‘Team troubles’ were one of the top 4 reasons BAM mentors gave for practitioners giving up and going home. The ability to build effective teams and work through difficult team dynamics is therefore crucial for the sustainability of BAM companies. In this interview, we talk to Luke, a BAM business owner living in the Middle East, about his business story and what ingredients make for healthy business teams.
What general principles do you have for any company team for building healthy team relationships?
As soon as you want to build a scalable business the business team becomes super-important. The essence of a successful business is in the team, rather than the individual. To grow you need to be able to manage the business as a team, you need to be able to be on the same page.
I think at the heart of healthy team relationships there is good communication and honesty. These build trust, they reduce the sense of isolation, and they bring unity and agreement on strategy. This is particularly important for teams in multiple locations when there is a high risk of feeling isolated or misunderstood.
Honesty is crucial. Getting to the right level of honesty to enable the team to be most effective can be painful and humbling. Sometimes I don’t want to share when things go wrong, or it’s not looking as good as I hoped. Pride can lead us to partial honesty. I am talking about the temptation to overplay a lead or exaggerate about a potential client because you want to look good. However, partial honesty seriously reduces the ability of the team to manage the business, because they don’t have a clear enough picture of what’s going on.
To reach the kind of honesty required, there has to be trust and commitment in the relationship. It’s a bit like a marriage covenant: you say to someone, “It doesn’t matter what you do, we are going to stay married.” Although a business partnership is different, there has to be a degree of trust and security in the relationship, an appropriate level of commitment.
You need the kind of trust where you can be vulnerable with each other and know that person is not going to abuse that vulnerability. That kind of trust is more difficult to build and more easily damaged that the other kind of trust which is, “I trust that you are competent to do your job in the team.” Although both kinds of trust are necessarily.
What are some specific best practices for maintaining team relationships that you could pass on?
Well continually striving to be honest, as I’ve already said, but how does that work out in practice?
It’s important to build trust through honest encouragement – rather than merely flattery. In a typical company, encouragement of people is in short supply. Genuine encouragement will feel challenging sometimes but is very powerful. As the business leader be determined to build a culture of encouragement by modelling it. Find something good to say about each of your team members on a regular basis.
Then there is helping people find routes to be honest with each other. Have a business meeting once a week to talk about projects and operations, but also have a ‘team meeting’ once a week. In that team meeting, talk about values, talk about what is going well or not, establish your culture as a company.
Create pathways to honesty by opening up forums and systems for good communication. You can’t wander around hoping it will just happen! Good communication doesn’t happen on its own, it requires some organisation. Have regular reviews, schedule team meetings, and place value on getting things out in the open.
Obviously the level at which you share personally should be at an appropriate depth for your context, and each company will be different. However, at the very least encourage people to talk about what they’ve got going on in the coming week and what they need help with. It is more difficult for some businesses to find the right setting and systems for their particular culture, but a first step towards that is to identify what your values are as a company.
Lastly, don’t lose the fun. This is very important! As soon as the fun gets squeezed out, all the relationships get strained, all of the values become diluted. Stay as lighthearted as you can about life and your business in the context of finding your identity in the Lord.
Any particular advice for BAM practitioners working in challenging environments?
Remember that unless you go through some difficult things you can’t grow in depth, personally or as a team. Going through stresses and strains as a team is going to be part of that growth. It helps to think of the people on your team as another gift God has given you – and sometimes difficult people are the means that God wants to use to mature us!
Also remember that we are in a spiritual battle. The powers of darkness can be very subtle. One of the lies we absorb is that we don’t have any time. Make sure your own relationship with the Lord is right and make time for it. There will always something to do in the business! We can easily get on a treadmill, running faster and faster and that is not the right place to know what the Lord would have you do or not do. Take time aside to be with the Lord. Don’t let yourself be robbed of the taking a Sabbath. Make sure you are being refreshed and renewed. We can’t collectively be right as a team unless we are individually right.
Working in cross-cultural teams can bring its own challenges. How do we best communicate? How can we be honest in that environment? Not knowing how to communicate can feel like a wall in front of you!
Building cross-cultural relationships can be a significant opportunity for you to grow and develop personally. If you are having difficulties, think, “What can I do about it?” How can you personally learn and grow?
Often you just have to work things through across cultures. But in that process, be sensitive to where your relationship is at and communicate appropriately. Also, adapt according to what kind of issue you are trying to resolve. If it is a clear breach of integrity, then it’s something you will have to sensitively sort out right away. However, if it is more of a difference in values or worldview or cultural practices, then you have room to dialogue and work it out over a longer period of time. Hold things lightly. We all tend think we are right, but a lot of the time it’s just a different way of seeing things or it’s really not that important.
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.
With special thanks to Luke.
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