I work with lots of teams that are either in crisis or transition. But I rarely hear of teams that are both achieving results and are a pleasure to be a part of. This is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of the "team."
Simply put, "team" is just business language for "community"—the glorious intersection of task and people. For thousands of years, the Bible has spoken of using our giftedness in community. Strong leadership emerges in biblically functioning, God-honoring, Christ-forming community. On the other hand, since community is made of people, you can be sure every community is susceptible to dysfunction. So how do we develop and sustain a group that doesn't simply tout the buzzword of teamwork, but is actually the real deal—a healthy, high-performing team?
My introduction to Patrick Lencioni's work on leadership came when my boss at Willow Creek Community Church assigned us to read the first 30 pages of The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive (Jossey-Bass, 2000) by our next meeting. I had been inoculated enough times to be skeptical of "the next best leadership book." So I took the book, nodded my head, and left with absolutely no intention of reading it.
The night before the meeting, a sliver of guilt prompted me, begrudgingly, to crack open the book so I could at least participate in a cursory discussion the next day. I read the book cover to cover—couldn't put it down—captivated by Patrick's leadership principles and his view of the dignity of people. I sensed I had just read one of those rare books that, if I could implement its ideas, would transform my leadership for years to come. Patrick's later book, however, may be his hallmark work: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002). Focused on the leader's role in helping a team do its best work by overcoming common dysfunctions (I learned I was guilty of all five), the book is an excellent ministry resource. The result is a team that is aligned with their gifts, makes good decisions, gets great results, and loves working together. Let me explain how we applied his insights to our ministry teams.
Absence of Trust
Trust forms the foundation for everything else that happens on a team. Interestingly, though, I think ministry teams assume trust rather than work on building trust. Stop for a minute and think: can you name five things you have intentionally done in the last month to build trust on your team?
Trust takes time, but it doesn't take years. Trust can be broken, but it can also be repaired.
Most of what has been written about trust focuses on character and competency, two key components of trust, to be sure. But Patrick pushes us to think of trust that's based on vulnerability. Vulnerability-based trust makes a team great; without it, people position themselves, and teams become what Patrick calls a "Petri dish for politics." Imagine, politics in a church?
When a leader admits to his or her weaknesses, they are inviting others to participate in leadership to fill the gap of what the leader cannot do. No one can do everything, and this kind of vulnerability allows for everyone on a team to contribute in meaningful ways.
I have worked for leaders who led from a façade of omni-competence and the best I could hope for was to be an implementer of their vision and their decisions. I have also worked for leaders who, because of their appropriate admission of weakness, have invited me to participate as a peer and really lead. I'll take the latter any day.