Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tale of Two Teams: Case Study In Senegal

At the outset let me say the title of this post is a misnomer for, though I analyze two different sets of cross-cultural workers in Senegal, only one is a true team, the other is a group. 

Team is one of those popular mission buzzwords.  Sending agencies like to promote their team concept, in planting churches or the ethos of their organization.  I saw a T-shirt a few years back with the slogan “It Takes A Team” written in large print below the agencies logo.  However, as this post points out, team is sometimes more of a concept than actual fact.  This short case study helps define what a team and missions is all about.

IT TAKES A GROUP – Over fifteen years ago my brother (who is a business consultant) and myself met with a group of missionaries working in Dakar, Senegal.  The mission organization they were members of had been in the country for over forty years.  At that time we met them there were five families living and serving in the city.  They met every Wednesday for a team meeting and prayer with a team leader facilitating the meeting.  Each member gave a report of his or her projects.  None of the ministry activities were related.  There were no decisions that were made at these meetings, suggestions, perhaps, on how a problem might be resolved within a particular work, but little to no integrated effort in any of the programs throughout the city.  At the conclusion of our time in Dakar my brother stated that they were not a team at all, but a group.  A good group to be sure, as they clearly supported each other and enjoyed getting together, but they were certainly not a team.

Fast-forward fifteen years and it could be said that today that they are barely a group and certainly no closer to becoming a team.  They are in fact a fractured group as one member stated categorically to me that as a group living in the same country they were on the verge of “imploding” (partly due to poor leadership management from the home office in the U.S.).

IT TAKES A TEAM – Visiting another area of the country I met with a relatively new team that are involved in an agricultural project.  This team is comprised of seven families (five expatriates and two Senegalese), and three singles (one Senegalese).  The team was formed just four years ago; all seasoned cross-cultural workers, from different mission agencies, all of them having a good grasp of the language.  Through personal interviews and sitting in on team meetings it was apparent they truly function as a team.  Each member of this team has a specific role; each person also has a part of the decisions that make up this ministry.  At least five families are a part of the pooled finances for the operation of the farm and they freely share property, i.e. vehicles and tools.  This team has a strong focused purpose; to train local Christians in appropriate farming techniques as well as biblical studies.   They have one hundred acres of land to teach farming and train fifteen interns for a year who live and work on the farm.  After the interns have completed the program and they return to they’re village, the team members visit them, following-up to help the interns implement what they learn through they’re training.

This brief description of the two sets of cross-cultural workers in West Africa is not to disparage one and exalt the other.  The agricultural team has weaknesses; the group in Dakar has (individual) strengths.   The point is, there is a difference between being a team that works together for a common cause and a group, who just happen to be members of a the same sending agency.

Please click HERE to read the detailed analysis of the agricultural team and judge for yourself.  Are you a team or just a group?