Collaboration is the Key to Synergy

I am by nature a very competitive person. I went through most of my life trying to win every battle, beat others over the head with my opinion. I was not very sensitive to the feelings or opinions of others. As years went by, I wondered at the limits to the success of this approach.

When I was invited into a leadership and management program, I undertook inventories of my personality type and conflict/negotiation style. Until that time, I was not aware that there are five methods of resolving conflict, and everyone has a preferred style.

The methods are: Competing, Avoiding, Accommodating, Compromising, and Collaborating. A brief explanation of each will be helpful to the rest of this article. For more on Conflict Style, find an article and links to a conflict style inventory here.

Competing. This is a win/lose style of negotiating that is both assertive and uncooperative. “I’m going to take care of me, you worry about yourself.”

Avoiding. This is a lose/lose style of negotiating that is both unassertive and uncooperative. This style is prevalent in churches. “Sweep it under the rug. If I act like it doesn’t exist, maybe it will go away.”

Accommodating. This is a lose/win style of negotiating that is unassertive and cooperative. A friend of mine with this style described it this way. “I’ll let him have his way this time and collect a chit for later use.” My question was, “Do you ever cash in those chits?”

Compromising. With this style, you hope both can win, but often each side keeps giving up things they want until neither side is satisfied with the outcome. You remember the story from the Bible that best illustrates this. King Solomon ordered, "Bring me a sword." The King then said, "Cut the living child in two, and give half to one and half to the other."

Collaborating. This is a win/win style of negotiating that is both assertive and cooperative. The idea is that if we can't come up with a solution that we can both be happy with, then no deal.

Each of us has a preferred style of negotiating, but often our preference changes when we are under stress. My tendency was to compromise until I got stressed, and then to shift into compete mode. I also learned that we are not locked into our preferred styles, we can learn to use other styles.

I began to realize that the only healthy way to resolve conflict was to negotiate using a collaborative style. I studied and practiced, and began to suggest at the beginning of each negotiation that I hoped we could find a win/win solution, and that if we couldn't, it might be best if we did not make a deal. I was amazed at how much better this approach worked, in most circumstances. If you're being mugged, or shopping in a new car salesroom (is that the same as being mugged), collaboration might not get you where you want to be.

When I began my executive MBA, I joined a five-person team that worked together through the two years of our study. Many times, the team projects made up the majority of a class grade, so it was quite important to build a good team. I had done a lot of work in committees and groups up to that point, but had not been part of a true team.

In my previous experience, I had rarely seen the outcome of group or committee work be better than the ideas I had when I entered the room. Group work was worthwhile to gain ownership and commitment to the resulting goals, but rarely produced synergy. You've seen the old cartoon, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee." Rarely was the total greater than the sum of the parts. Most often, it was way less. Sound like church?

With the EMBA team, I experienced something totally different. On each project, the result of our work as a team was significantly better than the ideas I brought into the room. The total always exceeded the sum of the parts. Synergy happened. Why was that? It was because we did the hard work of team building at the beginning of our time together. We assessed each of our individual strengths and weaknesses. We spent time developing a good relationship. We clarified our roles, norms and expectations. We balanced the work we did with time to examine how we were working together. We learned to truly collaborate, and great things happened.

As they gather as a Body of Christ to live out His mission in the local church, effective churches are moving away from committees and building ministry teams.

For some reason, God chose to construct His church in such away that we must each find our own Spiritual Gifts, and how they fit together with others in order to form the Body of Christ. Together, we are Jesus' hands and feet in the world today. I think the Spirit gives each of us a piece of the picture of what He is calling forth in the local church. It is kind of like a holographic image. Each of us sees the image from our perspective, like a two-dimensional slice. It is only when we can come together and see how our slice of the picture fits with others around the table that a full three-dimensional picture can emerge. Collaboration, and synergy.

For that to happen, we need to have good relationships. We rarely listen to others different views unless we believe that person has our best interests at heart. If we each sit around trying to persuade others that "your picture doesn't look like mine, and mine is right," then we never see the big picture. The essence of collaboration is valuing the strengths of others, acknowledging our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and leaning on each other for strength as we work together to find solutions that feel like a win for everyone.

If we do not love each other, we will not work together in a healthy Body of Christ. Yet, in most of the committee and Council work I have done in churches, we never spend the time learning to love each other, warts and all. We always want to jump right into the work. The lack of understanding the underlying personality and negotiating style differences often leads us to be annoyed with each other. And we design a camel instead of a horse.

Do you want these patterns to stop? Want to see true synergy emerge in your fellowship? Engage your team in understanding personality and conflict styles so you can understand why you see things differently. Allow the bigger picture to emerge. Admit you don’t have all the answers, and commit to collaborating to find the Spirit's leading. Balance a focus on task with a focus on the relationships on the team. Do that and you will be amazed at the results. Synergy! For more on The Body of Christ as Ministry Team, see this article.