The nature of my job is to work as part of a group. Each admission team has 4-8 members who meet 90 minutes a day, then separate to do our own work. Throughout the day, each team member re-engages briefly and singly with the others: nursing with rehab, social work with MD. Teams are relatively stable – aside from temporary coverage, I have worked with the same cast for over two years. I have been working according to this model for twenty-five years.
Thus I am fairly automatically attuned to group dynamics at this point. When things are going well, team members give similar answers as to why they are going well. When they are not, there is an unspoken (usually) consensus as to who is gumming up the works. When the players shift over time, we get to see if our theory about who the culprit is was true. Change reveals, usually in predictable fashion.
Which is to say, the problem is usually an obvious jerk, whose removal improves matters greatly.
Yet not always. Group dynamics can be tricky and subtle, and occasionally the removal of an obvious jerk fixes nothing; things remain dysfunctional for reasons no one can quite understand. Sometimes it is a particular combination of not-especially pathological people, or a hidden factor of when the group meets or a structural factor imposed from outside that creates the dysfunction.
Our church has not thriven (thrived? thriven) in its dozen or so years. I have been there since the beginning, well-involved in most of its activities. I would not, at first glance, be the person everyone would identify as The Problem. Not that I am universally beloved or never have a negative effect, but that in organizations, people who show up to do work are generally regarded as solutions, not problems.
Yet I wonder. Lord, is it I? We have had a changing cast of characters and I am one of a very small number of constants. We have been different sizes, in different locations, with different pastors. If one were to step back and take a longitudinal view and do research, I would have to be one of the pieces under special scrutiny. Factors not especially related to single individuals remain the most likely explanation for why we have limped along for most of our existence: location, dispersal, makeup of the congregation, style of worship, and such.
Everyone has an idea how the problem came to be. Everyone has some thought of a solution to try. If I harbor ill-will at all, it is directed more toward denominational headquarters, which keeps telling us they have good advice. This advice keeps taking the form of programs, all of which focus on process. The default solution of those who have no actual evidence but like to talk about What Could Be.
Tangent: One of the worst things you can do to people with a problem (as I know from bitter experience at work) is to continually hold out the idea that you have a really good solution, which after much agony, turns out to be a way for them to approach problems, based on no evidence whatsoever. If you can couch it in terms of dividing all the problems of the world into four categories so much the better - the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire-signs; the four humors: sanguine, melancholic, choleric, phlegmatic; the four personality colors: Gold, blue, red, green; Kretschmer, Myers-Briggs (4x4), Eysenck, Personality Style Inventory, and now Veritas! Social workers love this sort of stuff, which should tell you how much hard science is behind it. /Tangent
The intellectual dynamics provide complications over the merely physical; the emotional brings in more complications still; spiritual dynamics can be the least-visible and most complicated of all. Two years ago and more, I considered stepping out entirely for a year, to see if that changed the dynamic, and asked God for guidance in the matter. I received no answer (that I know of), but eventually decided not to er, suspend myself, for practical reasons. The loss of me might be an interesting experiment; the loss of my wife from this congregation would be devastating – too great a risk without clearly divine guidance.
But every week I wonder: Lord, Is It I? Have I been stepping on each new shoot as it emerges, covertly sabotaging each good work?