I began to realize building a team would require being more intentional about the selection process. It would require a series of tests and training to see if prospective team members carried our organization's DNA.
Here are a few of the things I ask myself to determine if people can be trusted team members.
How do they respond to failure?
I hate failure. I hate failure in my personal life and on my team. But I loathe it when our failure reflects badly on our church. Self-contained missteps are one thing, the kind of failures that only reflect on the person involved. But let's face it—in a true team environment, failing rarely happens in a vacuum. When a kicker misses a field goal and loses the game, the entire team loses because of the player's mistake. The defense cannot say, "Well, we did our job really well so it does not reflect on us." We succeed and fail together: in sports, in life, and in ministry.
If I want to build an effective team, I have to give certain key leaders the permission to fail—and not rescue them. That's hard to do. If I see something going badly, I have a strong impulse to step in and stop it before it has a negative impact. But in the end, my team members won't learn valuable lessons if I do that. And I won't have the opportunity to see how they respond when they witness the consequences of their failure.
Some time ago, my very young staff was not responding quickly to emails and calls that came in to our church. I made it clear that all incoming messages of any kind needed to be answered within one day. That's 24 hours. And yet, despite my repeated reminders, rewards, and even threats, my team was not responding. So each Sunday I would have awkward conversations at church with new members who felt as though they did not matter because no one got back to them. This was especially irritating because our church motto, which is printed on every sign and brochure reads, "You matter to God … You matter to us."
In order to resolve the issue, I began answering all the emails and calls myself. This, of course, was too time-consuming. Finally I made a difficult choice. I had to watch them fail, even though I knew their doing so could hurt people and lower our attendance. And it did. It was incredibly frustrating. Several families were offended, and one even left the church. I let my staff all read the email from the outgoing family explaining how they felt and why they wanted to find a church that would connect with them.
In the pain of that moment I saw the heartfelt sorrow in all but one of my teammates. They felt the sting of the failure, and each made a choice to never be the one who dropped the ball in that area again. However, one staff member didn't seem to care at all. His response: "Well, if they are going to get mad over that, we don't want them anyway." He's no longer with us. I needed to release him because his response showed a troubling indifference toward the people whom our team was called to serve. We are in the people business, and that means they all need to matter to us. Without letting my staff fail, they would have missed a valuable lesson, and I wouldn't have seen who was really committed to our mission.