November 8, 2012

What Every Team Needs


Recently I taught a course to a group of emerging leaders who are on mission with New Life Advance International. For much of the course we discussed how to identify and develop their God-given capacity for influence, then we delved into some specific leadership skills they need to cultivate in order to be fruitful in their work.

At the top of the list? Teamwork.

Since the topic is fresh on my mind, and because creating and leading teams is an essential skill for many leaders, here are a few thoughts on what every team needs. My comments are based on working with teams and groups since my high school years, coaching leaders and teams since the early 1980s, and the insights of Katzenbach, Smith, and Lencioni.

Every Team Needs ...

1. A reason to be together.

A team might make quilts, build corn hole sets, sponsor fundraising rides across a country, bring a new product to market, or start a new company. It might form primarily for play or profit. Either way, it needs a reason for forming and for staying together, a reason that is clear and that matters to its members. The reason is the glue that holds the team members together.

2. A leader to bring it together.

Leaders catalyze the new, create the non-existent, and call the team into existence. Without leadership, either by one person, by a "first-among-peers," or by a small cadre, some person or group has to see the reason and call people together to go after the reason. It might be one of you, calling a few friends together to encourage each other, in a small group setting of allies, to encourage each other to follow Jesus, or to go on mission with Jesus to reach college students, etc., but teams do not form in and of themselves. Someone has to take the initiative, go first and sound the trumpet. Teams need a reason to exist, but they also need a leader, or leaders, who will call them together and keep them together in pursuit of that reason.

3. A clear plan for doing the reason.

Teams need a road map, a series of way stations to get them from point A to point B. A game plan. An action plan. A way to live into and live out the reason. Plans can be modified as needed, but without a plan, behavior gets too loosey-goosey, willy-nilly, too laisezz-faire. Teams can change plans as needed, but teams must have a plan of action or they'll stall out and fall short of their reason.

4. Players who know their role and what's expected of them.

A team, say Katzenbach and Smith, is a small group of people, with complementary strengths, who work together toward a common cause. The point is that they work (or play) together. That is, each part must know and do its work. Sure, team members can be cross-trained, but they must have a role to play and know what's expected of them — what it means to score, what it means to play by the rules (team culture) and what will get them kicked off the team. When roles and expectations are clear, team members can choose to keep playing on the team — or not. They can flourish within their designated areas and together each can contribute his or her best toward a total team effort.

5. The skills required to do the reason.

A marketing team needs marketing know-how and skill sets. A planning team needs to be good at analysis, synthesis and discerning implications. An athletic team needs to be good at its particular sport. Without the skills to do its reason, the team will flounder. Morale will plummet. Team members who like to win will grow frustrated and complacent. Teams need both functional and relational skills: technical skills for doing the reason and relational skills for working together.

6. Players who trust each other, pull for each other, and hold each other accountable.

Where there's trust, team members can count on each other to give their all, to sacrifice for the cause, to put one another first. Where there's trust, team members will perform beyond the call of duty because they've come to care for each other. Create trust and watch the magic that happens as team members go the extra mile for one another. Where there's trust, members are willing to hold each other accountable to keep their commitments for the good of the whole.

7. A coach to help them think through their issues and stay focused on their reason.

All the pros have coaches. Coaches help teams fly above the forest of confusion and understand the terrain on which they play. Coaches help them see the lay of the land and find their way forward. Coaches help players sort out what they're up against, help the team regain perspective and keep the reason in mind. Without a coach, teams can only see as far as their perspective can take them.

How's it going with the team you serve with? Do you have these elements in place? What one step could you take this week to acquire that needed piece?

CC Image • KellBailey on Flickr

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