My family and I have moved to Chicago after being missionaries in East Africa to plant a new multicultural church with East African Diaspora. Church planting in Chicago is no easy endeavor. Church planting is a lot like starting a new business. This is a big task and it requires others who will join us. The relationships with these co-workers are important as it sets the tone for the DNA of this new church. Collaboration is a key skill in developing a healthy functioning team, in which storytelling and leaders who promote collaboration are essential to accomplish this.
Collaboration according to Wood and Gray, “occurs when a group of autonomous stakeholders of a problem domain in an interactive process, using shared rules, norms, and structures, to act or decide on issues related to the domain”(Imel and Zengler, 2002, p 43,44) In other words, people that share common ownership in a problem and are working together to solve the problem are collaborating. As stated by Imel and Zengler “Face-to-face contact is a necessary condition for the collaboration that occurs in communities of practice. The term communities of practice refers to a group who by working together learn by doing and also develop a shared sense of what needs to happen to get a task accomplished”(Imel and Zengler, 2002,p46)
According to Imel and Zengler, learning plays a roll in collaboration. “The teams engaged in learning activities that included learning how to work together and learning to accomplish specific objectives.”(Imel and Zengler, 2002,p44) Learning how to work together involved getting to know each team member both personally and professionally. Working on specific objectives, this learning “might be characterized as sharing knowledge. ‘Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes’” (Imel and Zengler, 2002,p45)
Jassawalla and Sashittal found that “ high –collaboration team members had learned and developed distinctively new ways of thinking and acting, which meaningfully differentiated them from others.”(Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001,p34) First, collaborative teams take ownership and personal responsibility for achieving the goals of the team. Second, collaborative teams have high levels of transparency. “There are no hidden agendas and few misunderstandings”(Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001,p34, 35) Third they have a high level of mindfulness. According to Jassawalla and Sashittal, “every member could explain why other members (whether acting alone or as part of the team) did what they did and found it easy to support their actions.”(Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001, p35) Finally, collaborative teams have high levels of synergy- “a team environment where trust is built up for each other so there can be participation in constructive conflict and look for a solution that go beyond everyone’s notion of what is doable.” (Jassawalla and Sachittal, 2001,p35)
After researching various working teams, in the opinion of Imel and Zengler, there are also several elements that lead to the success of teams maintaining collaboration. (Imel and Zengler, 2002,p 42) Some of these are, regular communication, customer-center focus, shared leadership, structure and focus, and respect for one another. (Imel and Zengler, 2002, p43) The groups that were successful at collaborating; communicated regularly some even daily, they were focused outside themselves on providing better service for the customer, leadership would shift to those in the group who had the given strength to accomplish the particular task, there was a plan, and mutual respect and commitment to the team. (Imel and Zengler, 2002,p43)
Although, developing the skill of collaboration and implementing this into a collaborative team may seem like a daunting task, it is possible. Learning to work together well by getting to know each other both personally and professionally, developing distinctive ways of thinking and acting, and by applying each of the elements that lead to teams maintaining collaboration, this becomes more attainable.
As my husband and I begin to gather other co-workers, spending time in face-to face communication will be important. Learning about each other. What are our strengths and weakness, where do we thrive and what are the areas where we struggle? Taking some gift assessment tests may also be helpful during this beginning process. Becoming comfortable with each other is essential to developing trust. Learning about how each of us works as we accomplish small task helps to see how we will work together on bigger tasks.
Developing distinct ways of thinking and acting that will help ensure a collaborative team is paramount. First, taking the time to all have buy in to our vision of planting a multicultural church so that the whole team owns this is key. Second, creating an environment of trust where transparency is cultivated. Open and honest dialogue will be encouraged. Third, developing mindfulness, recognizing that everyone in the group adds value and understanding and appreciating each one’s perspective. Forth, encouraging synergy, working on looking for the third idea. Knowing that by coming together and sharing ideas a solution can be found that maybe different than the idea with which I came into the conversation.
Also there are several elements that lead to teams maintaining collaboration that we will need to apply. To begin with, having weekly team meetings but also during each week checking up on each team member will be crucial for maintaining regular communication. Next, working together to creatively serve our community will be our primary purpose. Third, leadership will be shared according to each of our strengths and area of interests. For instance if some in our group are musically inclined, they will be the ones to lead worship at the church. For those that are gifted in outreach they will lead in helping us to share our faith in the community. Some may have communication skills and in-depth Biblical knowledge and they can lead the teaching at the church. Fourth, we will have structure and focus. An overall mission and plans and sub plans are in place so that we are focused. There are many things that churches can be involved in but sometimes this shot gun approach leaves a body scattered and it is better to do a few things well than many things badly. Last but certainly not least, a mutual respect for each other and commitment to the team. Respect is both given and earned. It is deepened over time. Respect is key in developing trust for each other and gives each of us on the team confidence to take risks to accomplish this task of church planting.
One of the practical ways that I have learned to help form a collaborative team is through storytelling. According to Silverman, “ Storytelling helps connect people, building relationships and fostering idea sharing and mutual support” (Silverman, 2006, p11) By each of the team mates sharing their personal story I can understand much of their journey. Learning about how they functioned in past teams with both the joys and hurts of their previous experience can help build trust moving forward. Listening is a vital part of storytelling. Silverman writes, “When working with someone who tends not to be converse, using the prompt, ‘ Tell me about …’ followed by silence will often trigger a story rather than a short response. However, if you do so, listen without interruption and judgment to what is said or the person may view a future invitation to talk with disinterest ”(Silverman, 2006,p12)
Silverman shared that “storytelling can develop team-based collaboration and teamwork in unique ways”(Silverman, 2006,p13) There is a unique team culture that can develop through sharing a common story.“…a collective story that provided direction around how to work together, clarified roles, increased mutual trust, and promoted camaraderie” shares Silverman. (Silverman, 2006, p.13) I think it is important as new members are added to the team that this collective story is shared and then it becomes a part of their story. The story evolves as new people are folded in. Silverman says it this way, “…involving people in the process of creating, capturing, or relaying stories strengthens their bond to the organization and the link between their own needs and work to what the enterprise desires to achieve.”(Silverman, 2006,p 15) In East Africa where I lived for many years storytelling is very much a part of their culture. So much of their history is oral based so stories are one of the ways to remember the past and share values with the future generation. I really resonated with Silverman’s thoughts on using stories to promote a collaborative team.
Besides storytelling being incidental to becoming a collaborative team, leaders that promote collaboration are very important. I see this is key for my husband and myself as we are leading this endeavor. Jassawalla and Sashittal wrote that there were four specific steps to make this happen:
1. Holding regular meetings and foster high levels of information
sharing and communication between members.
2. Collocate team members to increase shared understanding of the
team’s goals and strategies.
3. Handpick team members and spend time developing their
interpersonal and team process skills.
4. Network with key people outside the team to ensure access
to information and resources needed. (Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2001p37)
It has been my experience that collaboration does not happen accidentally. As leaders, if my husband and I can implement these four steps together with modeling collaboration skill using storytelling we will be well on our way to developing a collaborative team that will be successful in planting a multi-cultural church here in Chicago.
Imel S, Zengler C. For the Common Good: Learning Through Interagency Collaboration. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education [serial online]. Fall2002 2002; 2002(95): 41. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 17, 2014.
Jassawalla A, Sashittal H. THE ROLE OF SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND TEAM LEADERS IN BUILDING COLLABORATIVE NEW PRODUCT TEAMS. Engineering Management Journal [serial online]. June 2001; 13(2): 33. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 17, 2014.
Silverman L. How Do You Keep the Right People on the Bus? Try Stories. Journal For Quality & Participation [serial online]. Winter2006 2006; 29(4): 11-15. Available from: Academic Search Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed September 17, 2014.