With a packed conference room for the annual Tech Leaders Retreat, with more than 200 attendees taking in the four-and-a-half hour session, four tech team leaders discussed a range of topics, from avoiding burnout, how to be a good communicator, and the matter of building trust among members of your staff.
“Part of communication is listening, even though people think it is just talking.”
Two in the group, Justin Firesheets, Production Manager for Church of the Highlands and David Leuschner, formerly of Gateway Church and currently the Executive Director for Digital Great Commission Ministries, have previously been part of the Tech Leaders panel at WFX. This year, they were joined by Andrew Stone, Production Manager and Audio Director for Church on the Move and Jeff Sandstrom, a music producer and engineer, who has partnered with North Point Ministries.
During the preconference workshop at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Conference Center in Dallas for the WFX Conference & Expo, the group mixed things up, between discussing things as a full panel, or where each panelist held the floor for about 20 minutes or longer discussing a series of subjects, to also having a handful of breakout sessions, including asking attendees to discuss current challenges facing their tech teams and possible solutions.
One of the most common words that came up repeatedly from each of the panelists was the element of relationships.
To Firesheets, he asked the attendees the question, "How do I manage all those relationships (within the tech team or those you work with), to keep them healthy, honoring and respectful? When confronted with bitterness, anger and division, it can poison everything we do, he noted, likely derailing one from being in the correct frame of mind, to where "a little bit of reflection time is needed, to get a relationship healthy again."
In that realm, Leuschner discussed having worked at a church 15 years ago, with "a 5,000-seat auditorium, and it was me (running the tech side largely on his own). The situation had deteriorated to a point where he noted having to "define what an emergency was, and everything was. And that was not healthy." In attempting to improve the situation, though, he explained having a series of conversations, to where "I was attacking it did not go very well."
From that, Stone talked about the need to be "rocking with a servant's heart," and how after taking a position at Church on the Move in 2005, he had a rather awkward meeting a year in with the then-tech team leader. "He was visibly nervous he was petrified," noted Stone.
At first he began by telling Stone, "I can't believe you accepted a job at a church," a seeming acknowledgement about his impressive resume running shows and tours previous to his arrival at Church on the Move.
But then the conversation turned on a dime. The tech team leader then went on to say, "You are the biggest jerk I have ever met and you are hard to deal with, hard to communicate with, even hard to have in a meeting, as your suggestion is always the correct one."
The leader then pointed out to Stone about the need to improve, with the prospect of even moving on from him if things didn't change.
At the time, Stone admitted he "thought working with a team sucked. Let me build my own team, or let us do our own thing," was his preferred course of action.
"I was always in a leadership position, but I was not good at leading others," he explained. But things had to change, he added, "If I wanted to succeed as a church guy, I needed to figure it out."
The aspect of communication, Stone noted, went a long way toward being a successful leader, something he admitted he still works on daily.
"I can stand in front of people with a mic, and I can do that well. But we are trying to work with teams," he explained.
And when thinking of communicating, Stone insisted, one must realize that it goes well beyond the spoken word.
"Part of communication is listening, even though people think it is just talking. You have got to be a better listener," he noted.
Even facial expressions or body posture can say enough and unexpectedly create awkward confrontations.
One such story Stone recalled was being in a conference room for a meeting, led by a senior pastor with members of the finance committee, and Stone at the end of the table. "He was willing to spend $27 million to improve the auditorium. He had the worst idea (of how to do it). I wasn't saying anything. He stops talking, and he says to me, "Andrew do you disagree?" I looked behind me, wondering if there was another Andrew in the room he saw it in my face."
In recent years, Stone noted having improved at listening, noting, "When you start hearing what they are saying, things get better," recalling how with one coworker, by beginning to listen to them over the last couple of years, "I heard her heart, and I listen, to the things I have to support and give instruction on."
While working closely with one's staff, another element that cannot be ignored is aiming to grow trust. "We all serve the same God trust is a big deal," noted Stone. When faced with struggling over a decision, he explained, "God will help you sort that out. He has you at the church for a specific reason, and you have to trust that God has you there for a reason."
In his current position, with so much of a focus on things like communication, trust and relationships, Stone said, "I find myself now being more of a diplomat, getting everyone to play in the same sandbox. The same one that I was kicking kids out of when I was a kid."