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What does it look like to create a collaborative culture?

In leadership, we must never lose the focus on our team and put the needs of others first, writes Dave Newton.

A new pastor took up position in a local church. He was only a few weeks into the new role when he noticed that there were lots of padlocks on cupboards in the kitchen.

He realised he had moved into an inner-city context but wondered why the church crockery was such a high-risk target for theft. He also took account of the fact that some of the kitchen cupboards had nicely painted doors whilst others looked neglected and in need of some care and attention.

When enquiring about where he could find the keys to open the cupboards and see what was inside, he was politely but firmly informed that he would not be granted access. In fact, each department in the church had their own storage for their own crockery and the members of the church were in no mood to change!

Perhaps you can identify with a story like this or maybe your experience of church is a million miles away, but the reality is in any church or organisation culture and behaviours develop intentionally or unintentionally and impact the way things are done. An organisation’s culture is represented by the values which it truly lives by, not just by the words that it chooses to showcase on a wall somewhere.

One culture that can so easily develop in churches and organisations, so classically described in the ‘cupboardgate’ scenario, is one of independence or departmental silos. This is where individuals or teams become more focused on their own tasks, success or responsibilities rather than that of the organisation they serve.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book ‘The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team’ suggests: “The ultimate dysfunction of a team is the tendency of members to care more about something other than the collective goals of the group.”

It is easy for a worship leader, youth worker or nursery manager to allow their view of the organisation to colour everything else. Andy Stanley, pastor, author and founder of North Point Ministries in the US, suggests that often organisational success takes third place to personal and team success.

Is this all just management speak? Does this have any grounding in Scripture? When Paul is writing to the Philippians about unity he states: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others,” (Philippians 2:3-4).

Sometimes what is best for you personally or the team you are part of is not necessarily what is best for the whole organisation. It is vital, in the roles we take up in church or work if we really want to see things thrive, to maintain a focus on the mission of the organisation first. A challenging question to ask ourselves could be: are you there to create a great organisation or are you using the organisation to make a name for yourself?

So, what does it look like to create a collaborative culture in your church or place of work? Collaboration does not mean spending inordinate amounts of time talking to colleagues or compromising and never making decisions. Instead, a collaborative team member or department leader is likely to:

  • Adopt a non-defensive posture – happy to accept comment and even criticism, prepared to allow others to speak into their area of work with an open mind.
  • Unite people around a common goal – help people to realise that their task, role or responsibility has a greater goal beyond what they might initially perceive.
  • Engage conciliation and reconciliation – ensuring the past receives enough attention without it blocking the future.
  • Create space for celebration – take the opportunity to celebrate others’ achievements and organisational goals beyond our own direct responsibility.

Perhaps it’s time to take the locks off the cupboard, to stop defending our role and reputation and seek to put the needs of others we work with and the goals of the organisation before our own.

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