Five Reasons Why Team Members Haven’t Embraced the Vision
The vision has been crafted, deliberated, adopted, and communicated – multiple times and in multiple venues. You are excited. Your elders are enthusiastic. Some of your ministry staff members are obviously all in. Others, though, are less engaged and a couple of them are flat out running in the opposite direction or appear to have taken a sit and wait it out approach. This resistance has been going on long enough that it is now beginning to negatively impact the team. It is a distraction, a point of conflict, and it is generally killing momentum. So, now what? What is the appropriate leadership response?
The natural temptation might be to unleash shock and awe. You’ve waited, after all, quite long enough and given ample opportunity for everyone to assimilate into the new culture. Now, to be fair, you very well may need to free someone’s future because any person who refuses to align with the vision, and more precisely refuses to be a vision champion, does represent an unacceptable drain and a drag and has the potential to hold your church back from being everything God has called it to be. However, jumping straight to the shock and awe approach is premature and potentially disastrous. Not only will it bring about its own relational-, vision-, and momentum-killing consequences, but it will also cause you to miss an opportunity to transform your dysfunctional group into a high-impact team.
The better option is to develop a measured response based on reality as opposed to the assumptions, cynicism, and anger that are probably making their way to the front and center of your mind. It is very difficult to respond appropriately and strategically when you don’t have a firm grasp of the person’s actual motivation for resisting the vision. Invest the necessary time and energy to identify the underlying reasons why people are resisting and then apply the right strategy to the right person in the right way to give them the best opportunity to come into alignment.
There are lots of reasons why a person might not embrace the vision, not all of which will be obvious or conscious, so lead with grace and don’t jump to conclusions. With that being said, there are some usual suspects and it’s always best to have a lay of the land before you engage in a conversation. Click the link below to familiarize yourself with five common obstacles along with their underlying motivation and some effective ways to respond when you encounter them.
People pretty well universally dislike death, IRS audits, and change. These also pretty universally elicit fear, and fear tends to produce resistance. This is relevant because any effort to align staff to a vision is just another way of saying that you want someone to change – to change the way a team member thinks, interacts, and/or behaves.
Your team members may be resisting the vision based solely on their perception of how it could impact their reality. It might add responsibility with no corresponding increase in compensation. It could result in new tasks for which a team member is insufficiently trained or equipped to succeed. The new vision might bring a loss of authority and influence. In extreme cases the new vision could eliminate their role on the team entirely. These are not always rational fears but they are none-the-less legitimate so it is easy see how they could stand as an emotional barrier to embracing the vision.
Trust is the cornerstone of all meaningful relationships and it is a prominent feature of high-impact teams. When distrust takes root in the heart of even one team member, it can quickly spiral into a culture of division, isolation, unhealthy competition, suspicion, and self-interest. Trust is a high-stakes issue because it is easily lost and extremely difficult to restore.
Diagnosing the specific nature of a team member’s distrust is a complex process because it can manifest in two distinct ways. Distrust can be directed at another person or group of individuals as a result of real and/or perceived slights, offenses, disloyalty, gossip, and failures. Distrust can also be directed at the organization if a team member doesn’t believe that the leaders have his best interest at heart, that their decisions will be fair and impartial, or that they have the ability or commitment to fulfill their promises.
You may be less than inclined to grant that a team member can reasonably claim confusion as an excuse for not fully embracing the vision since you have probably communicated it multiple times and in multiple venues. However, it would be a mistake of epic proportion for a leader to dismiss confusion as illegitimate, as a demonstration of irresponsibility, or as evidence of incompetence.
Remember that, no matter how well and how many times you have communicated something, you haven’t communicated it frequently enough or clearly enough. Putting the vision in writing and hanging it on the walls does not mean that people will read it. Talking about it in a staff meeting allows you to say that people have at least heard the vision but it certainly does not mean that they are not confused by it. And certainly understanding what the vision says conceptually does not mean that the team member understands exactly how it is supposed to impact day-to-day reality.
Organization & Team Culture
It is tempting and dangerous to underestimate the influence that group culture has on individuals, teams, and organizations. Culture is broadly understood to be comprised of a variety of tangible and intangible factors including but not limited to values, written rules, unwritten rules, and patterns of interaction. It breeds the underlying motivations, values, and pressures that drive behaviors.
Group culture is so weighty that it often trumps typical patterns of personal motivation and decision-making. Even when individuals grasp the vision’s meaning and even when they personally affirm it, the cultural context in which they operate can easily undermine their pursuit or application of the vision.
Believe it or not, there are some people who won’t embrace the vision simply because they don’t want to. Sure, it takes an impressive amount of arrogance to bold-face ignore one’s obligation to embrace, champion, and model the organization’s vision but it does happen none-the-less.
This posture is most likely to be taken when team members don’t agree with the vision, don’t want to be inconvenienced by the vision, don’t intend to be around long enough to see the vision realized, don’t want to be responsible for achieving the vision, or simply don’t care enough about their role to spend time worrying about the vision.
The information accompanying the first four factors is not intended to excuse the fact that some team members aren’t embracing the vision but it should demonstrate that the person is not necessarily just thumbing a nose at the leaders or the organization. There can be reasonable explanations for why the disconnect exists, and there are often ways that the wise leader can help the offending individuals align with the vision and produce a high-impact team in the process.
Jeffrey Derico, PhD
Center for Church Leadership