Getting along while planning

getting along

Being a leader is a stretching experience. Sometimes the planning is the easy part. You may find that getting along with others on your team is your biggest challenge.

You have taken your last exam — the semester is finally over! Now you’re escaping for a week away at chapter camp so your leadership team can plan together for your InterVarsity group next year. You settle in for an exciting week of inspiring Bible exposition, review, evaluation and planning.

But there is a creeping concern, a buried question: Can we get along as we plan? Will we agree on our vision and our goals? Every chapter leadership group has a different flavor because every individual varies in his or her own personality, temperament, experience and ability to work within a team. But that’s what the leadership group is — a team.

Just as there are strategies in team sports involving all the players, there are helpful strategies in team planning involving all the members. Here are some helpful “ground rules” for getting along as your team plans in committee.

Decide how you will define agreement. Do this before you even get to planning camp. Often groups think that everyone should agree with a particular plan or idea wholeheartedly before it is adopted. This method can create a lot of tension and consume a lot of time. It’s unrealistic to assume that everyone will always agree. Those who disagree with the majority on a particular idea should have a chance to voice their opinions, but they should still be willing to help carry out the team’s plans back on campus.

If a team member will be absent for the planning process, that person is put into an awkward position. He or she will miss out on the whole team-building and planning experience. And when fall comes, it will be hard to rejoin a closely-knit team. There are no easy answers here. Pray that God will provide a way for everyone to make it to exec camp. Or consider having this person change roles, working alongside the core leadership committee rather than being on it.

Listen to each other. As you review and evaluate this past year, practice active listening. Listen for clues that reveal more insights and more feelings. Ask questions that clarify statements and draw out more: You mentioned that people enjoyed that large group; can you tell us more? You seem really quiet; what are you thinking and feeling about this?

Brainstorm freely. One way to ensure creative thinking is to throw the floodgates wide open. Brainstorming should allow torrential outpourings of ideas, questions, opinions and concerns. The rain of ideas and comments will form rivulets and puddles; don’t stop to mop them up by evaluating them. Keep asking for more: Who has another idea? What else do you think? Does anyone want to add to that? Most of the brainstorming ideas will flow off the table, but some will soak in and become a part of a plan.

Be willing to let go of ideas. Individuals should try not to “own” ideas too personally. In basketball, a great outside shooter often decides to pass to the forward under the basket for a dunk. One individual can’t score all the points. Letting go of favorite ideas is especially important in brainstorming, where the lively exchange is intended to expand, modify and rework our thinking. If necessary, gently remind each other that the best ideas will emerge in the planning process.

Avoid “checking out” on each other. We are individually members of one body, and “each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). If people feel left out in the brainstorming stage, they can quickly lose interest in planning. And if they feel threatened by a confusing or risky plan, they might back off, disclaiming ownership rather than fighting for clarity or change. Has someone grown quiet? Is someone interested only in his or her area of responsibility? Take the time to stop and look at yourselves as a group. Ask questions like these: How are we doing? Are we hearing each other clearly? Are we articulating our ideas and feelings honestly? Now may be a good time to pray together for unity and a common vision (and a good time to go out and play for awhile).

Affirm each other frequently. It’s been said that each of us carries around two buckets, one in each hand: a positive one and a negative one. We are always lobbing positive and negative comments into each other’s buckets. We don’t usually mean to be negative when we launch a comment, but it’s the receiver who determines how it’s taken.

The problem with positive and negative comments is that they don’t cancel each other out. It takes a lot of positive comments to affirm us and build us up, but just one negative comment can knock us completely off balance. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). Be sure to affirm useful ideas. And if you have trouble with someone’s idea, try to affirm the person while making your comments. No idea is good or bad in itself; it may simply be unworkable in this next year’s campus context, or perhaps it can be modified.

Keep getting to know each other. Our own ideas excite us most because they arise from deep within us. Exec members who know one another well can help each other articulate complex ideas and express feelings of excitement or anxiety. Invest time and energy into building friendships. Even the greatest strategy is of little value unless the team functions with the cohesive harmony of familiarity, trust and love.

— Jeff Yourison