Lateral Service in a Team

An Unexpected Benefit of Crisis

Global pandemic.
Endless pivoting.

Words and phrases that will forever mark this year.

However, this season isn’t only producing challenge and struggle. There are some positive aspects. It’s possible that an unintended cultural value may have emerged through this pandemic.

Your team may have stumbled upon or perhaps been forced into lateral service. Lateral service is the idea that everyone will pitch in to do whatever is necessary to get the job done whether or not that task is directly linked to their job description. It often seems to rise to the surface when a crisis clarifies the immediate focus of the team and an “all hands on deck” moment results.

For instance, you may have a salesperson whose time is being well spent assisting with customer service currently. Or a campus pastor with a communications gift helping write content for social media during this season rather than preparing sermons.

I’ve worked in organizations where it was a pretty pervasive philosophy to “stay in your lane.” And there are certainly great things to be said about operating as much as possible in your area of strength and giftedness, about having healthy boundaries. But, there’s an unexpected benefit when lanes merge. I believe that the idea of lateral service shouldn’t be relegated to times of crisis.

In his book The New Gold Standard, a deep dive into the leadership and customer experience lessons to be gleaned from Ritz-Carlton, Joseph A. Michelli writes, “By encouraging lateral service, cross-training organically occurs, departments become less isolated from one another, and staff members gain a greater empathy for the functions of those in other areas of the business.” (The New Gold Standard  88)

I’ve heard a pastor friend say, “There’s gold in this season. You simply have to mine for it.” The development of collaboration, innovation and appreciation among your team members is likely one example. Through lateral service, unknown talents are unearthed, awareness among the team of unique contributions others make builds camaraderie that can be drawn from in the future.   

Are you seeing benefits of lateral service among those you lead?
How can you reinforce it so that it’s repeated?

Keep leading well!
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.

Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.

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