The cushions on our new couch were still stiff as we sat in the living room of our apartment with our team months after our family landed in Egypt. Cups of herbal tea steamed on the coffee table.
Our friends asked us how we were doing in our transition and I shared about the ups and downs, attempting some humor about a meltdown I had over burned chickpeas.
I hoped to see their heads nod and hear some comments: Yeah, it’s like that at first.
But my stomach sank as side comments were made and no one addressed my desire for support.
I began to wonder how these team meetings were supposed to go. My failure seemed to sit there in the middle of the room, stinking much like the chickpeas had.
Unfortunately, miscommunications happen, even with the best of intentions. But miscommunications that lead to hurt feelings or rifts in relationships are the last thing we want with our new teams.
After working with teams for years as both a team member and leader, I’ve gathered a few ideas for communication with teams and team leaders.
WHEN IT COMES TO COMMUNICATION WITH TEAMS, IT’S CRITICAL TO Think through and write down your expectations.
Expectations: We often don’t realize we have some until they go unmet and we feel disappointed.
Your first thought might be “I don’t really have expectations.”
But it will be highly beneficial for your assimilation with your team if you can think through (and admit) those expectations or hopes hiding in the background so that everyone can get on the same page, and unreal expectations can be addressed.
Especially when you’re new to a country or team, it’s hard to know what’s truly doable.
Want to figure out your expectations?
Try some of these prompts.
- Based on my pre-field training, I envision team meetings to happen… (frequency, locations, with whom)
- Based on my pre-field discussion in training, I envision my role to be…(and with whom)
- I expect to see my/our team members…(daily? Weekly? Monthly?)
- What I expect my days and activities to look like:
- What I expect my responsibilities to look like:
- Who I expect to report to, and what they need to know:
- Issues/decisions we should collaborate on:
- Assistance I hope to get from my team:
- Responses or encouragement I would like to see from teammates (frequency, from whom, in what ways):
- Goals we share, and their timeframe:
- Goals I hope to meet, and their timeframe:
- How this team will contribute to my (and possibly my family’s) establishment in this country:
- What the team provides, vs. what I provide:
- How much time I will spend on language learning/cultural acquisition per week, the level of fluidity I desire, and how long it will take me to approach that level:
- How I anticipate my family will be supported:
- How I hope we will deal with conflict:
- What I’m excited about in joining this team:
- What I’m still sorting out about this team:
Heads up: Pre-field training might not accurately describe the team you will join or form. The teams other people are joining might operate differently from your team.
Don’t compare. If you have question about why your new team operates differently, ask.
Team leaders are not mind readers.
Obvious, right? But sometimes we can think things like,
“My team leaders know I want to help host these meetings.”
“My leaders know to check on me during these times.”
“My leaders realize this would be important to me.”
In their own image-bearing of God, your very-human team leaders made with different gifts, desires, and foci–as do you, as a valuable team member. If something feels “obvious” to you, it’s possible that’s a sign of strength for you.
Most cross-cultural leaders juggle broad and deep responsibilities. Hopefully they are doing their best to stay on top of what you need, but even so they can only do what they know to do and have the capacity to do.
If your teammate or leader asks you how you are doing and you don’t tell them you are having a tough time, you can’t expect them to know you need extra support. Wise communication with teams means giving them the chance to help you by telling them you need help!
And then realize they may not have the same solution or personal capacity you do.
Wise communication with teams can mean sharing how you would like to be involved and certain strengths you can use to support the team—recognizing their freedom to not immediately use you in the way you’d like. Feel free to ping them again, or ask if they don’t take you up on your offer.
“I love hosting and would be happy to host our team meetings.”
“I don’t mind managing the team WhatsApp group to communicate about get-togethers and birthdays.”
Try not to make assumptions about your team.
“We thought we were a burden to you, so we just stopped asking questions.”
Teammates said this to my husband and me after we inquired why they stopped communicating with us.
We asked what we had done that led them to conclude they were a burden. They replied, “Nothing. We just felt that we were a burden. We assumed you were probably busy.”
In their attempts to be considerate, they prevented us from walking with them in their transition.
When it comes to communication with teams, if you worry that you are becoming a burden, ask things like: “Is there anyone else I ask my questions to, so I’m not continually asking you?”
“What’s the best way to ask for help so you don’t end up overwhelmed?”
Your team leaders probably are busy. But helping you to find your footing is often top on their list.
“I cannot believe the decisions these leaders are making.”
When we don’t agree with the decisions of others or understand the reason for the decision, any of us are tempted to think poorly of the decision maker.
But it’s dangerous as believers to start down the road of uncharitable judgments about our team leaders.
If you don’t understand why you are required to perform a particular task, ask. “I’m not sure I understand why this report is needed. Can you help me understand?” Communication with teams = speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Ignoring requests from your team leaders doesn’t pave the way for helpful communication in the future, either.
“They don’t care about my Perspective and experience in this situation.”
This lie would have been easy for me to embrace during a difficult season of ministry. Because my husband was the one in regular contact with our company, my experience was different from his and I felt unseen.
Before assuming leaders don’t care, try to ask for what you need.
In your communication with teams, start from a place of wanting to work well together and see if you can come to a helpful conclusion with your team leaders.
Living and ministering overseas is hard work, guys. It requires help and favor from God. Communication with teams requires graciousness and learning to work fluidly together.
And the hard work to get there can also be a vibrant way to show a divided world for unity in love for each other and our God.