In school, I never liked partner or team projects… except once. In 11th grade, my friend Dan and I designed a model of the effects of a nuclear explosion on an a city, complete with a butane-torched sculpture of what happens to a car 4 miles away from the blast (using a Hot Wheels model). Dan and I met at his house a bunch of times and created a model, prepared a written and oral report, and even played a recording of “Russians” by Sting during our presentation to class. The project was well received. Dan and I worked well together.
But I still wonder about collaboration. Much of the research I’ve seen on team work and collaboration talks about the benefits of shared resources, multiple perspectives, and the added-value of skill sets. But there is also another side: the overload of certain skilled individuals and a potential inefficiency of time that collaboration can cause. But there is another aspect to collaboration that the research doesn’t often address, or when it does, treats it like a separate topic: Communication.
As the three conferences in southern New England work toward becoming a single ecclesiastic organization, I have encountered increasing opportunities to work with my colleagues from other states. And one thing is very clear. Better communication fosters better collaboration.
I often work over distances. Whenever my office door is closed, a sign reads “Sorry, Speaking Digitally Over Long Distances.” In this way, my Hartford colleagues know that I am in a conference with individuals at some other location, which happens 2-3 times a week. With headphones on and multiple screens on my desk, I talk and work with people in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island — I even meet weekly with a woman in Texas. During these frequent online meetings, my colleagues and I share screens, manipulate documents, brainstorm ideas, solve problems, create diagrams and to-do lists, and, when talking to my Texas consultant, plow through so much technical data and computer speak that I often avoid talking to other people for a few minutes until I can remember what English sounds like.
Through all this advanced communication – this collaboration – stuff gets done. Programs get developed and executed in racial justice, environmental justice, economic justice, clergy excellence, faith formation development, church management, stewardship, boundary training – these are just the ones that have come up in the first few weeks of 2019.
In September, I wrote about the need for more Face-to-Face communications. But I also wonder what it would look like if local churches communicated more often and in so many ways with local service groups, community organizations, and other churches. What could we accomplish if we spent more time collaborating with the human services people in town, or the local shelter, or the fire department, or the school district? What would church look like if we meet with other leaders in our communities as often (or more) as our committees meet inside the walls of our buildings?
Many Voices, One Mission is a regular series highlighting the ministries of the
CT, MA, and RI Conference of the United Church of Christ.
Drew Page is a member of the Conference's Communications Team. He writes and edits news, blogs, and devotionals, produces video, and spends a week each summer deaning at Silver Lake Conference Center with his wife, Debby.