Team Work, Workplace Skills

The Team Player: The Ideal vs. Reality

“I want to live what I believe.” It’s a sentiment to which most of us can relate. The phrase expresses our desire to be clearly identified as the person we think we are. And it makes evident our conviction that a person can genuinely believe one thing, but live in a manner contrary to that belief.

The Bible, however, paints a different picture. In Matthew 12:34,35 Jesus tell us that, “the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” And again, in Matthew 7:17,18, “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” It is what we actually believe, not what we hope we believe, that dictates how we behave.

For many of us, accepting this truth is a challenge. After all, I don’t know many people who want to think of themselves as liars, thieves, or hypocrites. It’s much easier to justify our regularly recurring faults as “innocent slips of the tongue” or a “momentary lapses of judgment”.

Instead, the Bible asks us to address such repetitive sins as what they are: outward symptoms of a corrupt pattern of thought. That doesn’t mean that no one ever just slips and behaves in a way contrary to their convictions. But it does mean that when those “slips” are a regular feature of our everyday lives, it may be a sign that we don’t really hold the beliefs we think we do. And few places are as well designed to expose the difference as the workplace concept of “the team”.

Ideally, “the team” is a group of individuals dedicated to the tireless pursuit of a single goal. But the ideal isn’t often the reality. Each of us have been assigned to teams which resemble petty, bickering groups of individuals rather than a well-honed machine. We have experience with the free-riders who contribute just enough to get by. We’ve lived with the frustration that arises when individuals are unwilling to consider the potential of any view other than their own. We’ve had our fill of the petty dictators who label others as “poor team players” simply because they refuse to be mindlessly obedient drones. On occasion, we may even have been guilty of being these things, ourselves.

If we’re honest, being a team player isn’t always easy, simply because there are as many definitions of the phrase as there are people in the workplace. Some view a team player as someone capable of carrying out detailed orders. Others argue that the best team members are creative thinkers, willing and able to execute grand visions. And still others would suggest that the best team players are capable of collaborative work in which everyone shares the load equally.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at how the Bible defines a “team player”. We’ll be examining the thought process behind these concepts as well as a few of the actions they lead to.

Meanwhile, feel free to share your own teamwork experiences or dilemmas in the comment box below!

Team Work, Workplace Skills

The Team Player: Defining the Term

Living what we believe comes naturally. Unfortunately, acknowledging that we live what we believe often doesn’t. Our ego can get in the way of our ability to accept our imperfections or address our sins for what they are. It has the ability to block us from recognizing the difference between a genuine slip in our behavior and the repetitive patterns that arise from misshapen beliefs. And few things are as good at exposing the gap between what we hope we believe and what we actually believe as teamwork.

Of course, one of the greatest challenges we face is that not everyone defines “team” in quite the same way. Is it a group of people capable of following the vision of another? Is it composed of individuals willing to cast a vision and take the initiative? Does it find its roots in equal work and equal say? By some of these definitions, the Founding Fathers and the French Resistance were equally lousy team players. By others, they were among the best.

So what does the Bible say? According to Romans 12:4-10, “just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”

The Church is a team and we work our best when each of us gives our best – even when our best looks different from someone else’s. Each of us is a specialist in our own right, but it takes all of us to accomplish the goal of proclaiming Christ to the world. It’s the stuff that the high-performance teams in today’s market place are made of: individuals contributing their best in the pursuit of a single vision.

Unfortunately, not every team is high-performance. Not every individual (either in the Church or in the workforce) gives their best. Not every player embraces the same vision. Not every worker pursues the same goal. Not all of us are inspired by the same future.

Next week, we’ll start to take a look at some of the difficulties we face as members of a workplace “team”. We’ll explore some ideas for dealing with our frustrations when others don’t play like a part of the whole. And we’ll examine some ways to live our faith when we are the ones who don’t share the vision.

Contract Negotiation, Team Work, Workplace Issues, Workplace Skills

Renegotiating the Contract Part I

The absence of teamwork and the presence of slackers can lead to some interesting workplace situations. Among them is the distinct injustice of watching others make more for less. Over the last few weeks, we’ve taken a look at a few of the negative ways in which we may be tempted to approach the situation. This week, we’ll take a look at one of the best ways: renegotiating our contract.

Job interviews aren’t just about making a good impression on a future employer. They’re also about that employer making a good impression on you. While it may be tempting to simply sit through the interview answering questions, we should never pass up an opportunity to ask a few, ourselves.

That said, when we’re considering a job, we need to start by examining the job description. Not all companies have a written description for each position, so take notes throughout the interview. Make sure you understand the hours you’ll work, the company’s expectations concerning your availability to work different shifts, the tasks you will be responsible for performing, and what payment you can anticipate in return. (Keep in mind that “payment” isn’t always monetary. Retirement accounts, health benefits, paid vacation, and even the privilege of doing something that you enjoy are all positive benefits that can go with a job. Make sure you consider the whole package before you accept or reject the offer!) If, at the end of the interview, you don’t feel that the exchange is a fair one, don’t take the job. (Or take it with the expectation that it’s only temporary while you find a job that does fit your needs.) But keep in mind that once you’ve accepted a job offer, you’ve committed yourself to fulfil the agreement, regardless of whether any of the other employees do or not.

That said, if you feel that the situation has altered sufficiently since your date of hire, there is no law against asking your boss politely and respectfully if you can revise the terms of your employment. Sometimes a friendly enquiry is all it takes to get a raise, a promotion, or a few extra days off!

If your boss is unreceptive to the proposal, take the time to find out why; listen carefully as he explains his expectations and the reasons behind them. And remember that just as he might not be able to see all of your big picture, you may not be able to see all of his. Business finance and employee scheduling can both be trickier than they appear – just because it looks to you like there should be extra hours for you to work, more available time off, or money for a raise, doesn’t necessarily mean that there is. If you’re particularly fortunate, your boss may even be willing to explain some of the ins and outs to you in order to broaden your own understanding. (You may even catch his attention by taking an understanding interest in why things play out the way they do in your company!)

Next week, we’ll take a look at a few tips for contract renegotiation, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment box below!

Team Work, Workplace Skills

The Team Player: Just Getting By Part II

1 Peter 4:15-19 admonishes us to, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God. For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

It isn’t easy to see others slacking off in the workplace… much more getting away with it. The lack of teamwork can lead to bitterness and resentment from those who are pulling their own weight. While we may be tempted to grumble, brood, or “even the score” through a bit of slacking, ourselves, Scripture makes it clear that God expects more.

In Matthew 20:1-17 we read, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went. Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’ When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius. When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’ But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous? So the last shall be first, and the first last.” The moral of the story? It’s God’s responsibility to “even the score,” not ours.

It may be tempting to justify a poor performance on the basis of our co-workers actions. At the end of the day, however, the only person we’re responsible for is ourselves: our attitudes and our actions. We don’t get the right to a one sided re-write of our original agreement with our employer just because others are making as much as we do, but are working half as hard. We are bound by our word.

So what do we do when the teamwork is lacking and our pay is disproportionate to our labor? We’ll take a look at that question next week!

Team Work, Workplace Skills

The Team Player: Understanding Your Role Part II

Playing on a team is messy business. It doesn’t take a lot for most of us to get distracted from the tasks we’ve been assigned and sidetracked into performing duties that belong to others. Unfortunately, in the process of accomplishing those tasks, we often fail at the ones which were initially assigned to us. In helping the team, we set it back and tear it down.

Sadly, far too many people view team work as one person’s effort to cover the goofs and blunders of everyone else. Team work, real team work, however, begins not with a hero complex and a desire to carry the weight of the entire project on our shoulders, but with an understanding of our part in ensuring that project’s success.

In a way, it’s a little bit like playing on a softball team. Each member has a purpose and every member is important if the team is to win or (in the case of some teams) at least lose with honor.

For a number of years, I played catcher for a coed team whose only rules were that you had to be between the ages of twelve and dead to participate. My primary purpose was to catch the ball (usually, but not always, with my glove). My secondary purpose was to back up the pitcher once the ball was in play. Occasionally, our pitcher would miss a ball. When he did, I was right behind him to scoop it up and fire it to third for the out.

Now, imagine what would have happened had I been more focused on backing up the pitcher than I was on performing my duties as a catcher. How many balls that were powered back towards home plate would have been missed? How many runs would have been scored against us simply because I wasn’t focused on doing the job which had been assigned to me?

The same thing happens in the workplace when we lose our focus and forget the part we’ve been assigned to play. If we want to succeed as a team player, we need to put first things first. That means taking the time to understand the job we were hired to do and putting in the effort to get it done right.

Now, I can hear you saying, “That’s all great and good, but there is no ‘I’ in team.” Indeed, for a team to be a success, every member needs to pull their own weight. And it doesn’t take a genius to notice that this doesn’t always happen.

So what do we do when we’re putting in all of the effort and others are slacking off? Do we gripe about the unjustness of the situation? Do we mull it over in our minds until it consumes us? Sadly, this is the course that many people do take when injustice and discord dominate the workplace. We’ll be taking a look at the dangers of this route next week, but in the meantime, feel free to share your own “team player” story in the comment box below!




Team Work, Workplace Skills

The Team Player: Just Getting By Part I

It’s one thing to talk about team work and another to live it. And in few places is the tension between speaking and doing quite so evident as in the workplace. Most of us have had the dubious honor of working on “teams” in which a handful of people carried the bulk of the load. The injustice of such arrangements is evident. Work under these circumstances for too long and you’ll be forced to make a choice: to stand out or to get by. Unfortunately, the temptation to “just get by” is often quite strong… and too often, we find ourselves succumbing to its power as we resort to the path of least resistance.

This “caving in” can manifest itself in a variety of ways. One of the most common is through stings and barbs directed at those who aren’t functioning as part of the team. While this may sound like a good idea at the start, very few people are genuinely motivated by ridicule (at least not in the long run). The result is that a few well-placed comments about the lazy slackers who are holding the team back are more likely to decrease productivity than increase it. Tell someone they’re a lazy loser long enough and they’ll not only start to believe it, but they’ll start to act upon that belief. A tiger can’t change its stripes, so why even try?

Another form of “caving in” begins when we express our dissatisfaction, but only in our minds. Afraid of what others might think of us and protective of our “Christian witness”, we think the same thoughts that others are vocalizing. Sadly, while brooding upon the injustice may not affect the overall morale of others, it does affect our own.

It doesn’t usually take long before we find ourselves resenting not just the lack of teamwork on the part of others, but our own extra efforts. In our humanness, we may find ourselves tempted to “even the score.” After all, why should we have to work harder than anyone else when our paycheck doesn’t reflect the reward for our labors?

Instead of heeding the advice of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”, we gradually (or not so gradually) begin to slack off. We take a few more bathroom breaks than we actually require, show up just a couple of minutes late, go home a few minutes early, spend a little more time performing routine tasks, or take a just “few seconds” longer to greet our coworkers. We may even be able to justify our actions based upon our own perception that we simply misunderstood what was required of us when we hired on… after all, everyone else is doing it and they don’t seem to be suffering any ill effects!

While such an “adjustment” may work for some time, the unfortunate reality is that, once the bar has been set, employers tend to expect that it will continue to be met. The result is that any attempt to deceitfully manipulate the terms of our employment is likely to lead to complications in the long run… and not just for the person who hired us! Next week, we’ll take a look at some of these ill effects, but for now, feel free to post your own thoughts in the comment box below!

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…)