97. Why do people leave teams?

There have been a number of key studies into the reasons missionaries leave the field, and the answers are wide and varied.  The world evangelical alliance came out with a key research project 20 years ago that found the number one reason was conflict with peers.  Is that still the same today?  Well, I don’t know but we are probably due for a new research study to find out.  My intuition tells me that people haven’t changed that much and apart from unpreventable problems like retirement age, children’s needs, change of job role and health problems, we will struggle with similar things that we have always struggled with – not getting on with others!

In normal life at work, church or home, we have the opportunity of avoiding the people we don’t really see eye to eye with or have disagreements with.  We can at least change our jobs, avoid certain people or not invite people to our homes. On the mission field we tend to be more stuck with our ministry team – and often we have to spend a lot of time with that team!

Patrick Lencioni talks about the five dysfunctions of team. The absence of trust, inability to talk about things that matter, the lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. These dysfunctions are all based in the problem we have with other people – their personality, opinions, culture, leadership style, communication and behaviour to name just a few.  Of course, ‘we’are never the source of the problem!  To say people leave due to conflict is too simplistic as there are so many types of conflict.  So let’s look at some of the ways that leaders can cause conflict:

Problems with personality:DiSC is a simple personality profile with four categories or types of people.  The D’s are the doers, the take charge people; the I’s are the influencers, people people; the S’s are the stable team players who are good at establishing relationships and the C’s are the conscientious workers that organise and implement actions and plans.  Two profiles are more task oriented and two are more people oriented.  If we don’t understand that individuals see the world very differently, we will always struggle with judgement, wanting them to see everything exactly as we do.

For instance, one team leader jumps straight into the vision and identifies the jobs that need doing and encourages everyone into action.  Another leader spends time building relationships and spending lots of time helping people feel at home.  It might actually be helpful if these two leaders got together!  These four DiSC profiles are like four different languages and if we don’t learn them we will be lost in our understanding of relationships and be prone to continual conflict.  Much more conflict is based in our different personalities than we realise.  So stop and think – why is this person responding like that?  What is their motivation right now?  What is their need right now?  Do they need a challenge or time to dream, or a relational process to talk things through or a step by step procedure?  At the foundation of every conflict is usually a reaction to someone’s attitude, behaviour or communication.

DISC helps to bring understanding of the ‘why’ of individuals responding in the way they do.  And when you have understanding, you also have more grace and patience for them.  So how are you gaining understanding on your personality?  Ask your spouse, friend or team, how you can be more versatile in your approach to others to create a great team.

Problems with leadership style: We tend to lead the way we have been led – in the home, in the church, in our workplace or in our government.  There are cultural norms of leading that we probably haven’t thought about consciously because it just comes naturally.  If I expected the leader to make all the decisions, I will lead in the same way.  If I expect equal influence in the decision making process, I will have a problem with someone telling me what to do and when to do it.  If I think leadership is male, I will struggle to delegate to a woman!

Issues in leadership style are huge and varied.  The leader is too top down, not decisive enough, lacking initiative, having too many ideas and visions, talks too much, doesn’t talk enough, too task, too laid back, too straight, too slow, too detailed, too something…. On the one hand, It’s hard to please people but on the other hand there is no excuse for apathetic, thoughtless, manipulative or abusive styles of leadership.  All of us are too something, so the onus is on us to partner with people who differ from us and can bring strength to our weaknesses and balance to our over emphasis.

Problems with character: In surveys conducted in the work place, integrity generally comes out as the number one quality people are wanting in their leaders. They are looking for someone who lives out what they say, who walks the talk, and or who has the quality of wysiwyg (pronounced wizywig – what you see is what you get). Have you ever asked others how they see you?  I have mentioned before in a letter that I was shocked one day in reading my enneagram profile that one of the tendencies was to be self righteous.  Thinking that this was obviously not a part of my own profile, I asked my wife – hey, do you think this tendency is part of me?  Oh yes, she responded – a little too enthusiastically I thought.   Do you know what the real problem is with blind spots?  Yes, you’ve got it – we can’t see them.  So let’s ask!

In order to develop integrity, a leader needs to become teachable.  If a leader isn’t teachable, then followers will struggle with the inability to influence in any way.  Whether it’s decision making, planning the direction or problem solving, where there isn’t a quality of teachability, the leader finds themselves on their own with only themselves to trust.  Not a formula for success.  Where there is a lack of teachability or any major flaw in character, if there is no apparent awareness or action to address the issue, team members will lose respect. They may find themselves tip-toeing around the leader to avoid his angry responses or struggling with her manipulative attitude or … add your own flaw.  Everything a leader does is built on the foundation of their character and so it is a work in progress.

Problems with wrong placement or lacking gifts: Years ago when I first joined YWAM, I was on a follow up team after a major outreach.  We were all nubies and so looked to our leader to help orientate us and give us some guidance.  Unfortunately he was obviously new to this role too and was very insecure. As a result, there was no clear guidance, no organisation, no plan for the days and we were left to our own devices. So another team member and I stepped in and put some shape to the team and put a plan together.  We felt awkward but also wanted to be productive.  It turned out fortunately, that the designated leader was happy for us to step up and it became a learning experience for him – otherwise it would have been really awkward!  Maybe you have had some similar experiences.  It’s one thing having it happen on a short term outreach, it’s quite another when you are in a longer term team with the leader lacking in important gifts.

Where the leader or leaders, lack the ability to initiate the direction and clarify vision, or have little emotional intelligence and find it difficult to have a rapport and build relationships, or are unable to manage the team as a whole and come up with a plan and process, then the team is in trouble.  Our new flattened leadership structure of circles in YWAM speaks into this problem, providing an opportunity of always adding the needed leader with their gifts into the circle of leadership.  So as we evaluate how we are doing as a ministry and a team, we can easily make the changes necessary by bringing in new leaders to fill the gift void and provide the visionary, operational, prophetic, pastoral or team building gifts necessary for the success of the team.

Problems of community:  We generally join a team or ministry because we are attracted by the vision and our heart connects with the desired results that are shared.  The sense of adventure to make a difference and see this need met or this task accomplished brings the motivation necessary to do whatever it takes. However, as time goes on, we realise that although we are recruited by the vision, it is relationships that keep us committed to the team.  So if we find ourselves in a ministry that may or may not be successful and bringing forth fruit, the reason we may want to move on is because of a lack of relationships, a lack of connection, a feeling of loneliness and no matter how hard we try to persevere through it, we simp;ly long for a sense of family.

For some leaders, building a sense of family isn’t on their agenda and even if it is, there isn’t enough time in the schedule and there are more important things to be done.  Their agenda is the great commission or a specific part of it.  Their goal is to see this church planted, this felt need in the community met or this school started.  So spending time on developing a sense of family feels to them like going off on a tangent or sadly – a time waster!  If this is you, then you may need to get used to leading a transient team.  Where there is a high turnover, think about the possibility that the community atmosphere may be a bit lacking.  Ask some questions of the people in the team and hopefully they will be honest enough to give some insightful comments.

If you are like me, you will want to see some teams that last for the long haul and that are together for long enough to become high performing teams.

Until next month


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