How to be a good team member
Going on a short-term mission as part of a team is a big challenge in many respects, but the social dynamic of being part of a team can be one of the biggest. There’s a lack of personal space that can challenge the introverted and a lack of autonomy that can challenge the independent-minded. People who like to stay up late and chat can be a challenge for those who like to go to bed early, and people who are cheerful in the morning are not a blessing to those who wake up slowly. The intensity of an environment where you live, eat, work, relax and worship with the same people can lead to relationship pressures and flaring tempers. So if everyone knows what to do to make it work, things will go a lot better.
The first thing to remember is that we go to serve. Serving God and the people of our host nation are things we might have thought about, but serving our leaders and fellow-team members is also one of the ways in which we serve God. In 1 Corinthians 4:1 – So then, men ought to regard us the servants of Christ – the Apostle Paul describes himself and those with him, as ‘servants’. He used the Greek word ‘huperetes’ which means ‘under-rower’. It refers to the Roman ships which had three rows of oarsmen. The worst, unhealthiest and most vulnerable in battle time, was the bottom row. These poor unfortunates were known as the ‘under-rowers’. Paul had more reason than most to think himself worthy of glory, but this is how he describes himself. We can take a lesson in humility in attitude from this verse. Wherever we go for missions we need to go with the determination to serve not to be served.
We serve each other by recognising others’ needs and not imposing our demands on them, by being sensitive to their feelings, and by being the one who does more than their fair share of the washing up and doesn’t keep everyone else waiting. We serve our hosts by working for them, accepting their food and their ways, and by building them up emotionally and spiritually. We serve our leaders by making it easy for them to lead us, by not arguing or complaining, by producing constructive alternatives if we don’t like the way they do things, by being enthusiastic and helping to make everything go well. And we serve God as we serve others joyfully.
This doesn’t mean that we have to pretend that everyone’s perfect: nobody is, not even you. We make mistakes, we have misunderstandings and disagreements, and these don’t have to adversely affect a team. Effective teams are not ones which avoid issues, but ones which resolve issues effectively. So don’t feel you have to grin and bear it if something is going wrong, but deal with it constructively and quickly. Tell people how you feel, and ask how they feel. Talking about an issue gets it resolved; not talking about it just lets it go underground.
Most organisations also ask us not to get involved with team members of the opposite sex while we’re away. In the intense environment which can develop on a team, it can be easy to get close to someone you like, even unconsciously, but it can lead to rivalry, resentment and rejection which upsets the team dynamics. So it’s wise to make sure you spent time equally with everyone, not favouring any particular person, and get together once you get back home.
A short-term team will be a complex mix of temperaments and personalities with all manner of preferences and habits. As you spend time together you’ll get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and be able to avoid hurting each other and to help each other develop new strengths. But it can be hard work getting there. It has been described as a diamond factory: there is a lot of cutting, filing, and polishing involved in producing a perfect finished product. It will get hard at times, but the golden rule is to remember that no matter how tough it gets, you’ve only got to stick at it for a few weeks!