Team Work, Understanding the Job, Workplace Skills

The Team Player: Understanding Your Role Part I

Several years ago, I was asked to serve as the music director for a Christian camp.  Seeing an opportunity to involve several others in the team, I invited an extremely gifted young lady from my church to assist me in the task. Eagerly, she accepted the offer and the two of us met up at the camp two weeks later, ready to provide a worshipful time for a group of rowdy sixth graders.

Unfortunately, my hiring skills proved to be lacking. The agreement had been that the young lady would assist me in any capacity necessary in order to aide me in attaining the goal of a smooth worship event. She would be a team player who operated under my guided supervision.

She, however, approached the assignment with the attitude of a “team player”. She was there to “pick up the pieces” not just for me, but for everyone else involved in the functioning of each event. As heroic and self-sacrificing as this may sound at first, her failure to fully understand the part she was supposed to play within our team led to a near disaster.

It had been a particularly full afternoon and time to prepare for worship was limited. Knowing that this was our moment to shine, I grabbed my young assistant and explained, “I need you to photocopy this music for me while I go find the rest of our equipment.” With a nod of her head, she agreed and I set off to find the missing gear.

The adventure took me a good half an hour and, when I returned, I found that she was busy taking down cafeteria tables and setting up chairs. “Excellent!” I declared, fairly beaming with pride. “Where’s the music?”

“Oh, I didn’t copy that,” she replied. “They need to get this done and if I don’t help, there will be nowhere for anyone to sit!”

I quickly explained to her that, while I applauded her willingness to help, there was more to being a real team player than simply doing anything and everything that looked as if it needed to be done. There was plenty of staff on hand to deal with the seating arrangements… but there had been only one member of staff to see to the sheet music. We would now have to postpone the worship session because she had not done what I had asked. By failing to understand her individual role as a member of the team, she had actually done more harm than good.

This same situation occurs frequently enough within the realm of the workforce. You’ve probably experienced it yourself when, in the course of completing your assignment, you’ve been sidetracked by someone who isn’t completing theirs. We generally respond to this sort of situation in one of two ways. We’ll explore the first of these next week. But in the meantime, feel free to share your own experience with successful (or not so successful) teamwork in the comment box below!

Team Work, Workplace Skills

The Team Player

During High School, I found employment with a moderately sized chain store. To be honest, it wasn’t the greatest job in the world. Each year, the management made a big to-do about issuing performance reviews to each of its employees. And each year, I (along with every other employee), passed several weeks dreading my anticipated “marks” on what often proved to be an unfair test.

Over the course of a two week period, management would sit down with each member of the sales team to review our practical skills and evaluate our personality traits. While much of the interview focused on staff members as individuals, it was not uncommon for all of us to receive a negative mark for an error which had been made by only a few of our coworkers.

As frustrating as this was to have my own perfect scores ruined by the carelessness of my fellow employees, it didn’t take long to realize that job survival depended upon more than just my own work ethic, but also upon my ability to play as a part of the team. And that teamwork included making my coworkers look good and save face whenever it was honestly possible to do so. If I wanted to win, I had to have their backs.

If you’re at all like I am (and I’m willing to bet that you are), this protection of the unworthy others seems a touch counterintuitive: the American dream is, after all, the self-made man. We all want to be our own person, to rise to the top under our own steam, and to owe nothing to anyone. Unfortunately, this issue of pride often leads to our downfall in the real world. If we’re totally honest with ourselves, there’s nothing good that happens in our lives that at least one other party isn’t involved with in some way. If we live in a house, there was a builder. If we have clothes, there was a seamstress. If we have an education, there were teachers. If we have a car, there was a salesman. And if we have a job, there is a boss… and fellow employees.

You can deny this interdependence, but it does exist and you’ve probably already experienced it within the realm of the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:14-26, Paul explains, “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”’ or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

If getting along with one another within the Church requires each of us to function as a part of an whole, it shouldn’t surprise us that getting along in the workplace involves developing the same sort of skills. More than that, however, being a team player involves understanding both who we are and what our job is. (To be continued…)

Peer Pressure, Workplace Issues

Enforced Pressure: Higher Stakes

While some peer pressure is the result of others seeking validation for their preferences and lifestyle choices, at other times, it can arise from more villainous motives. Throughout our lives, we repeatedly encounter those whose goal is to intentionally harass us into doing something that they know we believe to be wrong.

Whether it’s fudging a little on your time card (after all, five minutes now and then doesn’t really matter), taking home those nifty company pens (the store name is on them because they want it spread around), or telling a few off-color stories, the pressure to “conform” can be intense. If you want to counter this type of “enforced pressure” without compromising your faith, you must determine Who you serve before the pressure is on.

Why am I mentioning this principle for a second time? Quite simply because it’s an important one. I used to get a big laugh out of customers who would walk down an aisle, see me stocking shelves in my red company vest and ask, “Do you work here?” Mentally, I always found myself thinking, “No, I just randomly stock shelves wherever I shop,” or better yet, “No, this is just a hobby. I have uniforms for every store in town.” Of course I worked there! The very fact that I was stocking the store’s shelves made it (or should have made it) obvious.

Unfortunately, for many Christians, what seems glaringly obvious in a workplace situation isn’t always so clear in a spiritual one. So let me put it simply: as Christians, God is our Boss; We don’t stock the Devil’s shelves. We don’t give into pressure to do the wrong things just because it feels good or makes us fit in any more than we would provide free labor at Walmart while working for Shopko. To do so just doesn’t make sense.

The truth is that most people who exert this type of “enforced” peer pressure don’t do it because they want us to fit in. They do it because they want us to trip up. The Bible tells us in John 3:20 that “They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished.” Christians, especially those committed to following Christ in their daily lives, are lights in the darkness. This will likely make at least a few of our co-workers uncomfortable. Since they can’t stay away from us, some of them will intentionally try to justify their point of view by invalidating ours. In proving our hypocrisy, they dim the very light which exposes theirs.

By determining Who we serve beforehand (and steeling ourselves to stand firm), we’re heading this tactic off at the pass. When the difficult situations arise, there will be no question in our minds about the right thing to do… and we’ll know exactly where to get the strength to do it! We must kneel in prayer. Ask God for help. Then stand our ground.

Peer Pressure, Workplace Issues

Enforced Pressure: They Really Do Want Me to Be Like Them!

Peer pressure isn’t limited to our own, internal recognition that we don’t quite fit. Sometimes, others really are trying to force us to conform. While this type of pressure doesn’t always take the form of outright bullying, the choices it sets before us and the scars it leaves behind can be just as uncomfortable. Like any good soldier, if we want to stand firm, we need to be ready with a well thought out plan of defense.

Situations involving “enforced” peer pressure can’t be approached in the same way as “perceived pressure”. We do have control over ourselves and whether we become “big picture” thinkers, secure in our own identity. We don’t have control over how others view us or our life choices. Despite our best efforts to “be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18), not everyone will be comfortable with who we are and what we represent. When that happens, some people will inevitably respond by trying to transform us into something we are not.

Our beliefs, however, aren’t the only reason that we may encounter peer pressure. Indeed, many of the individuals who are guilty of exerting peer pressure aren’t nearly as interested in forcing others to conform as they are in gathering adoring followers for themselves. On occasion, the people who fall into this category are megalomaniacs on an ego trip. More frequently, however, they are individuals who are seeking to build up their own low self-image. If others adore them, then perhaps, they will also come to love themselves.

It should come as no surprise that this type of enforced pressure is actually the easiest to counter. People who fall into this category are in need of an ego boost. We just happen to be available to potentially satisfy that need – validating their attitudes and lifestyle through imitation. In such cases, rather than simply surrendering to the pressure or (as we’re more inclined to do) pushing back, we need to be beacons of love. We serve a God who delights in diversity… and so should we.

In living this life of obedience, it’s important to recognize that “different” doesn’t always equal “bad” or “wrong”. Just because I listen to the morning news and you watch the evening news doesn’t mean that either of us must make a judgment about which way is better or best. Our differing habits don’t reflect on our mental abilities or our worth as human beings. They are merely differences and they add color to life.

Steer clear of phrases that appear to degrade choices that differ from your own. And when you can legitimately avoid making a choice about what is better or best, do! A friend of mine once asked, “Why do I have to have a favorite? Why can’t I like them all?” His question is a valid one. A lot of heartache could be saved if we placed more emphasis on the beauty of variety than upon making judgments about its quality.

 That doesn’t mean, of course, that we accept every difference, viewpoint, or lifestyle choice as valid. (There are some differences which really do matter.) But it does mean that we accept the individuals who hold those differing viewpoints. As those around us grow to recognize the acceptance we offer, the peer pressure they exert upon us will often subside. (To be continued…)

Peer Pressure, Workplace Issues

Peer Pressure and the Workplace: Perceived Pressure Part IV

Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the dangers of “perceived peer pressure”. We’ve spent some time discussing why we sometimes feel pressured to conform, even when no actual pressure exists. We’ve talked about the origins of this internal conflict and examined the importance of accepting ourselves for who we are.

All that said, there is another form of “perceived pressure” which most of us encounter. This variety, unlike that quiet gnawing sense that we’re different (and thus, somehow unacceptable), is hidden in the vocal, but not necessarily ill-intended, encouragement of others.

Consider the following illustration: one year, while discussing my upcoming birthday with my coworkers, one of them suggested that I should go “all out” – go to a bar, get drunk, and pick up a guy for the night. Obviously, the suggestion was offensive to my way of thinking and I might easily have seen this particular employee as “pressuring” me to reject my beliefs. Yet that was the farthest thing from his mind. Unlike those who egg us on, lying in wait to catch us in sin, my friend genuinely believed that such behavior did make for a good time… and he earnestly wanted me to have some fun.

This is where our ability to recognize the difference between ill-informed suggestions and actual pressure is important. In this particular case, I laughed, thanked him for his wishes, and told him about my other plans. While this might seem like glossing over the issue, it led to a cemented relationship in which I was later able to present the Gospel message. Why? Because he realized that I wasn’t going to condemn him for his own ideas of right and wrong or, worse yet, try to pressure him into accepting mine.

This stance can be difficult for many believers simply because we’ve been raised in a church culture which teaches that any failure to point out sin is a sin in and of itself. Yet nowhere does Scripture actually teach this concept. Instead, we are to be careful about when, where, and how we point out the faults of others. Matthew 7:1-6 warns us, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

The truth is that most of the people we encounter (Christians or non-Christians) are already aware of their sinfulness. We as Christians, then, are charged not with beating them over the head with the evil they’ve done (or to judge them as though we are somehow better than they are). Instead, we are to present them with a living, working image of the Christ who died to save them from the penalty of that sin.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t call sin “sin,” but it does mean that we don’t engage in the same sort of “enforced pressure” tactics used by the Enemy. Changes in behavior don’t necessarily equal a change of heart. Only if the change begins with Jesus will there ever be any real change at all.