Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 5, Lesson 4
Helping the Team Establish a Significant Purpose
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
Careful time must be taken at the start of a team to help the team adopt a purpose that is critically important to the team members and meet the church's objectives. The team purpose provides direction to the whole team process and content. It spells out why the team exists. Individual team members first commit to a significant purpose and then to the team and its members as a way to achieve the purpose.
Apart from the two big mistakes the leader makes of not leading the team as a team and doing too much for the team, the majority of problems teams face stem from the lack of a well-defined purpose statement. Poor work attendance, dysfunctional member behavior, low commitment, insufficient teamwork, to name but a few, are all basically caused by no purpose, an inadequate purpose or an insignificant purpose that is not remembered.
Also, poor relationships among team members persist because of the absence of a purpose that is critically more important than petty differences. If a church team purpose includes doing something for God, then it should be obvious that biblical love in the relationships of team members must be pursued. In this regard, consider that the purpose of learning how to present the gospel does not obviously call for people to work well together, or at least ignore, their differences as does the purpose of helping one another so that the can present the gospel at a booth in the mall.
Inadequate purposes also destroy a team leader’s motivation and excitement. The purpose must not only hold the team members’ interest and commitment, it must also hold the leader’s interest and commitment. Most of us, for example, would soon wither helping the team nitpick church office procedures in order to improve them. But to be the team leader helping a team simplify office procedures for efficiency and greater job satisfaction would be much more exciting.
Great purposes call people, both team members and team leaders, up to higher callings, producing far greater levels of both team and team member functioning. Something really worth doing (a significant purpose) grabs the attention, makes us want to make it top priority, and urges us to mobilize strengths and get over shortcomings. Something really important that can only be done by the team makes us want to overcome our prejudices and judgmental behavior in order to work together to achieve the greatly desired purpose. Purposes to do something for God's glory should be so motivating.
Therefore, the successful team leader first points out the importance of having a critical team purpose and then goes on to help the team establish, define and commit to a purpose that team members really want to achieve for the glory of God. This team purpose sets the stage for success. Without such a purpose there is no focus, no direction, no destination.
And that is why team purposes should not be activities. "Leading church worship", for example, is an activity and should not be the team purpose. But "leading church worship so that God is glorified by the church's corporate focus on His majesty" is an acceptable purpose that provides a destination. Running the front office is an inadequate purpose; administratively backing up the church purpose, programs, and volunteer and paid staff is a challenging purpose.
If the purpose doesn’t answer the question, “What for?” it will neither draw people to sufficient commitment or give adequate direction.
Purposes that are stated in terms of results give direction to the team’s effort. From such a purpose goals can be set and action steps taken. Most teams are full of activity and wanting in true accomplishments in line with the church mission. Without the reason for activity, not much concentrated focus of effort will take place. Efforts become diverted by the various crises of the church and not much gets done that would cut off such “crisis management”.
A solid team purpose can help a team identify inappropriate or dysfunctional behavior of the team and its members. If behavior moves the team toward its purpose, it is appropriate. If it does not move toward accomplishment of the team purpose, it is dysfunctional. The team can determine in light of its purpose what is and what is not appropriate. The team should evaluate member behavior based on the purpose of the team.
Purposes that are defined in terms of results rather than activity also help the team actually deal with dysfunctional behavior. For example, the overly forceful team member who knows all of the answers can be told by the team that having a strong opinion on everything does not move the team ahead toward its purpose because it makes people too defensive and not want to say anything. Because there is a purpose that is an end result, it is clear when behavior is dysfunctional.
The team’s purpose must stay on the team leader’s mind constantly from the moment it is adopted by the team. Then the team leader helps the team to constantly remember that purpose and work toward its implementation. Each team member should be able to state the team purpose fairly accurately. Think of a basketball team. The purpose would not be to play basketball, for that is merely an activity. The purpose would most likely be to win basketball games. What if the coach (team leader) forgot that the team existed to win games? What if the players forgot? What if the players placed the purpose to win games below some other purpose such as “to play basketball to get great exercise.” Disaster! The team leader, the team as a whole and each team member must remember the purpose and let it guide their behavior.
On too many church teams and committees, it is the activity that is remembered - not the purpose. A Missions Committee might remember that it exists to support the church's missionaries. But the actual purpose would be to support the church's missionaries in prayer, finances and personal communication.
To keep the team purpose in the minds of everyone, it is helpful to repeat the purpose statement regularly. For example, at the start of every team meeting the team leader can easily say, “Well, here you are again, ready to pursue your purpose of . . . .” And when the team tells a new member what the team is all about (note that the team leader should never ever do this), various team members should state their understanding of the team’s purpose. This will help the new team member know what it is the team is doing and for what reason, feel accepted on the team, and establish that the new member is accountable to the team, not so much to the team leader.
The successful team leader always remembers that his or her purpose is to help the team work toward its purpose – a purpose upon which the team has decided. Few teams will commit to hard work for achieving a purpose decided upon by the team leader. The purpose must be theirs. They must own it. The team leader begins by suggesting a purpose, and usually the team readily adopts that purpose. But that act of adopting its own purpose is critical to the success of the team.
The team leader's purpose is different, but connected to the team's purpose. The team leader's purpose is to help the team accomplish its purpose.
There is a big difference in the basketball team’s goal to win games and the coach’s goal to train them so that they win most of their games. In a way, team members begin as players, and, as the team matures, one-by-one members become player/coaches as each begins also to help the team succeed. The team leader is most successful if he or she is not a player/coach but simply a coach. Again think of basketball. If the coach becomes a player/coach, his or her attention changes and there is no one standing back to see the big picture of what is going on when the team is winning or losing.
So, how do you come up with meaningful and powerful team purpose statements? They are usually designed from tuning-in to the reality of the potential team members and trying to accurately identify their thoughts and feelings about life. This tuning-in process is invaluable and might also be termed “accurate empathy”. Thorough tuning-in leads to the design of purpose proposals that grab attention and spur deep commitment. Hasty tuning-in leads to inadequate purpose statements.
Tuning-in is the process of trying to understand other people by estimating their life circumstances and their thoughts and feelings about their own realities as they might perceive them. As such, tuning-in is a range of possibilities to be verified upon contact with the target population.
The purpose of tuning-in, or accurate empathy, is to become sensitive and responsive to the real needs of people on your team. Initially, it helps to propose a team purpose that will meet both the needs of the employing organization and the team members.
In proper “tuning-in” the team leader or soon-to-be team leader brainstorms and carefully considers (1) the various realities faced by those who are or will be team members; (2) the range of thoughts that might be associated with the various realities of potential team members; (3) the range of feelings that might be associated with the various realities of potential team members; and (4) the range of thoughts and feelings that might be associated with joining a team and about yourself as the team leader.
Tuning-in is absolutely necessary to help another person see how the team needs her or him and how being on the team will meet some of that person’s important needs. The chance of a person joining a team to do something important will greatly increase if this anticipatory empathy has occurred prior to contacting the person.
Parenthetically, tuning-in is an important skill to use even after a team has formed. Even though a leader has recruited a fantastic team of people to do an important job, it is still important to remember that there are both team-related and non-team-related things going on in team members’ lives. And many times those things will get in the way of the team’s functioning and progress on its purpose and goals.
A successful team leader also “tunes in” to herself or himself. In doing so, she or he carefully considers her or his own thoughts and feelings about the potential team members and the team as a whole.
Consider a team of kids in 1966 just starting sixth grade at a school in the South Bronx. They had maimed four teachers for life by the time they finished fifth grade. They were not a gang, but they had many times worked together to wreak havoc. As my second year field assignment for my Masters Degree, it was my job to reach these boys and get them to come to a therapy group twice a week after school. I had to go to the school and offer them a group purpose that would get their attention and motivate them to try it out. Since their attention spans were not more than fifteen seconds, the group purpose statement had to be quick and simple. I thought for hours about what their lives must be like in the housing project of 30 buildings and 16,000 residents. I brainstormed what they might think and feel about their lives, their families, their futures and being in school. In the end I came up with a proposed group purpose that might appeal to them and also let me do the job I was to do. When the time came, I asked them, “How would you like to come to my office twice a week and help each other make school more fun?” It was successful and my work with this team was presented to all of the Group Workers in New York City as well as written up in a textbook on Group Work (professional title for small group/team leadership).
A “right-on-target” team purpose can pull people in. I once saw a life-and-death situation and had to come up with a group purpose for a single meeting. One day in the housing projects I looked out and saw two gangs chasing and shooting at each other – and the playground was full. I said to myself, “You know, these guys are going to shoot a kid!” So I started to think about my skills. In tuning in, I knew that they weren't interested in not shooting each other. But I knew that there was a chance they might not want to kill their children. I called them up and asked if they would allow me to meet with them and negotiate an agreement where they would not kill their own children. They took me up on the offer and met with me at midnight in an obscure place, each gang sitting across from the other using three long tables lined up in a big empty room. Each person had his gun on the table pointed at the person across from him, and in that hostile atmosphere I helped them adopt and carry out the meeting’s purpose to make an agreement to not shoot at each other where children were around.
If you take the time to tune-in, it is possible to reach all kinds of teams. I once led a therapy group of the most hostile prison inmates in the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. They were of a different race and would only agree to a group purpose of hating me. Starting where they were in their minds and maturity, I agreed to help them get together once a week to hate me. Within eight meetings they were working on their personal problems.
Every so often the successful team evaluates how it is progressing in its purpose. If it is not accomplishing its purpose or making strides in the right direction, the team should determine what it needs to do differently.
Next, let's talk about not doing anything the team or its members can do by giving work to the team.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA