Five Ways to Succeed on a Team Overseas

Growing up when I heard of overseas workers, they were the greatest adventurers I had ever heard of.

I heard of people getting on ships and later planes, living among people who were all unlike them. As I entered this world, I heard ‘war stories’ from 30 year veterans who told of their first years not being able to understand the language and making mistakes in every area of their lives.

It sounded glamorous. It was just the kind of adventure I wanted.

And then I landed in France. I was picked up at the airport by our team leader. I had someone to stay with. Another lady on our team took me to the grocery store and talked me through what to use to make some American dishes. She later took me to Ikea.

The thought of making it as a lone ranger quickly became de-romanticized as I peppered my teammates with endless questions.

We did not come here to huddle together as a team of people just like each other, but we found great solace in living in community with others who understood this expat life. In many overseas contexts, working on a team provides you with your only friends who are believers. It is respite for your soul – it is your family.

Working on a team is not always easy, as you have to live in the constant tension that is freedom to dream alongside willing submission to one another. But as I read through Scripture, that is the life of the believer – we are never meant to strike out alone, not accountable to anyone, not submitting to anyone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live in submission to our brothers and sisters.

After seven years of working on a team, I can say that there are some things that are important components of having a successful experience. Here are a few:

1. Open yourself up to your team.

In a ministry context, it is easy to feel you have to prove yourself. Being thrown into community with people I may not have chosen to walk this road with can throw up guardrails of iron around my heart. But I have learned that if I don’t let my teammates in, I will suffer for it. We have to be vulnerable with one another. We have to allow our teammates to pray for us, to uphold us when we are weary – and then we turn around and do the same for them.

2. Have fun together.  

A lot of us can find ourselves in high-pressure environments in our contexts. There is nothing wrong with working hard, but when that pressure releases itself onto people we’re working with, we have a problem. Your team needs to be having fun together. Recently our team celebrated American Independence Day by grilling burgers and hot dogs and singing every patriotic song we could think of – loudly. We laughed until we cried. These times together do something in the spiritual realm – there is something about eating and laughing together that creates unity in our hearts.

3. Be open to correction.

When working on a team of adults, it’s easy to take offense when one of your teammates corrects you. Of course this can range from having an idea challenged to having a behavior called into accountability. I have often found in my own life that my level of offense is directly related to how far off base I am. If I am unable to receive correction from a brother or sister in Christ, I am often guilty of resisting correction from the Holy Spirit.

4. Pray for and affirm one another.

Having empathy for one another in stressful circumstances starts with calling out the good things in each other. Today as our staff prayed, I prayed for each of my team by name, and thanked God for the specific gifts they bring to our team. When working in close context, you will quickly recognize each other’s flaws. Learn to just as quickly call out the good in each team member, and pray for each other regularly.

5. Try to out-serve each other.

I don’t find babysitting something I particularly enjoy now that I am in my 30’s. However, one of the best ways I can serve families on our team is by offering to stay with their kids while mom and dad go on a trip or attend a meeting. Men on our team have installed appliance for me. We have made each other meals when we are sick. Figure out how to serve each other, and create a culture of going out of your way to do so.

Working on a team well in an overseas context takes time and energy. While you may be able to go faster alone, you will be able to go further with a team. The gifts God has given you were meant to work in tandem with the gifts He’s given other believers.

What experiences have you had working with a team? What are things you can do to bring success and positive culture to your team? How can you serve your team this week?

5 Comments

  1. Elizabeth August 28, 2017

    Such great advice, Kelly. I especially like #2! Playing games and just being silly together have been some of the best “team formation” activities we’ve done over the years. As an introvert who claims to only want serious discussions within the context of deep friendship, I actually NEED these down times to just laugh and have fun. They are bonding too. Who knew that serious conversation is not the only social glue? I sure didn’t. I have such good memories, now, of being with teammates laughing over who-knows-what. I don’t remember the conversation, but I do remember we laughed and had fun together, and those shared memories are what’s important.

    To #1 I would cautiously add: not every team relationship is going to have the same amount of closeness or the same amount of vulnerability. Not everyone can receive our vulnerability, and not everyone can reciprocate it, and that’s ok. Sometimes we have to be ok with a relationship that is more superficial than we might wish, or one that doesn’t affirm us in a way we would wish. On a team we are sometimes all very different, and we have to accept other people’s differences even in this area. I’ve been disappointed in this area before but have come to make peace with it. I simply can’t ask something from someone that they cannot give me.

    Team relationships have also taught me how to overlook offenses. I am sometimes annoying, and my teammates are sometimes annoying; that is a fact of human nature. And we are all under mega-amounts of stress. So sometimes when it comes down to it, we just have to overlook someone else’s obnoxiousness, trusting that they will overlook ours too.

    1. Kelly Delp August 29, 2017

      Totally agree with your thoughts! I thought Brené Brown put it so great in “Daring Greatly”. Vulnerability should absolutely be approached with mutual caution and trust. I think in my experience, I often resist transparency in times that I need my team, and I have to challenge myself to open up and ask for prayer/support. But for sure that looks different on every team!

      1. Elizabeth August 29, 2017

        Such a good point! We all have different tendencies, so the way God is going to stretch us will look different from person to person. But so comforting to think that all this stretching is pushing each of us towards stronger and deeper community.

  2. Elizabeth August 28, 2017

    P.S. Thanks for babysitting even though you don’t enjoy it. I am sure your teammates appreciate it! My kids are getting old enough now that we don’t always need one, depending on the length of the appointment, but for young families babysitters are a lifesaver!

  3. E M White September 4, 2017

    I’ve found team members have been there for me when I’m too sick to grocery shop, can’t find the pharmacist or store, or need someone to unwind with. Currently I have team members from all over the world (there’s only a couple from the same country as I), and I love that we can connect on a deeper level than our home cultures (it helps we all speak English). As someone who is deeply private and introverted, I sometimes struggled with the closeness living in community entailed…but I can say I agree with you..the payoff is super! I love your point about using our gifts and stretching ourselves to serve!

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