fascinating series of lectures by Dr. David Livermore of the Cultural Intelligence Center.  I purchased the lectures on Audible as part of one of “The Great Courses” that they offer. This course is 12 hours long and is entitled “Customs of the World: Using Cultural Intelligence to Adapt, Wherever You Are.” I would highly recommend the course in learning more about other cultures and as part of learning to work in other cultures and on multicultural teams.

In one of the lectures, Dr. Livermore talked about how different cultures view time. Besides contrasting a value on punctuality with a value on relationships, he talked about monochronic and polychronic cultures.

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Missionary, know thyself!

I vividly remember the moment I understood that culture permeates all of life. I’d already been a missionary for a few years, and I was reading “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” the true story of an epileptic Hmong girl and the cultural tug-of-war over her medical care. The author casually mentioned that in the girl’s Hmong household, family photographs “hung close to the ceiling, to show respect.”

“My gracious,” I thought, glancing at my own eye-level art, “culture even affects where you hang your pictures.” (Check out these “Fantastic tips for perfectly placed art;” surely nearer the ceiling would be easier!)

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Building teams that work

These days, one of the projects that I am working on is developing a “Team Launch Toolkit”. One of our regional directors has asked for a teaching plan, visual aids, assessment tools and the handouts that he or another mission leader would need to facilitate a two- to three-day team building workshop for a brand new ministry team, ready to be launched. This workshop would focus on helping the team answer some foundational questions related to their identity and work as a team. The toolkit would also include a list of supplementary resources for deeper study for team members who are interested in doing so.

We do not intend or expect that this training will provide all the training the team will need during the course of its life but rather just lay a foundation on which to build other training and developmental skills.

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Valuing Conflict

I have just finished reading the latest edition of the Missio Nexus Anthology, an issue solely devoted to talking about conflict in the Christian community. It includes a few articles particularly focused on resolving cross-cultural conflict, and a couple of articles about dealing with differences between mission agencies. But the idea that most struck me was that conflict is important, even necessary for our development in our Christian life.

Ted Esler, in his closing article in the Anthology, talks about “Loving Conflict.”  Conflict, he says, deepens relationships, is necessary for good decisions and shapes our character.  He concludes,

Do you want to have strong relationships, good decisions, and a deeper character? Then learn to embrace and love conflict.

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