In hindsight: When it doesn't go right


 Welcome everyone to this case review session. As always, I appreciate you giving up your lunchtime to be here. As a missional network we seek to be reflective practitioners. This monthly case presentation is just one way we are supporting each other to be accountable, learn from mistakes and share discoveries. It isn’t easy to be in the hotspot, so we are grateful for everyone who shares with us. This month we’ve got Greg with us to present. Rather than following our usual case review process, Greg will be sharing something different around our theme of “Hindsight”. He has compiled a list of ‘classic tensions’ and dialogues that take place in projects when things don’t go right; when there are problems and mistakes. He will also offer some thoughts around what might have been communicated in each situation. Including ways those involved might have preserved relationship, shared learning and come to a decision that could be owned by all. Over to you Greg.”

Presenter (Greg):

Thanks very much, I’m happy to be here, but I must admit even happier to not be sharing about my own project but rather this compilation. (laughter) Let’s get into it.”

Greg went on to present his collection, which is summarised in the table below:

Context Communication that unfolded at the time In hindsight
A local project had its funding removed by the Synod ·      The Synod was blamed by those in the project for intervening inappropriately, and failing to listen.

·      The local project team felt they were victims of an unfair process and weren’t shy in saying so.

·      Relationships between both parties broke down and people walked away from the project disenchanted.

·      The process was an opportunity for the Synod to share more clearly its strategic directions and invite local groups to help shape and have ownership of these directions.

·      The local project had in fact not met key accountability measures and did need to rethink part of their operations.

·      The project could have continued in a different form if some commitment and energy had been preserved in the process, as the ministry was valuable.

·      Both parties could have developed each others’ skills in having robust and helpful relationships within the wider church, reflecting on the learning from their experience.

A project decided to expand to a second location, blessing a team of sent people to carry out the growth. After 18 months that team was burnt out and hadn’t achieved their purpose. ·      A group met once to formally discuss closing the second location.

·      The morale of the team that had been “sent out” was very low. There were regularly tears in meetings towards the end of the year and a general feeling of failure had overwhelmed them.

·      Many individuals decided not to participate in any ministry of this type in the future or had significant loss of confidence.


·      Assessing progress earlier on, before it had been too long.

·      Creating safe ways to both recognise and talk about what wasn’t working both as a team and with a reference group.

·      Establishing some formative goals as well as summative ones, so that the process of engaging in the journey had purpose beyond any outcomes.

·      Greater individual mentoring or supervision opportunities for the individuals in the team to help them draw healthy boundaries around their energy and contribution.

·      Conversations about what was learnt and discovered and opportunities to share this experience with others.

Half of the core team in a Church plant decided to leave, 18 months into the project. ·      The group splitting off talked about significant issues in the direction of the project which they couldn’t align with.

·      Other members felt hurt, disappointed and a level of betrayal that infused all communications.

·      No outsiders were included in any of processing or communications.

·      People around them felt the need to take sides.

·      The conflict became very consuming of both the time and emotional energy of those involved.

·      The anxiety felt by the splitting group, was grounded in genuine concerns, but ones that could have been worked through if there was a secure and thoughtful process for having honest discussion.

·      Both parties ‘dug in’ to their polarised positions, making it difficult to hold, listen to or take on the perspective of the other.

·      A third party, or mediator, or facilitator could have helped the team work through the conflict and hold onto their broader purpose.

The behaviour of an individual who was fulfilling key volunteer roles for five years, reduced the commitment and energy of those around them to such an extent that a whole committee folded under the pressure. ·      The talk was centred on the individual, their behaviours and repeated stories of how they were negatively affecting those around them.

·      Much of the conversation happened around the person, but not with the person.

·      The individual was shocked by the behaviour of those around her and couldn’t understand why people were stepping down.

·      Smaller issues had been addressed by ‘going around the person’ for many years, meaning there was a build-up of unresolved conflict and significantly reduced honesty in relationships.



·      There were very few systems for accountability, reviewing roles or setting time limits on them, or strengths/gifts alignment attached to positions in the team. This lack of systems created an environment where an individual could become unhealthily stuck in a role.

·      There were very few processes or skills in the team around giving and receiving honest feedback.

·      Any person in any role needs to practice the skills of being an aware and reflective practitioner, taking time out to look at how effective they are being and how they are impacting those around them.

·      Smaller issues could have been addressed directly, honestly and with care at the time they occurred, which could have strengthened working relationships. Resisting the temptation to cover things over for the sake of being nice may have added to the sustainability of the team.


  • True or false: Every project or initiative in the church will involve failure, disappointment or conflict at some point? Explain why you chose True or False
  • How might the passion, energy and high levels of commitment typical of new missional projects affect how conflict happens?
  • If you had to write three principles for navigating mistakes or failures in missional projects, what would they be?
  • Is blame ever useful in debriefing a failure? What is the difference between laying blame and people taking responsibility for their part?
  • Why are failures difficult to talk about?
  • When has failure been a life-giving learning experience for you? What made it so?
  • What are the consequences of conversations where different elements of the church, or individuals within it are blamed and critiqued?
  • How do you discern when is it appropriate to critique? How might this be delivered graciously?
  • Is it possible to disagree, experience a conflict or a disappointment and stay in relationship? What is involved in doing so?
  • If trust is a key resource to making decisions, working in partnerships and taking risks, how can trust be grown? How can it be repaired after a conflict or failure?
  • Do you have a scenario that could be added to the list above? Write it out and share it with your group.

Wisdom from the pews

“Many people involved in missional work are deeply passionate and heart committed to the purposes they are trying to achieve. This means that failures and disappointments can be felt personally. Providing supports for people to help them keep a broad perspective, to know and feel valued outside their identity as a ‘pioneer’, can raise the safety level around failure.”

“Conversations after a failure or mistake has occurred can surface other important conversations about the expectations held by different people or groups. Ensuring that expectations are clear and realistic from the outset can help to prevent some of this tension. Regularly checking in on progress and having short term explorations about issues that are occurring can mean that any failure is less weighty, and can have has less negative consequences.”

“After conflict, people often commented on how a process played out, and the tone of communication between different groups. They may not remember the details of what was being reviewed, but how it felt is often a strong memory. Being careful about process, valuing each other and engaging graciously even when disappointment is present can be the difference between staying in relationship and helping individuals recover, vs people walking away carrying wounds.”

Going deeper

Why you should make useless things

Simone Giertz is a young inventor and shares her insights into how making useless things turns off the voice in our heard that tells you it isn’t safe to fail and that you know exactly how the world works.” Discover the value of questioning, experimenting and taking action without knowing the answers: