Abigail and the Effective Team
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The high performing team dynamic is illustrated in I Samuel in the story of Nabal and his wife Abigail. Although mostly inferred and partially embellished, this story clearly has all of the elements to demonstrate a high performing team. Nabal, a boorish drunk, and his team operated on the edge of the wilderness. In spite of problem team member, Nabal, Abigail, being a woman of good understanding, successfully negated a very real threat to everyone involved including his or her families. The threat came from David who was hiding in the wilderness near their home. David and his army had banded together with Nabal’s shepherd team to protect all of the flocks of sheep. Nabal had a feast to celebrate his successful shearing season. When David sent word to Nabal asking for food from the party for his team, Nabal refused and further added to the insult by insinuating that David was a runaway. David then threatened to kill Nabal and all of his male offspring. Nabal’s team was motivated by loyalty and fears; fear of roaming marauders and of David’s army, and loyalty to Abigail with her wise and fair concern. David’s army was specifically targeting the family, the compound, and all of its occupants.
“And she was a woman of good understanding….” I Sam. 25:3
Abigail showed this good understanding when she composed the team that would be taking the requested food out into the hills. These unique skill sets were selected; men that were familiar with the area, men that had already developed a relationship with David’s people. They would be recognized and not killed immediately; men who were quick and smart and had already demonstrated this by coming to her with their concerns. Abigail, in her role as Nabal’s wife, built a culture of trust among the workers employed in their wilderness compound. In this setting, the cradle to grave employment practices gave her the time to develop relationships with her entire team. She nursed the ill, took food to the elderly, and informally cared for all of the children. Abigail managed the household and the immediate compound efficiently. She had already established the bond of trust among the people who helped her daily by feeding, clothing, and maintaining an infrastructure that cared for them all. This was a reciprocal situation. This infrastructure is the most basic level of organizational structure in a complex body or system that serves as a foundation for the rest. Abigail had a large responsibility.
“…but the man was harsh and evil in his doings.” I Sam. 25:3
Nabal, the problem team member, was obviously somewhat successful in his business ventures, however, he liked to party, celebrate, and put on a show for his like-minded friends. David was angered by Nabal’s inebriated response. Nabal refused to acknowledge David’s contribution to his successful year by not inviting him to the shearing feast. The team in this situation had clearly encountered such incivility from him before. This was not this team’s first collaborative effort in circumventing Nabal’s egotistical, self-serving behavior. This was another example of their reciprocal relationships, clarified by fear for survival. There was no attempt to notify Nabal when word came in of David’s threat. This team chose to limit his involvement by continuing to send in food and drink to the feast, some being diverted to feed David’s army. There may have been an additional herbal concoction added to Nabal’s cup by some well-meaning servant that may have helped neutralize any attempt by Nabal to become involved in the situation.
“…Surely in vain I have protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belongs to him. And he has repaid me evil for good.” I Sam. 25:21
David was the immediate threat, by his declaration, to kill Nabal and all of his progeny. Nabal violated David’s expectations by refusing to invite him to the feast as a reward for his part in his successful shearing season. Nabal said David was a runaway servant trying to rob his way to success. Interestingly enough, Nabal and Abigail’s servants did not run away, again a violated expectation, this time of Nabal’s expectations.
“But the men were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both day and night, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep.” I Sam. 25:15, 16
These shepherds had worked closely with, and had great respect, for David and his army. The shepherds felt comfortable going to Abigail with their concerns about the unfairness shown to their protectors in the fields. This indicates that there was respect and open communication between Abigail and her teams. This also showed trust on behalf of the workers; if this trust did not exist, they would have packed up their families, headed for the hills, and taken their chances with the roaming marauders, who were an incidental threat and would prey on anyone and everyone. They were the people who the shepherds and David had formed forces against. Nabal’s family would have been left to face the massacre alone.
Imagine the team meetings to accomplish this task of feeding an army. When the herders brought word of the threat, there would have been a meeting to communicate and clarify the threat. Abigail would have stepped in and structured this meeting, gathering thoughts and concerns from all, and all would have given their voice as all of their lives were at stake. She would have then sent for any missing staff members. All departments would have been summoned; herders, bakers, cooks, slaughterers, tanners, and woodcutters. Everyone would have had to participate to prepare a caravan.
* Two hundred loaves of bread
* Two skins of wine
* Five sheep already dressed
* Five seahs (1/5 of a bushel) of roasted grain
* One hundred clusters of raisins
* Two hundred fig cakes
Since the feasting had already been going on for some time, only so much food would have been available to be rerouted from the party to the caravan. The fires out in the courtyard would have had to be stoked for additional cooking, bread already started would have been kneaded, the cooks to compliment the menu of lamb would have emptied the larder, and additional wine cask would have had to be found by the tanners. This household was already at maximum operating capacity. Due to the shearing feast and party, this depletion of supplies would have a huge impact on all of their lives.
Clarity, composition, context, and the skill sets of each team member were already in place. Each person’s role, had in the past, been clarified. Abigail and her team set the goal of feeding an army. They gathered the team, explained the situation and motivated them. “How many sheep are ready to put on the spit?” was asked of the slaughterers, “When can the packing of supplies be finished” of the tanner. “What can we use for grain, millet or wheat” to the cook. “Who knows the best route to take to get where we are going” to the shepherds. “Why do we need the bread?” It will take the longest to prepare. This team made very effective decisions about where and how to deploy their resources. This highly effective team was operating in standard procedures that had long been established.
Each person knew his or her role. The herders and the slaughterers organized the meat. The tanner planned the packing for the donkeys. The tanner added diversity to the team and he represented Abigail’s openness. Typically, tanners were the outcasts of any group, while necessary; tanners were considered unclean because they worked with dead animals. The cooks conferred with Abigail on the menu for a well-balanced meal, then added herbs, salt, and pepper without the need for further consultation. The cooks, understanding the need not add to the insult by providing an incomplete meal, frantically kneaded and cooked fresh loaves of bread. The shepherds checked the animals over for saddle sores and hoof problems. The aroma of fresh, hot bread mixed with the nutty scent of roasted grain filled the air as the caravan of donkeys stamped impatiently amid the feverish frenzy of tying the wine skins, bundles of bread to the saddlebags.
“…go on before me, for I am coming after you.” I Sam. 25:19
The context of the team’s task was to seek mercy and promote goodwill. If not successful, all would die. Each man that went with the advance team would have been selected for his courage, loyalty, and trustworthiness. Abigail would have had a meeting with these individuals. Strategy would have been discussed and set. The plan showed how much Abigail’s team trusted her, their lives had been threatened and they still led the pack animals into imminent danger. Her instructions were clear. Take the food and go down under cover of the hill, in other words get close enough for them to recognize you so that they will at least listen before they attack. “Do not create a silhouette by going over the crest of the hill”; this would have given David’s people time to prepare for any incoming threat. “Get the fires started, serve the first course, then when they are not hungry anymore, I will ride in and make my appeal.” Abigail was clearly taking the ultimate risk with this statement. She was exposing herself to death for the sake of all of her team and her family. This was Abigail at her most vulnerable, yet a servant leader who found favor with those who had been the threat.
“….Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person.” I Sam 25: 35
Thomas Nelson Inc. (1999). The Holy Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
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