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When a team grows too big to be everyone’s friend

Posted: 26 September 2017

Recently, the AFES Hobart staff team has grown outward and downward. I am direclty overseeing 5 staff, but there are 2 additional staff being overseen by our FOCUS team leader. Next year there will, God-willing be 2 MTS apprentices and another part-time staff in the mix.

What's been particularly different for me, is not particularly the number of people, but the layers: having staff one step removed from me, 'reporting' to someone else. I've been in that situation before with the FOCUS staff team, and it's always a bit different and a bit tricky. Why? Because I no longer have the same directly relational bond with the person one step removed.

This means that there is less affection and trust. It means that it is harder for us to be persuasive to each other in quite the same way, and easier for us to misunderstand, annoy or hurt each other. It's a little easier for them to not want to submit to my instructions and a little easier for me to be suspicious of a more distant team member.

Building relationship

Of course I need to go out of my way to invest in that relationship, being considerate, prayerful, interested. I aim to meet briefly, once a month with these staff, just to keep a point of connection.

It also makes the light chit chat when we cross paths, the interactions on email and SMS, and the time together in combined staff meetings all important. Time spent talking, chatting, reading the Bible and praying and eating corn chips is all important.

Letting go of the need to be liked

But at the same time, I need to make peace with the fact that part of growing the team, is moving away from needing a tight relational bond with everyone. I need to let go of that desire as well as the burden of guilt for not doing more. I need to be ok with the fact that I'm perceived as a bit more removed, and a bit more bossy and unapproachable or whatever. I need to not be driven by a need to be liked.

But I also need to make sure I lead in other ways which make up for the lack of close relationship.

Leading through vision, policy and character

I might no longer have the same relational pull, but I can possibly have an even stronger influence in setting a clear vision and set of priorities. Perhaps those team members closer to me might zone out when I set vision: they know who I am, and they are following me, not some vision statement. But those who are less close to me rely a bit more on a clear sense of what we stand for and where we're going.

Likewise, clear policies about expectations and freedoms and communication need to be spelled out and consistently applied. I need to not 'punish' team members for appealing to these policies, as if that somehow shows they are not Really On Board.

Crucial here is also my own character and conduct. In my speech, actions, consistency and integrity, I will need to strive to lead the whole team not based on my rapport with personalities, but instead based on alignment with our vision and fair application of our policies. My team needs me to be a just, merciful, faithful and kind leader, so that they don't miss out through favouritism or sloppiness.

Leading through other leaders

Laslty, I need to give responsibility to build team ownership and rapport to those staff who are leading other staff. They now have the job of providing relational glue. I need to teach and train and encourage them to invest in that, as this might be a new job that they have not consciously recognised.

I need to support their decisions, and allow them freedom to lead. Of course I need to hold them accountable to the vision, to our policies and to their own conduct. But I want to beware of undermining them. I also need to help their staff resolve issues with their immediate team leaders wherever possible, rather than relying on me always stepping in.

 And finally, I need to ask for a greater degree of communication from these team leaders, I want them to report to me not only on their own work, but also on the progress of the whole team.


We need a Venn Diagram for family, home, marriage and legal significant other

Posted: 17 September 2017

I've already blogged on this before here.

Family is a powerful value-word. It features in discussions about 'normal' and 'non-traditional' families—are they all equally 'family' and are they equal in every way? But it also features in church contexts: where we (over)load the spiritual family of the church with all sorts of expectations, measures and ideals. Inded the idea even spills over into corporate and nationalistic settings.

What happens with a lot of our discussion is that a series of words, often with several different meanings and overtones for the same word, all get blurred together. So that we have far too much fuzziness in our thinking about how the following are the same and different, or necessarily required by each other:

  • Family—blood relations and natural children.
  • Legal family—legally incorporating others into your family through marriage and adoption.
  • Home—a group of people who accept, care and live together with a range of pledges of loyalty to each other and the permanency of that home.
  • Legal significant other—be the person who has significant legal rights in relation to another.
  • Marriage—union to express sexual love, start a family (both as a union and through having children), found a home and be the lifelong legal significant other.

But these aren't all the same, and don't necessarily all go together:

  • The church is a metaphorical 'family' in a way that doesn't over-rule our blood relationships or potential sexual attractions.
  • A spouse is not family in quite the same way that a brother is. How much more a mother-in-law. 
  • An adopted child is not family in quite the same way that either a spouse or a natural child is. 
  • An immediate blood family, or even a marriage union sadly doesn't always found a stable home.
  • An adult child is not bound to the home of their birth family in quite the same way that the husband and wife are.
  • Different cultures and individual families include a smaller or larger circle of blood relatives into their home.
  • A marriage might not always successful in giving birth to children.
  • I might choose to make someone other than my blood relatives or spouse my significant other for all sorts of various reasons.

But what is striking is that 'family' and 'marriage' carries with it an expectation of permanence and obligation on some level. A very serious act of 'disowning' or 'divorcing' needs to be done to completely break a family or marriage bond in a way that few other social ties require.


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