The Shadow Side of Collaboration


"Shadows on your side" by Quevillon.

I’m working in a congregation that has one of the most remarkably collaborative staff teams that I have encountered. Every member of the team is eager, willing and able to help every other member of the team. There are no artificial boundaries between the important spiritual work of some staff members and the more mundane administrative tasks of others. All work done in the interest of the congregation is equally valued. Everyone pitches in where needed, and no one bad mouths any other member of the team. Even in the midst of a staffing assessment, where members were interviewed one on one and guaranteed anonymity, the staff members didn’t speak negatively of one another. There are no turf wars. Sounds like nirvana, or does it?

As I spent more time with this team I began to notice several disturbing phenomenon. Staff members collectively reported spending more than a quarter of their time interfacing with one another. It takes time to be highly collaborative and this team began to realize that they are sometimes investing in relationships with one another to the detriment of their individual ministries.  It also became evident, as I watched this team, that their boundaries with one another were so porous that individual performance management was virtually non-existent. In other words, people helped one another so frequently that it had become impossible to identify and hold poor performers accountable for problems in their area of responsibility. This staff team seemed particularly exhausted to me. With no solid role boundaries in place, everyone was responsible for everything and the team ran itself ragged trying to maintain excellence in every area of ministry, not just their own.

Every area of performance strength on a staff team has a potential shadow side. Over-reliance on any performance competency generally leads to under-reliance on other needed competencies and the shadow side begins to emerge. Too much team collaboration is not necessarily a good thing.

Photo Credit: From Quevillon at Flickr.com

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