One of the questions that I’m frequently asked when people hear about the work of Shiselweni Home-Based Care in Swaziland, is: “What’s the secret of your success?” Although the question might be flattering, my standard answer is: “I really don’t know.” (And this is not false humility!) God has been extremely gracious towards us and this, more than anything else, has been the major key to success. But then I do know that we also did certain things “right” which contributed towards our success. Through a number of – mostly negative – experiences in my life and more especially in church ministry, I decided many years ago that I’m not going to follow the leadership hierarchy approach in my ministry (or, in more Biblical terms, the shepherd / flock model) where everything that needs to be done in church has to be channeled up the hierarchy to the top in order to get approval and then channeled down again. In church the result of this approach is usually that the pastor is totally overworked as he / she tries to control everything happening down the line. I opted for the “body of Christ” model where I consider each church member to have certain gifts which they can and should use in service of Christ. And regardless what the gift is, if it is important to God, it is important to the church. This, I think, is the only way in which church members can fully function as a team. This does not make the role of the leader redundant. There are times when tough decisions need to be made and there are times when someone has to take responsibility when the buck can no longer be passed, but within a team approach this happens much less often than within the strictly hierarchal model.
The truth of this was further confirmed when I did some training on personality testing many years ago and realized that most business companies would probably be able to function far more productively if every employee was encouraged to use their strong personality traits (spiritual gifts and talents in the church) as part of a team, rather than one person making all or most of the decisions while the employees sit around waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
When a friend recently advised me to read Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” I had mixed feelings about it. (Raise your hand if you enjoy hearing how and where you are dysfunctional!) But I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I love his writing style. The book is written in the format of a fable, taking a real-life situation which is all too commonly experienced in the corporate world (as well as in the church), and applying certain principles in the fable to better help the reader to understand where things could be improved and what the best method would be to do so.
Lencioni goes out from the premise that there are basically five things which can cause a team to become dysfunctional, (with the actual problem causing the dysfunction in brackets):
- Absence of Trust (Invulnerability)
- Fear of Conflict (Artificial Harmony)
- Lack of Commitment (Ambiguity)
- Avoidance of Accountability (Low Standards)
- Inattention to Results (Status and Ego)
Through the fable, the reader gets the opportunity to fully understand how and why the problem leads to the specific dysfunction and obviously methods are explained and demonstrated through the fable on how these dysfunctions can be addressed – even to the point of having to fire someone who, although that person might be an excellent employee, does not serve the interests of the team any longer. The book ends with a more formal discussion on different methods that can be used to improve on the team’s productivity.
This is a book I can recommend to anyone working with teams and I would especially want to recommend it to any church leader, as many churches still fail to understand how to make teams work.
As I finished the book, I mentally evaluated Shiselweni Home-Based Care. After more than four years as project manager of this team, I still have to find a more dedicated and loyal team of volunteers to work with. Honestly! The problems we have are mostly minor. Through the grace of God, more than through my own wisdom, the team is functioning well. But as I thought about what Lencioni had written, I could see potential cracks. For one: Within the Swazi tradition, conflict is usually avoided. But gossip is not avoided! And gossip leads to a lack of trust. As I plan to start using this book with our twenty two coordinators, we will have to plan for a session on conflict management – and the only way to do this will be to teach and allow them to speak openly about frustrations they may experience with each other. But I’m excited to take this group of dedicated people up to an even higher level of productivity by focusing on still greater teamwork.
A great book that I absolutely enjoyed reading with great potential to make a bad team function properly and to make a good team function even better. Highly recommended!
When I arrived in Swaziland in 1985 as young missionary, I had a lot in my favor. I had a passion for God, a passion for the church, a passion for teaching and a passion for building relationships with the people of Swaziland where I believed God had called me to work. (Although I still had much too learn, God graciously kept that reality hidden from me until after I had moved to Swaziland!)
I was fairly naive in believing that all missionaries desired to become one with the people they are working with. But with time, I was shocked to hear that this was not the truth. Stories were told of local Swazis arriving at homes of missionaries where they were told to wait at the gate until the mFundisi (pastor) could see them – outside!. We heard stories of tea being served in tin mugs (reserved exclusively for the use of the Swazis) to people who were not allowed to enter the home of the missionary. In fact, a few days after arriving in Swaziland, a well-meaning White man who was also a member of the missions committee that supported me, came to visit us and informed us that the house which we occupied will be sold and that a new house will be built for our use. Surprised about this news I asked him the reason for this. And the answer was that my office was within the house and it was unacceptable for me to receive Swazi guests in my house. The new house would have an office outside where I would be able to meet with the Swazis. (If you want to read how we struggled with culture shock in this time of our lives, you can read my post on Our Experience of Culture Shock (which, by the way, is still one of my most-read posts.)
Fortunately there was never any money to build a new house and my wife and I made a decision to immediately start inviting Swazis to visit us – within the house! This caused a number of outbursts amongst people who disagreed with us, but by that time we were getting used to not being very popular!
As missionary it is always difficult to know how far one has to go to demonstrate your acceptance of the local people. The life story of Hudson Taylor was well-known to me, who had gone to China and clothed himself in the same attire as the local Chinese in order to become like one of them. In Swaziland things were different. Although the Swazis have traditional clothing, very few modern people will wear them except at traditional celebrations. And so I decided that I would probably not be able to do anything outwardly to demonstrate that I accept the Swazis, but hopefully, through our actions, people might be able to see our attitude. (The way in which this led to a crisis-point in my ministry with extremely positive results, was told in a previous post: Three steps towards successful missions
As time went on, I developed a deep love for the Swazis and started spending more and more time with them, listening to their stories, trying to understand their culture and learning from them. I also became friends with a number of the men so that we would regularly visit each other and also spent time to speak about our different backgrounds so that we could learn to understand each other better.
And then, one day, while one of my greatest Swazi friends was visiting me and we discussed my attitude towards the Swazi people and also how we as family had often been rejected by people from our own culture, he looked at me at one point and made the remark: “Do you know what your problem is? You’re white on the outside, but your heart is black.” I don’t know whether that man, till today, realizes the compliment he had given me on that day. What he was trying to say was that my skin was white, but on the inside, I had become like one of them. This was a breakthrough moment in my ministry.
I’m still not able to do much about my outside. I’m still as white as I’ve been since the day I was born. But I’m hoping that the Swazi people I work with can see through the outer layer right into my heart and sense the love I have for them.
I’m probably biased when I say that missionaries seem to experience God’s providence in more practical ways than Christians who are not involved in spiritual work of that nature. Or possibly it’s not only missionaries, but anyone part of faith-based organizations where they have to rely on the goodwill of people for the daily running of their organization.
I recently had an experience that still gives me gooseflesh when I tell others about it. We have a client in Swaziland who hurt his leg in 1993. What started as a small sore on his leg, developed into a massive sore which just became progressively worse over time. In 2008 we had a volunteer, Tim Deller, from Milwaukee, who worked with us. Through one of our caregivers, Tim met up with this man. You can read about Tim’s first gruesome encounter with John and his leg by going to http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/7-march-2008/ and then scrolling down to: “My New Friend Johane.” By the time Tim left, the size of the sore had drastically reduced and it seemed that it was merely a matter of time before the leg would be fully healed. But then, when Tim returned to Swaziland for a visit in 2009, he found that the sore had become much larger. His report on this visit can be read at http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/3-august-2009/
At the moment we are fortunate that we have a young pharmacist who is working as a volunteer with us in Swaziland and I asked her to make John’s leg a priority. By the time she leaves Swaziland at the end of the year, I want John’s leg to be healed fully. We arranged with a nearby pharmacy to give her the medication she needed and she has now visited him a number of times to clean and dress the wound. There is one problem however: the dressing is extremely expensive. It is costing us around R75 ($10) for a single dressing (and one dressing is too small for the wound at this stage) which needs to be changed twice a week.
While I was recently in Fresno, California, we had a reunion of a team from Fresno that had visited Swaziland in July 2009. One of the team members arrived with two bags which she left in a room with the request that I check the contents and take whatever I needed. One of the other team members works at a pharmacy in Fresno and I asked her whether their pharmacy by any chance sold the product we use for John’s leg. I was hoping that we might be able to get the product in the USA at a more affordable price. I had the name of the company manufacturing the product as well as the precise item name, but because it was produced by a British company, it is not commonly distributed in the USA and she could not help us, save for trying to get the name of an equivalent product produced in the USA. (A bit of a disappointment!)
After the visitors had left, I opened the bags that had been left there. The larger part of the contents was too sophisticated for our caregivers to use, but I then opened the other bag and – you’ve guessed it – I found a bunch of the dressings that we use in Swaziland, the exact British company name and the exact item. It honestly didn’t even cross my mind to pray about this. God had provided in our needs even before we thought about praying about this.
Sceptics may say it’s coincidence. I know it’s not coincidence. Statistically it would be hard to convince anyone that this had been merely coincidence. A product that’s not manufactured in the USA and not distributed in pharmacies in the USA, dropped at the exact location where I’m staying at exactly the time when we were trying (unsuccessfully) to source the product in the USA (and the person who had dropped the bags had NO idea that we needed that specific product. But furthermore, the fact that this is not the first time that we’ve experienced this type of thing happening, shows us that God really cares about the work we are doing amongst the people with serious health conditions, including HIV and AIDS, in Swaziland.
In more affluent societies people spread the word of their needs and others respond. Working within poverty-stricken areas, people tend to be more focused on God’s provision. I am not a man of “great faith”. Often I feel like the father of the boy possessed by evil spirits of whom me read in Mark 9:17-27 who said to Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” But each time something like this happens, then it helps me a bit further on the road of overcoming my unbelief.