Warning: What is written below is written more for me than anyone else. Blogging helps me clarify my thoughts and feelings, and get feedback from people about what is on my heart. If you disagree with me now, I may agree with you tomorrow. If you don't like the way I am thinking through my problems, you are welcome to refrain from reading. But, since this is one of the few venues I have to speak, be heard and be supported outside of my closest friends and family, I plan on continuing to write.
One of the insightful things I have learned about teams at work was about the nature of how teams develop.
The process looks like this:
Although not a perfect straightline process, this is a progression from the first to the last part of team development.
A team starts with forming. In the forming stage we get to learn a little bit about one another, what our gifts are, who everyone is, and exactly what our tasks are as we begin to learn together.
Stage two is storming. Sometime after forming a team and getting it going there is almost always a storming period where there is tension or discord in the group. People disappoint one another. We realize that people cannot live up to the idealizations we have set for them, or that they have advertized themselves to be.
What I found interesting about this theory, and I tend to agree, is that all teams have to go through a time of significant storminess and conflict to be a high functioning team. If one avoids conflict and dealing with the storminess, either because of transition (people move on because they don't want to deal with the conflict) or because of avoidance (the team avoids the issue), the team slips back into the forming stage or is perpetually in the storming stage.
So then, if a leader looks at a team that has gotten to know one another, and there is conflict, this conflict should be seen as a blessing. Why? Because the conflict shows that the team is growing. It is moving past the saying and doing what is expected, and beginning to have real movement towards a goal and toward synergy.
It seems central then, that leaders do their best not to avoid conflict. I will admit this is hard for me, especially being in a position where I have little to no power. Conflict often feels like loss to me. I feel very alone in conflict, especially in a church where I am very clearly "the outsider" demographically, in relation to history together, as well as in relation to leadership influence. Nevertheless, conflict should not viewed as disunity. There is no unity without honest disagreement and conflict. Unity is often formed through working through disharmony.
The norming phase seems to be about adapting. Once we have moved through conflict, we become real with ourselves and one another about our limitations and strengths. We seek to support one another, and reorganize our team in a way that seems to be good for everyone.
Once we have normed after the conflict, then we can move on to being a high-performing team.
On our staff at work, and in my youth ministry teams, it seems like we are so eager to avoid conflict that we never really get to the norming stage, much less become high performers. Part of this, I believe in both situations, is due to a high rate of turnover. Since 2000, our church staff has been through 4 youth/associates, 3 children's ministers, 3 secretarys, 2 financial administrators, and we have had to cut 1 visitation minister.
It is also due to our inability as a congregation (including but not exclusive to the people I work with) and as staff to deal with diversity of thought in a productive, proactive manner. We don't know each other well enough on our staff to get to the point where we can empathize and understand one another. And, as we work in this departmental structure of ministry (as opposed to something more intergenerational and wholistic) everyone is scrambling for support for the ministries they were called to lead.
One of the things that has happened here at our church lately is that our congregation has been forced to deal with a lot of storminess. My friend Ken said that he believed that this was a pruning work of Christ's church by the Spirit. I think there is a possibility that the way we have and will respond could make that a reality. But, it will take some hard thinking. It will also force us to confront some difficult decisions that our congregation has not even began to process through.
Will we ever move through our storming phase? I suppose we will have to wait and see.