Building Team Leadership

I would like to share how I came to this idea of team leadership. It seems so obvious now but has not been the current practice.

Roger and I had been leading the meditation group in Nailsea, Bristol for over 20 years. As the years passed and we got older and in my case weaker, we were realising that it would be right for us to move house.

What worried me most was pulling out from this group where we had leadership positions without it creating a terrible hole in the living network of the group. I knew how it felt when any couple left – they were missed. We really do become bonded when we sit together in meditation week in and week out over many years.

Our community is a living thing strong yet intangible. How could we do it without harming the group? And who would be leader? I realised that we needed to get out of the position of being the sole providers of leadership. It was vulnerable and unhelpful for the group.

Already there were two or three members, meditators of long standing who had completed the Essential Teaching Weekend, and did facilitate the meetings from time to time. In fact, when we held a Six Week Introductory Course, which we did every year, they participated and would present at least one of the weeks.

I decided that we needed to extend this further. So I encouraged one or two others to go on the Essential Teaching weekend. And slowly but surely others did. Without fail people enjoyed it and when I asked them afterwards would you like to lead the group next week, they unfailingly said yes! And of course I would go on to ask them again and again, so it became normal.

Finally I got to the stage where there were six of us who had all done the essential teaching weekend and I proposed team leadership to the group. I explained that we would each take one week in six to present the meditation for that evening. It all went well and actually began to happen in practice.

Things were going well for my covert plan of making Roger and me, not exactly redundant, but certainly not indispensable!
Finally last year there were two more group members who joined the Team. This was towards the end of Covid and both did the Essential Teaching Weekend online. I was dubious that it would be effective. Yet, to my surprise, both people were delighted with the course and came on board as Team members!

At this moment we were offered a flat at a retirement village in Bristol which suited our needs and immediately said yes to it. So by the time we reached July 2022 I was able to break the news to the group that Roger and I were moving. We arranged a meeting with the Team, the six people who were going to carry on the leadership of the group from summer 2022. Everybody seemed to be accepting and ready to carry on and serve the group, by taking turns at facilitating the weekly meetings.

There was also the big question about who the leader of the team would be. Having pondered it I knew in my heart who the right person was. She was someone who had been part of the group for a long time and had actually stepped down from presenting meetings when she took up a very demanding new full-time job.

What to do? Well I met with Sally and suggested it. Her reply was that it wasn’t the right time due to having the full-time, demanding work commitment. Yet at the same time she somehow recognised that she might be the right person for this role. I emphasised that as things stood there were enough people for it only to be a commitment to facilitate the group once in every six weeks in terms of presenting on the Monday evening. She would be the contact person.

She said she had thought about it in the past but was not ready yet. She went away and thought and prayed about it. She emphasised that it must be a shared thing. She would be the contact person but wanted the involvement of the whole group. In fact she does not even want to use the word ‘leader’ but talks about ‘the person in the chair tonight’! But she did take on the role of being Contact person for this Team leadership group.

A second sound and gifted group member, Francesca, would cooperate with her by being the liaison person with the parish. We had free use of a room in the Parish hall – although the majority of our members were not parishioners.

Now one year on, having met up with both of them at the Ammerdown retreat, I asked them how it was going? They were enormously positive. The group was flourishing. They worked well as a team and discussed and shared ideas about how they would do things. They were at this very time embarking on a six-week course. They were positive enough to be reaching out to others. And significantly at least three new people had joined the team as well as one or two having to leave it. So all signs of life.

We all agree that in this day and age with everyone being so busy working or having responsibility for children and grandchildren, it is very hard for someone on their own to carry all the responsibility for leading a group. In fact I now think it is unhealthy for the group.

I hear that there is difficulty in finding people to fulfil the role of regional Coordinator. No surprise in that, if again it is one isolated individual. Why not extend the practice of team leadership to the regions as well? We have in fact had a Steering group in the Bristol and Bath region, somewhat weakened at present after Covid. This could be revived and have a joint and rotating membership representing as many groups as possible.

We had found that team leadership is enriching and of course if a number of people come together it’s dynamic. It gets things done without anyone having to feel overloaded but rather participating in a dynamic and creative team…

And we really are sharing the gift because you develop and learn so much more from having to teach it than just passively receiving it week by week. Participation is the watchword for me in having a healthy community.

There is a sad little postscript to this. After a month or two we realised that the meditation group at The Well at Westbury on Trym led by our dear friend Caroline was quite close at hand. We happily joined and enjoyed the experience of not being responsible for making things happen. Sad to say it did not last long. Just after Easter this year Caroline was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She turned to us and said, ‘Would you two take over?’

Of course we were happy to do this. But what struck me was that but for our arrival a few months earlier that group which had only three permanent members would have collapsed. This is an all too familiar scenario. The fact is that single person leadership of a group is a very vulnerable model. Participation benefits the members of the group and gives the Group a future. Participation is giving people the opportunity for spiritual growth. Why would we not want to do that?

Sally wrote to me, “I often asked myself, if there ever was a need, if I would I be prepared to take a leadership role in the meditation group.  I knew I could not see the group diminish as this unique group signifies a unified place for those from different denominations and those who do not align to church in silent prayer. This is indeed profound and might not be experienced elsewhere in the community.

“What has emerged is a good number of consistent and passionate attendees who carve out the space in their week, others come and go which is also a joy. We now have 7 of us who lead in turn.  I realise that the gift of shared leadership enables us to let go of unnecessary roles and we reduce any possible power of holding such a task. We give each other a gift of appreciation as we follow a joint structure, however, also absorb each person’s unique contribution.  

“This enables us also to ‘give and receive’, to have faith in one another, as we let go into trusting one another with thanks. Encouraging one another can be a life changing event for someone else.  It frees a potential line leader of a possible burden of responsibility week by week which helps to be in a more healthy frame of mind for our meditation practice.”

Encourage one another and build each other up’. (Thessalonians 5 v 11.)

Francesca adds a few thoughts. “Sharing the leadership of weekly meetings had not only sustained the group it has enabled us to hear the range of gifts and voices of at least six members whilst keeping to the structure WCCM suggests. This has reminded me that it is the spirit who leads and we are means of the spirit working through all of us in sharing this wonderful gift of meditation.”

And in having two named contact leads: “I have found sharing the role of contact lead/ organiser of rotas etc has shared the load. Both of us are busy people and we know we can make things happen between us! “

I would like to address those of you reading this article to respond. Would you like to contribute your experience in your group or in your region and share it in this newsletter? If you had an experience that might be of interest to others in the community, send it in. It would be good to hear from you. This newsletter is a good vehicle for us to communicate with one other.

Shelagh Layet.

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