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Candid Conversations

Ray Evans thinks one of the problems of team dynamics is an unwillingness to have frank conversations. Here he suggests ways to build those candid conversations into your leadership teams.

Candid Conversations primary image

Clarity, clarity, clarity. It creates organisational health – the most necessary quality for it to achieve its purpose. That’s the message of a lesser-known work of Patrick Lencioni entitled, The Advantage1.

Amongst many gems, he describes one particular way of getting some clearer understanding. He suggests that a team spend a quiet period of reflection each writing down their thoughts on a particular issue, before everyone shares their ideas.

Four of us at Grace Community Church gave it a try.

We need some help with clearly defining our roles as we transition from my senior leadership to someone else taking that on over the next few years. To develop mutual understanding about this we all wrote down:

a) what we thought about our own gifts, strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in the future;

b) what we thought about every other person in the room using similar categories.

We all took about an hour in each other’s presence to write down what we thought. Candid it had to be.

For as Patrick reminds us in his first big-seller, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team2, it all begins to unravel if there isn’t candour, trust and some creative tension. Without that there soon develops a fear of conflict, a lack of commitment, an avoidance of accountability and an inattention to the results of a particular leadership’s mission.

Dealing with conflict

Early on in my leadership of Grace I had been left a legacy of unhealthy conflict, especially at members’ meetings.

That meant I had worked hard to bring a greater sense of harmony and helpfulness to those meetings. Particularly useful was Ephesians 4:29:

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I wasn’t trying to be controlling; I was very willing for anyone to share with me just what they thought. But I didn’t have enough time to repair all the damage that kept happening at members’ meetings and this principle was a God-given way for restoring some Christian sanity back into the proceedings.

I then transferred that principle through to small leadership meetings too. I decided that conflict in a small leadership team can feel very threatening to the church’s well-being. We just couldn’t risk disagreement at leadership level.

But then I realised I had made a mistake.

For over the years it developed into a culture that meant the leaders weren’t always candid and that had led to some of the problems that Patrick describes in his books. I had to change the way I led leadership meetings, becoming far more willing to encourage all kinds of ideas and opinions to be shared, and to learn not to feel threatened by that. This exercise was part of my learning to develop real trust amongst ourselves based on a candid sharing of opinions.

Building Mutual Trust

So here we were in a room at Grace being very direct with one another. After an hour of writing I led the way with my thoughts about my role, its future, my strengths and weaknesses and so forth. Then I shut up! One by one each person read out what they had written about me.

Then we did the same for every person in the room. It took another two hours or so. It was very insightful and there was a much greater sense of agreement than perhaps we had imagined beforehand.

It wasn’t all easy going; we all had to accept that others saw into our blind spots. In my little book Church Leadership3 I discuss the ‘Johari’ diagram. This concludes with the infamous ‘blind spot’ – what you can see about me that I can’t see, or won’t own up to.

We found that some ‘blind spot’ comments uncovered the things we weren’t doing well. It meant we had to focus on ways in which we could really work better as individuals in a team. At this leadership level in our church, we are all ‘generalists specialising in an area of church life’.

At Grace, Martin directs ministries to grow disciples to maturity, Simon develops all the team ministries and their leaders, and Jon the outreach aspects of church life. Me? I try to constantly breathe encouragement and energy into people, and to highlight the bigger vision.

We worked out that if each of us doesn’t stick to our tasks, then no one else will do it, and the whole church will suffer in time from that neglect. That is why clarity about roles is so key. If we all duplicate then other BIG things will be missed.

So this was a really useful tool to drill down and develop greater clarity about what we do now, and what may develop in the future. It hasn’t solved all our issues about team health and cohesiveness but it has put us on a better pathway, so that we can serve as one team more effectively.

Risky? Potentially.
Necessary? Definitely.

Footnotes

1. Patrick M. Lencioni, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Wiley, 2012)
2. Patrick M. Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership fable (Wiley, 2012)
3. Ray Evans, Church Leadership (10Publishing, 2016)