I was talking with someone the other day about my early experience with church planting before anyone was on our team. As I told my personal story, I kept using words such as “our” and “we”. Towards the middle of the conversation the person stopped me and asked, “Who’s ‘we’?” I was talking about me the whole time, (although I usually just answer my wife and I) but I confused him with my verbiage. I wasn’t trying to be confusing. It’s just a habit I’ve formed. I have come to realize over the years that a team vocabulary is a large part of encouraging healthy teams. I love teams and team-building so much that I’ve disciplined myself to always talk in a collective sense.
I cringe when I hear leaders use the words “I”, “me, and “my” when referring to their team, their church or organization. To me it always sounds so controlling, prideful, and even arrogant. As an example, Ben Reed is our small groups pastor at Grace Community Church. He’s an amazing leader. I would give anything to have been where he is at his age when I was that same age. When I refer to him, I don’t say “He’s my small groups guy”. He’s not! He’s our small groups guy. I don’t want to portray to him or others that I control him. I want the perception to be that “we” together are part of a team effort. I would be limiting his potential if I refer to him in a possessive sense.
I understand it may seem to just be semantics, but to me it’s an important issue for leaders to think through, perhaps bigger than to whom some give credence. If we truly want to create a team environment, then we must develop team vocabularies.
There are a few times when I use the personal words, such as:
- When offering a pointed direction… “I am asking you to do this for the team…”
- When offering an opinion that may not be shared by others… ”I think we should…”
- When asking a question or stirring discussion… “I wonder if we could…”
When I am speaking on behalf of the team or referring to team members, I try to use a collective term…My advice is to default to words like “we” and “our” whenever possible…even if people have to ask you who the “we” is to whom you are referring. The more we talk like a team the more our environments will feel like a team.
What do you think? Have you had a leader who abused team vocabulary as described? Do you need to change the way you say things?