A lot has been written on the characteristics of a solid team. Honesty. Hard work. Having difficult conversations. Integrity. Collaboration. Fun. Shared vision and goals. Chemistry. Discipline. Accountability. And yet we are perpetually on a quest to find the magic bullet—to create that perfect team.
I’ve been on a bunch of teams. Each team carried its own dynamics, strengths, dysfunctions and personalities. But since I’ve started leading, I’ve thought much about the best teams I’ve been a part of and have observed others from a distance.
These markers have been a common thread of fulfillment or disappointment …
Life happens fast. As soon as one event or goal is completed, we are off to the next one. The tyranny of the urgent forces us to become more intentional if we want to capture important moments of learning and remembrance.
Intentional Debriefing. My team mocks me that I debrief everything. But this intentional time after most every meeting, retreat, event or transition makes everything we do better. Debriefing immediately afterward allows us to quickly evaluate. It’s become something my team treasures and now practices for the teams they lead.*
Intentional Presence. Birthdays, anniversaries, babies, holidays, funerals and weddings rarely happen when it’s convenient. But carving out time to be with each other in these personal, life-altering experiences truly forges a team together. Committing to being present in these intentional moments not only fills the souls of a team but also speaks volumes about how to be with those they lead. Creating margin in your calendar—personal and ministry—are critical in order to make this presence possible. Though we often fail at preserving margin, I preach that we should only plan to 80 percent capacity in order to leave room for “life happenings” and Holy Spirit moments when our presence is called upon.
Intentional Naming. Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton wrote: “God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of Himself. … If I am true to the concept God utters in me, if I am true to the thought in Him I was meant to embody, I shall be full of His actuality and find Him everywhere in myself, and find myself nowhere. I shall be lost in Him.”
Eight years ago I sat in a living room during a retreat with a team I was on. Over several intense hours, we excused each team member one by one and named the unique attributes of God that had been placed in them. Before they came back, we re-named them with the word we saw uttered in them. Names like “pillar of fire” were written on canvases under Merton’s quote. It was an intentional moment to encourage, inspire and name truth in each other.
Over the years, I’ve re-created similar experiences for my team. Every time we intentionally name who team members are, who they are becoming, how they have grown, something divine happens. They are moments when heaven touches earth.
Change and Process
This summer our team has gone through a total realignment [read: change] to reflect the vision God’s given us. Literally everyone has a new job and new teams have been formed. Throughout these past few months, I have been reminded of a couple of truths when it comes to change and process.
First, healthy teams are constantly changing. They adapt to the ever-changing world around them. Healthy teams are quick to kill projects and programs that aren’t working. They tweak responsibilities when new strengths are discovered. The best teams are those that aren’t afraid to pull a trigger to make things better.
The second lesson I repeatedly learn is how important process is. A leader’s decisions impact countless people in varying ways. I recently made a seemingly innocuous decision to shuffle office spaces to accommodate our new team. This decision inadvertently raised up unknown pain and frustration that resulted in lots of emails and conversations to smooth out the misunderstanding. My quick—and thoughtless—decision and communication of our new office spaces didn’t honor my team. If we really value collaboration and everyone’s voice, we need to value the process in change, and often that involves slowing down.
Scores of books have been written on this, but fostering an environment that encourages emotional and spiritual growth is nonnegotiable. Ministry can be brutal. Scratch that—people can be brutal. Practices like observing a Sabbath and taking technology breaks are critical to grow a team’s capacity to stick together for the long haul. As a leader, I believe it’s my responsibility to cultivate a culture that nurtures the inner life of the team.
Above all, Love
We all know 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”
We could practice everything ever written about great teams, but if we do not love each other, it’s worth nothing. This is how the world will know we are His disciples.
April L. Diaz serves as a pastor at Newsong Church in Irvine, CA. She and her husband, Brian, recently adopted two Ethiopian toddlers. You can read more about their adoption journey at her blog, http://planaethiopia.blogspot.com. This column originally appeared in the October/November issue of Neue magazine.