Empowerment Leadership Model for Small Groups, Teams, & Families
Course 5, Lesson 5
Not Doing Anything the Team or its Members Can Do
By Giving Work to the Team
Copyright 2001 Dick Wulf
The cardinal rule for professional team leadership is: “Do not do anything that the team or any of its members can do.” Therefore the premier skill of a successful team leader is to give work to the team. Then the team can (will have to) handle the problem or situation or task itself. In almost every situation, the team can do far more than the team leader can. Leading and doing are two different things.
If the team leader does significant things that the team or its members can do, he or she fosters crippling dependency upon leadership. The team and its members will unconsciously perceive that the leader thinks they are incapable because the task was not given to them. Then they will begin to believe that they are not able to lead, decide, answer questions, show concern and all of the other tasks required of a strong team and its members. This will create unproductive dependency that will keep much from getting done compared with what might have gotten done if the team had developed confidence by doing all it was capable of accomplishing.
Or the team members might think that the leader wants the power to do everything and considers it a threat if they assert themselves. That, too, will shut down or decrease the effectiveness of the team.
The obedient team leader wants to develop the team and its members to be all they can be. It becomes that leader’s desire that the team become strong and capable, even of leading itself. It culminates in the joy that the team leader is helping build a super-capable team.
A truly skillful team leader is merely helping something much larger than himself or herself emerge; something akin to a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a beautiful quilt coming from patches of cloth, or a skillful, well-executed, ninety-yard drive by a professional football team. The astute team leader is more than happy to not be in the limelight and to let the team have center stage and accomplish noteworthy goals.
It is a grave mistake for the team leader to dominate the action. That would be like the basketball coach running out onto the court to take most of the shots for the players who are more capable as a team of sinking the bucket. Whenever a team is limited by the capabilities of its team leader, it is immeasurably held back.
For example, the team leader should never encourage a team member if any team member or the team as a whole can do the encouraging, with or without his or her urging or instruction. Likewise, a team leader should never help a team member express himself. If he does, the team will never learn to reach out to its members, drawing them out and helping them successfully communicate.
Almost anything the team leader can do, he or she can teach the team and its members to do. Once learned, the leader can eventually back away from doing those things taught. In fact, this must be the team leader’s goal. As the team and its members learn how to do the work of the team, the team begins to experience synergy, that complex phenomenon where the whole becomes much more than the sum of its parts. When team members become interdependent and interactive, they will help each member to do his or her part to the maximum - and powerful synergy will develop. Each member’s performance will be helped to grow as each is spurred on by the others.
Let’s discuss an example. On a short-term mission trip to Honduras, many team members are continually complaining about the heat and humidity. This is having a negative effect on the team's energy and enthusiasm.
At first, the skillful team leader will watch to see if the complaining will dissipate. If the complaining continues, the leader waits a bit to see if the team will deal with it. (Because this empowering model of leadership is seldom used, the team will most likely not address the issue.) Then the leader will do what we call "give work to the team." He or she will say something like, "The heat and humidity is getting in the way of the team's attitude and needs to be dealt with."
That statement will give all of the work to the team except identifying the problem and getting started on its own. But, the team leader who wants to build strength into the team he or she is leading, will not want to take over the problem. It would not be desirable for the leader to say, "You need to change your attitude about the heat. Be joyful in the Lord. Think of it this way. . . ." That would be doing the team's work and stealing the opportunity for the team to see how strong it can be.
In this example, it is the team's responsibility to come up with a solution that ends the grumbling about the heat. Even if the team leader has led ten such mission teams to Honduras and knows exactly what to do to be able to tolerate the heat, he or she would hold back such a great opportunity for the team to grow and excel. The team and its members can gain much by deciding that attitudes need to change and coming up with creative ways to make that happen.
The team may come up with many things that would not only take care of the bad attitudes but also lead to fantastic spiritual growth and improvement in relationships. The team may find out that a few team members are extremely self-conscious about smelling bad because of their perspiration. Then others can mention that everyone stinks. Or the team may talk about accepting the heat and keeping focused on the people. Or the team may have a contest to see who can come up with the funniest way of joking about the heat. It is in encouraging one another and coming up with its own solutions that the team and its members grow.
One of the first things a professional team leader must do is recognize what a team is working on. In our example, the team is working on the members’ dissatisfaction with heat and humidity. At any given time a team is working on something - whether that be only a few of the team members or the whole team. With practice, a team leader can spot the various themes a team is working on as these themes shift in and out of focus. At the end of the day, when the team is standing around before everyone goes to bed, they may be working on (a) dealing with their tiredness, (b) maintaining and building friendships, (c) counseling team members who had a hard day, (d) getting one another’s ideas about the next day’s assignment and how to do it best, (e) appreciating what the Lord is having them do in Honduras, and many other possible themes.
A team leader concerns himself or herself with what the team is working on in order to evaluate (a) whether or not the team is dealing with the issue or task successfully, (b) whether they will soon be dealing with it successfully, or (c) whether they need leadership help. If the team is working successfully, the team leader goes on to think about the team’s need for help on something else it is working on. If the team looks like it will successfully deal with the issue, the team leader does not do anything, but just continues to monitor progress. If the team is stuck, the team leader provides leadership, but only as little as necessary to avoid creating dependency and to allow the team to develop its confidence.
One rule in helping a team deal with a task is to take away as little of the work as possible. When a team leader is merely watching to see if the team will be successful, no work is being done by the leader and, thus, no work is being taken away from the team. But, when the team leader must give help, consideration must be given as to how to help and take away as little of the work as possible. The statement, “What is the team working on?” takes away only about ten percent of the team’s responsibility (to recognize what it is working on and that it is stuck) and still leaves 90 percent of the work for the team to do. If such a simple statement yields team focus and correct analysis of progress, the leader needs to do no more for the time being.
Related to our example, if the team gathers and is complaining about the heat, “What is the team working on?” will be sufficient.
Then the professional team leader would remain silent, expecting and allowing the team to stretch itself a little further and identify that the heat is a problem that must be dealt with. As discussion ensues, the team leader will see places to help out, but he or she should do so only when sure that the team will not necessarily get there on its own.
For a team without many skills yet, the team leader might have to follow up with a statement like, “Your morale seems to be going downhill because of the heat. Therefore, it is important for the team to decide what to do about the problem. How can you help one another deal with the heat and not let it get in the way of your mission or happiness?”
When a leader says to his or her team, “How do you want to deal with this?”, or “What do you think you will have to do now?”, he or she is giving the work of the team to the team. The main skill is to determine what work to give. Often the work to give the team is that of thinking independently and assertively. Simple questions such as, “What is going on now?” are highly functional to get the team moving on the next thing to do to achieve the team’s purpose. Such simple questions help the leader to keep from doing any of the team’s thinking, which would make them lazy and dependent.
Much of the time the work the team needs to do is defined by those tasks a healthy and successful team must do, as we covered in Course 2. The team’s previously set goals and action steps will also often be the pool from which the next team action is taken.
This is all complicated by the fact that at any one point in time, there is probably more than one thing that the team can work on. Sometimes it will matter which is done first, often it will not.
When giving work to the team, the challenge is to do as little as you can so that the team does as much as it can. For example, let’s imagine that the team has gotten off of its purpose for a considerable time, say fifteen minutes. If you say, “You’ve gotten off track”, the team will get back on track, but because of your contribution, not theirs. This increases the likelihood that in the future they will depend on you to do their thinking for them. If, on the other hand, you say, “What is happening right now?”, the team will have to think and catch itself off-track. In the future, the team will be more prone to take this responsibility rather than depend upon you. The resultant increase in team output toward the goals and purpose will be surprising.
So, you can probably see that much of the hard work of a team leader goes on inside his or her own head. Much thinking and analyzing is necessary, but then it ultimately ends up in strategically helping the team when it gets bogged down or sidetracked. This help comes in giving work to the team, while at the same time doing as little of the team’s thinking as necessary.
Relief for the Senior Pastor: How This Applies to Building More Volunteers and Leaders in the Church
Almost all popular Christian models of team and small group leadership teach doing way too much for the team or group and its members. This covertly communicates that the team and its members are not able to do things that they most surely can do. Instead, the leader must let other people accomplish things and lead during the normal process of team meetings. He or she must not do anything the group or any of its members can do - or the opportunity to develop leaders disappears.
One of the major reasons church boards, teams and committees fail is that the team leader does too much for the team and its members. This builds dependency upon leadership. It cripples the local church because it prevents people from seeing that they can be servants and leaders themselves. When you continually do things for people of which they are capable, you hold them back. This is quite harmful for building more leaders in the church.
It is no wonder so many people in the local church do so little. Typical church leaders do the work rather than empower the teams and groups they lead to do the work. They do not involve people in a team process where they get to decide what and how they want to do things, where they do their own thinking and help others succeed, or where they get to try new behaviors to see if they can serve the Lord a little more.
But, team members, working together, can eventually do almost all of the tasks done by leaders. And when they do, they feel like leaders themselves. This prepares them for leadership and service.
Competence and confidence are developed by doing. The skillful Senior Pastor, committee chairperson, or small group leader works hard at not doing anything that the group or its members can do.
Initially, the group and its members may be limited in the skills necessary for the group to accomplish its purpose. However, the wise leader models a behavior and then backs off from doing it again, communicating verbally and nonverbally that in the future the group and its members must do it. By giving work to the group rather than doing it himself or herself, the skillful leader builds skills, competence and confidence in all group members.
For example, imagine that someone on the church council is too discouraged to make his usual valuable contribution to the meeting. This man needs to be encouraged for the church council that night to be able to work effectively toward its purpose. In most cases, the pastor would probably do the encouraging. But, consider what would happen if the pastor said, "John seems to need encouragement. It would be good for the board to do this now." Followed by silence on the pastor’s part, a whole lot would be accomplished that does not occur when the pastor does the encouraging. The church board would take responsibility for encouraging its members. Once taken on and learned, the church board members will be encouraging one another all during the week, not waiting for the meeting so that the pastor can do it. All this and more just from the pastor refusing to do what others can do.
Take another example. Imagine that the Senior Pastor is meeting with a dysfunctional family and someone is really discouraged. This person needs to be encouraged for the family to work effectively at its purpose of being a family that helps one another and lives for God's glory. That person’s contribution is needed. In most cases, the pastor would probably do the encouraging. Consider what would happen if the pastor said, "It seems like Susie needs the family to encourage her. Why don’t you do that right now." The dysfunctional family would then do the necessary encouraging, possibly with a little wise help from the pastor about how to encourage. As a result, the family would become closer and more loving. Family members, even toddlers, will learn that they can encourage another. Thus will begin a lifetime career of encouraging family members, and, hopefully, others as well. All this and more just from the pastor refusing to do what others can do.
Think about when Jesus fed the multitudes. He assigned all the work to the disciples. He only used his supernatural powers to do what the disciples could not do by their own hard work. They were told to get the people something to eat, to count what food was available, to pass out the food, and to collect what was left over. Jesus only did what they could not do: create food. Our Lord did this to build leaders. Soon he would be gone, and they just better be a strong group that could work together!
Take for example the situation where a group member is too talkative and pushy. Most models suggest that the leader take the person aside and talk to him or her about the unwelcome behavior. Not only does this subvert the Matthew 18 process, it takes away a very strengthening opportunity for the group.
Our empowering model of small group leadership teaches that the group as a whole should deal with the domineering member, that he or she is the GROUP'S problem. And so the group leader helps the group deal with the dysfunctional behavior instead of dealing with it himself or herself. The members and the group as a whole become more skillful. The group members will not only have to confront, but also learn to support and encourage in order to keep the person being corrected coming to group. Giving the group the problem is critical to the development of the group and its members in many ways. Most important is that the group can do the job much better than the leader. It has more resources, more talent, more synergy, more time, more energy, and so on.
Therefore, the successful team leader is constantly vigilant to assure that he or she does not hold the team and its members back by doing things that they can do. He or she does not talk, direct, empathize, and a host of other things the team and its members can do better. The wise team leader is constantly thinking about what the team needs to do to be a more dynamic team. He or she briefly models behavior only when no team member can model it, and teaches only what no team member or members can teach. And, if the team leader must model behavior or teach something, he or she expects the team and its members to do those things from that time on.
Giving work to the team is the opposite of doing things for the team that the team or its members can do. This is a very important team leader skill. The wise pastor, committee chairman or small group leader must first sit back and not take an active part in what the team or group is discussing. Once the leader gets things going, he or she distances a little in order to observe what is going on in the team and with the team members. This will tell the leader if things are going fine and to just let the team and its members spread their wings and fly. The empowering team leader takes a lot of satisfaction from watching people and the team as a whole accomplishing things on their own, seeing how in the doing they are becoming stronger and more capable.
When the pastor, committee chairperson or small group leader sees that there is a barrier of some kind to the team’s progress, he or she silently considers what might be the possible next steps for the team to take to overcome whatever is blocking progress. It might be that the discussion is getting circular, the same things being said over and over again, just in different ways. Or it might be that a difference in opinion has become stuck and there is little chance of resolution if the team continues its present approach. In these situations the skillful team leader will give work to the team. The principle requires that as little help is given as is necessary.
In the case of the circular discussion, the team leader might ask, "Your conversation seems to be saying the same things over and over again. What might you do to move the discussion forward?" For a more mature team, the leader would comment with only the first sentence, "Your conversation seems to be saying the same things over and over again." And for a very mature team the leader would merely inquire, "You seem to be stuck. What is happening?" And to the most mature team, the leader would merely ask, "What is happening?" In this way the skillful team leader would be encouraging the team to take more and more responsibility for its own performance. Eventually, when the team has learned to do all that the team leader is needed to do, the leader can drop the distance and become active in the work of the team as a leader/member. But doing so requires absolute certainty that the group is mature and capable of almost totally leading itself.
It is similar in the case that an argument has become entrenched. For a beginning team that does not know how to analyze its own process, the team leader might state, "Your team has two quite entrenched positions and seems stuck. How do you propose to get past this barrier to resolution?" At first the team will be surprised that it is being asked to deal with its own problem. But, if the leader remains silent, he or she will be surprised to see the team and its members struggling to decide how such situations can best be handled. The team might decide that it is best not to let such polar positions progress so far in the future so that such entrenchment does not occur. That could become a team policy that could save hours and hours of time during the church board or committee meetings. On the other hand, the team might decide that it wants to pray about the two positions for a few weeks and better search the Scriptures for direction. Maybe the team would decide that not enough of the members participated and that most just sat back and let two of the team’s members get stuck. They would hopefully then decide in the future to draw everyone into the discussion for its mediating effect. Or the team might decide that it doesn’t have the foggiest idea what to do. In this case, if the team leader knows of something to try, he or she is then safe to suggest a course of action. But you can see all the benefits of the team struggling with this problem that will be lost if the team leader suggests courses of action instead of letting the team decide things on its own.
Teams are strongest when they solve their own problems. This requires many skills on the part of the leader, the most critical being that of staying silent and letting the team and its members struggle. We know of more than a few Bible passages that point out that trials build strength, faith and all sorts of other godly characteristics. Smart team leaders know this and do not consider it wrong to let people struggle and be a little uncomfortable. Such negative emotional feelings will give way to a host of fantastic feelings once the team finds its own answers. Discomfort will give way to feelings of strength, victory, and thankfulness to God for providing an answer through the team. Members will feel smarter and more capable. That’s what builds servants and leaders.
Next: How to direct help toward the team rather than to individuals.
Copyright 2012 Dick Wulf, Colorado, USA