Coming together to push forward
Collaboration is a buzzword that continues to make its mark in leadership circles today. Though collaboration isn’t a new concept, it’s taken on new life in today’s workplace. Simply put, collaboration is “the act of working with others on a joint project.” But, if it’s as important as the leadership gurus would have us believe, why aren’t we doing it more often?
The marketplace is changing and a “culture of collaboration” is one of the major changes. In the most innovative and successful companies, gone are the days of quiet, gray cubicles. Experts say GenXers entering the marketplace are not only willing to collaborate in their jobs, they’re seeking out collaborative environments in which to work. Some workplaces are even converting to “open” workspaces to promote collaboration among teams. The collaboration that most innovative companies are using today is a level of cooperation that takes an idea and makes it better than any one person could imagine.
Consider well-known organizations like the animated movie powerhouse Pixar, which continues to set itself apart within the entertainment industry. Pixar sees collaboration as amplification. Randy Nelson of Pixar explains, “[Collaboration] means connecting a group of individuals that are interested in each other, that bring separate depth to the problem and that bring a breadth that gives them interest in the entire solution …” You don’t have to be a Pixar fan to agree that this organization has tapped into something powerful—pulling together multiple talents, experiences and passions around a single question collectively believing that anything is possible.
Other ultra-successful companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook also use collaboration to continually bring us new, innovative and useful technology that has transformed the way we live. With all this successful collaboration making a considerable impact in the marketplace, it begs the question: How could effective collaboration impact ministry? Consider for a moment some of the questions many kidmin leaders are asking today.
- How do I foster an environment for families with special needs without opening Pandora’s Box?
- How do I foster a small group ministry when my groups are anything but small?
- How do I effectively partner with parents when I can barely get their attention?
- How do I leverage the resources I have to introduce more kids to Christ?
These aren’t easy questions, which is why very few ministries across the nation have found successful answers to them. I believe the answers are not only possible, but they are better than we can imagine. And, I believe collaboration may be the key to discovering them.
Consider for a moment a group of people in your church with varied talents, experiences and passions working together in a focused and specific way to answer one of these questions. Imagine a group of churches in your community with varied resources, abilities, and experiences huddled around a single felt need in the community. With collaboration, the sky is the limit.
Many kidmin leaders today do reach beyond the borders of their church to learn what other churches are doing, but this is only the beginning of collaboration. It’s the initial step of many. To be open-minded enough to see what is working somewhere else and consider whether or not that might work in your context is simply smart. But, few ministries pull together a team of people around a question believing that if we answer this question collaboratively we could truly change the landscape of ministry. Why?
It isn’t a lack of topics to circle around. It isn’t a lack of talent, ideas, experiences or passions to resolve them. I believe it’s a lack of true collaboration. At its roots, collaboration is founded in Scripture.
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ … But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked” (1 Cor. 12:12, 24).
“We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).
So, what could be stopping us from collaborating in ministry? I suspect there are three things that prevent us from leveraging what God placed in the body of Christ through collaboration. Here are some barriers to collaboration and how to get beyond them.
Barrier #1: Acceptance of Status Quo
“Things are the way they are. They’ll never change.” I’ve never settled with that mentality simply because the funny thing about change is that it is constant. Yet all of us land here at some point. There is something we do that never seems to change … though it really needs to. Maybe it’s a standard you need to put in place for kids or an expectation you need to raise for volunteers. Maybe it’s an event that needs to be eliminated or a worship service that needs to improve. Maybe it’s something you don’t have the authority to change. It could be any number of things causing you to accept something just as it is … there is no reason why you should. You could use collaboration to:
- Change your approach. You likely have that beloved event that leadership doesn’t want to see go. Though you might see limits to its effectiveness, your senior leadership finds value in the event and you have no choice but to pour time and effort into it. Collaboration is a tool that can help you make it impactful. Collaborating with other ministry leaders and volunteers can take that event and add an element to make it reach further than its predecessor.
- Change your perspective. Believing it isn’t possible is poison to an idea. Could it be that your limited scope might prevent you from realizing how something could be possible?
- Collaboration enables you to pull the right people around the table and simply ask the question, “Is it possible?”
Barrier #2: Time
Collaboration demands time and uses a different kind of energy than doing things the same way you’ve always done them. It requires critical thinking about a problem with a group of people who (hopefully) doesn’t think exactly like you do. It’s rarely an efficient process. Collaboration requires that you engage consistently around a question over a period of time. And time is a commodity we spend and never get back. At the end of a failed collaboration, you may find yourself with just as much work as before you started, which leaves you spouting the ever-popular ministry refrain, “It’s just easier for me to do it myself.” All of us are pressed for time these days, so why take the time to collaborate?
It’s true that collaboration takes longer than doing something by yourself, but the payoff is well worth the effort, if the collaboration is led well. Without strong leadership, collaboration can quickly become a synonym for “Complaining-Without-Solving-Anything” or break down into an unstructured social time that is incredibly fun, but not incredibly productive. On the other end of the spectrum, however, collaboration can be time well spent—an extraordinarily productive, fun and powerful experience.
The key to effective collaboration is the same as the key to effective anything else—leadership. Collaborative leaders understand that it is of the utmost importance to make the most of the time the group is investing. These leadership tips can help you maximize everyone’s time and lead more productive collaborations.
- Lay ground rules to ensure ideas are respected and heard. Encourage participation from all. You will get to the answer faster if you create an environment where everyone can contribute. What seems like a ridiculous idea during a brainstorming session can often lead to the right solution.
- Clearly define the question you are trying to tackle and the desired outcome, as specifically as you can define it. Ensure everyone agrees and understands the purpose of the collaboration.
- Lovingly keep the group focused and moving forward toward productive outcomes. Agree to keep a running side-list of “other” issues outside of your specific scope that you’d like to address at a future time. Any good collaboration will inevitably unearth additional questions begging to be answered.
- Encourage a sense of team and fun. People think more clearly when they are relaxed and having fun!
Collaboration requires that you invest yourself in the group consistently over an extended period of time in order to experience something greater than any one person can produce.
Barrier #3: Insecurity
Loving your ideas too much is a hindrance to collaboration, not only in the initial mud-slinging stages of working together but in the regular meetings throughout the process. Collaboration requires an element of humility because you have to reveal your ideas or progress before they are complete …while they are “in process.” That can be hard. You have an idea in your head and revealing your work in the middle of the process seems premature, like publishing a book before the ending is written. But true collaboration demands that we invite each other into the process even before it is complete to leverage the collective offerings of the group. How can you adjust your outlook to do this?
- Collaboration demands trust. It demands that you invest yourself in the question and the people you’re working with to answer the question. Trust that God may be bringing people into your path who will help you go farther in ministry than you ever could have gone alone.
- Recognize your unique gift. God placed you in the position you are in because you have a unique gift to bring to the table. Maybe you don’t know how to organize a kids’ worship team, but you are a great conversationalist. Great! Don’t let a lack of knowledge about leading worship stand in your way. Get a group of worship-minded people together and lead a collaborative conversation about worship. Ask specific questions about what makes up a great worship team. Also include on your team someone who can take notes and someone who can pick up on patterns in conversation. When you all put your heads together toward a goal, you’ll learn more than you ever imagined and arrive at a better result than you could have dreamed of!
- Collaboration leads you to move beyond your insecurities and invest as much in the group as you invest in the solution.
At the end of the day, collaboration is the game-changer for ministries that desire to take new ground in their respective communities. Kidmin leaders today face a multitude of challenges. Becoming an effective collaborator and leaning into the conversation with others will help you run farther and faster than you could ever ask, think or imagine by yourself.