When a team is healthy and functions well, it is like a symphony orchestra with many different individual instruments playing in perfect harmony. However, an excellent concert performance never just happens by itself:
- The orchestra must decide which pieces of music to play and in what order.
- The talents of each member must be accurately determined.
- Each member must make himself and his talents sufficiently available to the whole orchestra.
- The orchestra must use each musician to the fullest extent of his ability.
- Rules of music must be adhered to.
- Many hours of practicing together according to the established rules must occur.
- All the necessary musicians and instruments must be present.
- The conductor must be capable of building and maintaining the team.
In the same way, an effective Christian leadership team must work very hard:
- It must determine its vision and goals.
- The members of the team must know each other’s callings, giftings and skills.
- Each person must submit himself to the overall purpose of the whole team.
- Each person must be mobilized to the fullest extent of his calling and capacity.
- The working approach of the team must be determined.
- Team meetings must be relevant and effective.
- The team must possess the appropriate divine, human and material resources.
- The team leader must be effective.
Only with all these things in place can a group of Christian coworkers become an effective leadership team. Thus, the team itself is characterized by the following:
An environment of prayer
The first disciples spent time together in prayer – especially when faced with crises or decisions.
They prayed together after Jesus had left, but before the Holy Spirit fell (Acts 1:14), during the first days after Pentecost (Acts 2:42), and when Peter was imprisoned (Acts 12:5). The ultimate leader of the team is the Lord Jesus. Therefore, His presence, wisdom and direction must be sought continually as a team.
In a healthy team, the members share a common vision and common goals that proceed from that vision, and they work collaboratively to achieve their purpose. Moreover, the vision and the goals must reflect the will of God. When the coworkers deeply believe that God is behind the team, they will work at their highest capacity.
Because of the magnitude of the task ahead of them, team members realize their need for one another. Since the vision draws together people with a diversity of callings, backgrounds and experiences, the whole team possesses a base of wisdom and knowledge that no single individual could possess.
Frequent and meaningful communication
The team members communicate frequently and openly with each other.
Effective teams spend about 60-70% of their communication time talking about vision, goals and tasks. In teams that communicate well, 15-20% of all statements show support or encouragement. The remainder of the communication time (about 10-15% of the total) includes statements of disagreement as well as discussion of topics unrelated to the task. If the proportion of different kinds of communication varies greatly from these averages, a team’s success plummets.[i]
Thus, a healthy team’s communication will reflect these priorities.
People who work well in teams acknowledge the contributions that the other members have made to their lives and to the success of the team. Healthy teams will be marked by a noncompetitive atmosphere. When there is no jealousy, the people will share their ideas freely and will work with one another, unconcerned that a coworker will “steal the credit” for a victory.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. (1 Cor. 13:4, see also 2 Cor. 12:20, Gal. 5:19-21, Tit. 3:3-8, Jam. 3:14-16, 1 Pet. 2:1)
A healthy team will have one overall leader, but the whole team will bear responsibility for the ultimate outcome of its collective efforts. Consequently, members of a healthy team will think of the good of the team and of the whole church or ministry before themselves.
Acceptance of differences
Differences themselves are not bad. If the members of the team were all the same, they would never explore alternative approaches. Healthy teams view differences of opinion as opportunities to test and refine their work. They listen well and critique issues without attacking people. Consequently, healthy teams value their diversity of ministry gift orientations, callings, giftings, skills, experiences and personalities.
Decision making by consensus
This does not mean that everyone must decide every issue that ever comes up, or that everyone must agree. A leadership team that corporately addresses every issue and waits for a 100% agreement before advancing will not accomplish much! It is, however, important that a general consensus is reached on major issues. This means that every member, in spite of his personal disagreement, is willing to go ahead and support the decision.
Thus, an effective team leader must find a balance between independent, decisive thinking and collecting and evaluating ideas for team consensus. He or she should recognize which style of decision-making is necessary for each situation.
Here are some general principles that will help:
- When commitment to implementing the decision is important, it is best to achieve consensus.
- When creativity is important for solving a major problem, it is best to involve a group of people from different specialties to generate creative thinking.
- In general, important decisions are better suited for consensus than minor decisions.
- When a strategic decision is needed and most team members do not understand the big picture, independent decision-making might be best, perhaps after consulting with several team members.
- When an issue is so political that it is difficult to obtain an unbiased point of view from team members, it is probably best for the leader to make the decision independently.
- When time is at a premium, such as in a crisis, unilateral decision-making is usually best. If it appears that input from others is needed, it might be wise to use participative decision-making within a tight time limit (such as a two-hour meeting).
Thus, an effective team leader must find a balance between independent decision-making on one hand and building a team consensus on the other. Truly, it all depends on the situation.
Clear role assignments that match team members’ callings, giftings and talents
For the team to succeed, team members need clear-cut division of roles. Healthy teams have individuals who can define roles for themselves and work with the roles that the other team members have developed.
Genuine interest and concern for one another
As we have already seen, teams in which the members love one another, spend time together as friends and care for one another will be powerful. Such teams will not be marked by competitiveness but by trust, cooperation and servanthood.
Moreover, the personal commitment of the coworkers to one another will ensure that they work through conflict successfully.
Recognition that conflict is a healthy, necessary interaction
Since teams are made up of imperfect human beings, conflict is a common part of team life – as the experience of the early church shows. In fact, the absence of conflict can be quite detrimental to a team. We will discuss conflict later.
Healthy teams don’t squash innovation by constantly criticizing new ideas. Instead, they welcome new ideas and respond positively to suggestions and requests from their own members and others outside the organization. In addition, when difficulties arise, coworkers should look for solutions instead of complaining about the problems. Team members should always look for the good in each other and believe the best about the team.
[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor. 13:7)
Continual learning environment
Every day brings new challenges and new opportunities. Consequently, a healthy leadership team must be committed to continuous, lifelong learning and will seek opportunities to develop in all areas of gifting and ability. The world is changing rapidly. We will never get to the point where we know it all (or even the point where we know “enough”) and can stop learning.
God has called His church to be continually growing and maturing; and growth involves change – always!(Eph. 4:15)
A healthy team has godly, committed, gifted and competent members who use open communication in an environment of prayer where issues get solved by consensus before the Lord as the team pursues a shared vision.
How healthy is your team?
[i] Susan A. Wheelan. (1999). Creating Effective Teams: A Guide for Members and Leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, p. 58.