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/ 1 March 2016

Creating a positive culture

Mosaic of people looking happy and sad

Last week, I received an email which, if I’m honest, filled me with something like dread (perhaps it was more like an uneasy foreboding or an anxious sense of impending discomfort). It was from someone for whom I’d just completed a task and the subject line was simply the name of part of the job. Immediately, I assumed that it was going to be a complaint email, asking me to redo part of the work or even start again, because what I’d done wasn’t good enough. So, with dread/foreboding/discomfort, I opened the email…

And instead of negative comments, the email only contained compliments. I didn’t quite know what to say! I was a bit ashamed that I’d thought people might only get in touch to moan. And then it struck me how unusual it was for us to give positive feedback – whether line managers, church leaders, parents – when someone has done something really well. If we’re honest, we can sometimes go for weeks without accentuating the positive. Is this a trait of churches? (Is it perhaps ‘un-Christian’ for us to praise others and so open them up to being proud?!) Or is it life in general?

If we work with young people (or any part of church, for that matter), and the only time we receive feedback is when we’ve done something wrong, then we’re likely to do the same with our teams. Time is tight, money short and human resources scant – we can’t afford to spend time saying how well someone has done something.

Yet, following this pattern is a shortcut to losing all your volunteers. And a shortcut to you burning out. So what can we do instead?

  • Praise your own team: if people do things well, then let them know. Our teams are probably 95% volunteers (at the very least) and so are giving up their precious time and energy to work with young people. If they work in a praise vacuum, they won’t know how they’re getting on, they’ll get frustrated and will give up volunteering. Catch people doing something well and tell them about it. If you (or they) don’t like doing this face to face, write them an email, send them a text or even post them a note.
  • Praise upwards: if you struggle to get anything positive from your vicar, PCC or line manager, don’t let that stop you praising them and saying when they’ve done something well. Often meetings with our ‘superiors’ can turn into a big long moan, but don’t let that happen. Go into meetings with two or three things to praise others for. If you start to change the culture, then you might just start seeing that positive culture come back to you.
  • Praise the young people: praise the young people to their faces, but also make sure you tell their parents or carers about the positive things that young people have done. Often, relationships with parents and carers can be tense and rocky, but they shouldn’t be. Changing the culture here too can be tremendously beneficial to everyone involved.

You don’t have to turn into someone so positive that you sound insincere. Just be honest and realistic and tell someone when they have done a good job. It won’t be long before you, your team and the church will start to feel appreciated and invested in. So, I’m going to start now. Keep going, we’re all praying for you. I think you’re doing an amazing job.

Alex Taylor is part of the Diocese of London’s Children’s and Youth Team and helps to lead a youth group of 40 or so rowdy young people

About Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor has worked with the children and youth team to provide training and support churches. He is an experienced children's and youth worker and writer.

Read more from Alex Taylor

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