By David Scherer, Contextual Learning Associate
I serve on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team here at Luther. We have a lot of work to do to ensure that we are responding to the needs of our students, faculty, and staff in a way that makes everyone feel welcome. When Leon Rodrigues began as our new Chief Diversity Officer, we were excited to dive in and get to work together. Leon (who hails from South Africa) called the first meeting with the group and the only thing on the agenda was “build relationships”. Many of us thought to ourselves, “Well, now that we got that relationship stuff out of the way, we can get to the important business in our next meeting.” We were shocked to see the agenda for the second meeting: More relationship building! “Doesn’t he know how much work we have to do here?” we asked ourselves. “Doesn’t he know how busy we are?” When we confronted Leon (in a Minnesota Northern European sort of way), he responded “This work is difficult. This work is polarizing. If we don’t have each other’s backs and trust each other 100 percent our work will fail.” Leon had a completely different approach to accomplishing our task. His focus on relationships has been a huge gift to me personally and to Luther as a whole.
Social scientists have figured out that people have completely different leadership models for developing trust in the workplace. This is commonly referred to as the “task-relationship model”. “Group Dynamics” author Donelson Forsyth says, “leadership behaviors can be classified as performance maintenance or relationship maintenance.” “Task-based cultures” focus on the task that needs to be accomplished whereas “Relationship-based cultures” tend to focus more on the motivation and well-being of the team. Which approach does your church take?
Here are some questions that might help you assess which model you use: If a church staff meeting starts at 3 pm.., will everyone actually show up at 3? If you answered “yes”, you are more than likely a “Task-based” organization. If you answered “no” then you are probably a “Relationship-based” organization. Radford University professor Thomas J. Bruneau coined the phrase “chronemics” in the 1970’s to describe how different people groups interact with time. “Monochronic” cultures tend to have one understanding of time whereas “Polychronic” cultures have multiple understandings of time. For example, If I am running late to a meeting in the Dominican Republic and I encounter a friend on the street, it is rude not to stop and talk to them, regardless of who is waiting for me on the other end. “Being late” carries with it a lot of relative cultural assumptions. It’s important that we articulate those expectations with our team to ensure that everyone is on the same page before we punish them for not sharing ours.
If I started to share a personal story about my son in the beginning of a church council meeting would people look at me strange? There are radically different ideas around the world about how much personal information to share with co-workers. In Liberia, for example, my friend told me that you always have to begin every business meeting by chatting for a while and getting to know each other. They have the understanding that if there is not trust on the team, it will be difficult to accomplish the task together. Can you imagine a large law firm in the US beginning a meeting by saying, “We’re happy to work with you on this business merger, but first, tell us more about your family and hobbies.”? That is not the way the majority of US culture works. Some individuals, however, may not exhibit these same behaviors or share these attitudes. So, the next time you just launch into your meeting, be sensitive to the fact that some people might want to share and honor memories from the current church building before you launch into a conversation about how to fund the new one.
So, what did you learn? Are you more “relationship-based” or “task-based”? It might be helpful to take some time to find out from your congregation which model suits them best. Do they value connection with each other, or do they just want to get down to business? Are they encouraged from hearing about each other’s families or does that feel inappropriate? Do they want the flexibility to help someone out on the street who is in a bind, even if it will make them late for the council meeting? The “task-relationship” phenomenon is yet another way that we can further marginalize folks who do not share our same cultural expectations. The behaviors that we exhibit become the normative values whether we want them to or not. By uncovering our unspoken cultural patterns, we can adapt them accordingly and create a space that models Christ’s welcome for all people. If you need help in this work, contact me or Leon. We will gladly work with you (but not before we sit down and get to know you a bit!)