Have you ever found yourself working on a team, and at some point, you become aware of a feeling that you aren’t 100 percent certain of your role? You know your general job, and you have a task list of things to accomplish every week, but you don’t exactly know how you fit into the "big picture.”
How a leader communicates to his or her people directly affects the productivity and the culture of a team.
Actually, you’re not even sure of what the “big picture” is.
Perhaps you are leading a team, only to find yourself constantly frustrated that nobody is moving the ball down the field the way you want. Members of the team are busy, maybe even talented, but in the midst of all of it, your goals and standards just are not being met.
In reality, these two people could very easily (and likely) be a part of the same team, and it is up to the leader to make adjustments to cure these frustrations.
How a leader communicates to his or her people directly affects the productivity and the culture of a team. It doesn’t matter if the team is made up of 50 people, or where a supervisor is leading a single subordinate. Leaders need to cast vision, front-load expectations, and use specific language to communicate successfully with their teams, to achieve desired results and, just as importantly, create a healthy and sustainable culture.
Put yourself back in the shoes of the team member mentioned above who realizes that he doesn’t have a grasp on his part in the “big picture.” It is possible that repetitive task lists or endless stream of projects can bring about the illusion that work is being done, but the problem is he doesn't know why the work is being done.
How does that feel? Aimless, monotonous, shallow, confusing, tiring… When we don’t understand why we do what we do, then we lack the motivation to do it - whatever it is. We become lazy, careless, jaded, even angry.
So how do we fix this as leaders?
As the leader, I must clearly articulate the mission of my team. If I’m working at a church, for example, my church almost certainly has a mission statement that hopefully everyone in the congregation can recite.
If your church doesn’t have such a statement in place, then perhaps you can be the catalyst for introducing this concept.
Maybe my team’s mission statement is simply that same statement, or maybe it is an extension of that statement designed to support the accomplishment of that mission.
Either way, everyone on my team needs to know why our team exists.
Why are we here?
And furthermore, where are we going?
This becomes very important in onboarding new team members. The moment a new person joins the team, he or she should be inundated with the mission statement and any core values that make up the DNA of the team.
Whether paid staff members or volunteers, when a person walks into a situation where the mission and vision are clearly articulated, they tend to jump on board and make things happen!
People are motivated by the why of an organization, not the how. And in ministry, we have the best why of any organization in the world!
You Want Me to Do What?
Now the team member knows why he's here and where he's going, but he also needs to know how to get there.
As the leader, I have some specific ideas on how I want to move ahead, but I must remember that it’s only in my head, until I communicate it to the team. Now, I know I personally have this ugly trait of believing that what is in my head makes so much sense, that anyone who doesn’t automatically think the same way I do, would have to be a moron. However, it turns out I’m the moron, when I think that people should think exactly like me, or at least have the ability to read my mind.
Successful leaders need to front-load with clear expectations.
We must answer the questions that our team members don’t even know to ask. What is to be done? How do we want to do it? When should it be done?
With volunteers on our media team at church, we let them know from the very beginning that we have very specific expectations for each of them, if they are going to serve on our team.
We use Planning Center Online to schedule everyone, and we expect that each member responds to requests within 48 hours. We expect that they listen to the music and be familiar with the flow of the service, before they come to rehearsal. We expect that they wear black. We expect that they train and hone their craft. We expect that they show up at the designated time.
I set these expectations up front, and let them decide if they can handle that, before they get in too far. Once they decide, though, they can’t say they didn’t know what they were getting into, and they are usually very excited about it!
When working with paid staff, front-loading clear expectations also takes the form of setting deadlines. For example, if I say to you, “Please have this video done by Wednesday,” what does that mean to you? You might think, well, I have until Wednesday night to get this done.
Unfortunately, you didn’t realize that I wanted to play that video for the choir rehearsal on Wednesday night, so when I come to you at 5 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, asking you to load the video, things get ugly.
Whose fault is that?
They are mine, as the leader. What I should have said when asking about this task was, “Please have this video done by Wednesday at noon. I want to play it for the choir on Wednesday night, so I want to make sure it looks good and works properly early in the afternoon.”
Now we’re clear.
Finally, I try to use specific language when communicating with my team.
I have learned the hard way how important it is to avoid using interpretable statements. Many times, both when dealing with creatives and with techies, people tend to hear the worst possible implication in a comment.
I need to work diligently to ensure I give proper context to my statement, especially when it is intended to be constructive criticism. The book “Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader” describes it as so: "The purpose of intentional intent is for the speaker to describe his intent before making his statement, rather than vice versa. It eliminates the need for someone to say, ’That’s not what I meant,’ after the damage has been done” (Runde, Craig E., Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader (J-B CCL [Center for Creative Leadership]), p. 243. Wiley. Kindle Edition.
It can be as simple as saying, “This may not come out right, so bear with me, but I’m wondering how we can improve what we did today,” or “I’m not exactly sure how to ask this, but what I’m trying to communicate is…” A little humility goes a long way for this technique.
The flip side of this is understanding the importance of using specific language when giving praise. Nothing rubs me the wrong way, quite like my boss or someone above me approaching me and flippantly saying, “Thanks for all you do.”
What that says to me is, this person doesn’t have a clue what I do, and doesn’t necessarily care what I do, but they knows they’re supposed to say something in this awkward moment.
You know what feels awesome?
When my boss comes to me and says, “Bryan, I saw the way you directed the camera shots today, and I felt like it really enhanced the worship experience. Thanks for the effort you put into making that happen.”
Now, I’m not a words of affirmation guy, but that makes my day.
"Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24 ESV).
If all of this seems like a lot of work, it is.
If it seems like there is a plethora of personalities and preferences to deal with, there is.
Welcome to leadership.
The good news is, I can take the bull by the horns and gain a little control over my situation by using my words and clearly communicating vision, expectations, and feedback. Doing so allows me to set the pace and the tone for the culture of my team, in a way that makes people want to give their all, to accomplish what we set out to do.