A Tension that Makes Great Teams

Because I spend most of my time working with Christian ministry leaders and leadership teams in churches or ministry organizations, I regularly run into teams that have become hospice care centers to the detriment of quality work that needs to be done. However, as I interact with colleagues in the for-profit business world, I frequently hear about the opposite sinkhole where people don’t matter only what they produce does. Neither extreme makes for a healthy team.

I would like to suggest that the tension of needing to care for people and also get the job done is a tension that can nurture great teams.

If all a team does is focus on task, you are moving into the demoralizing posture of using people without developing or even attending to them as individuals. If all a team does is care for each other, you are moving into the demotivating posture where the hard work, expertise, even sacrifice of people is ignored.

On the other hand, when people are cared for in a team-based context where the cause that drives the team is compellingly pursued, you have the potential of releasing the greatest creative energy. When people feel safe, they feel safe to risk and experiment. When challenging assignments or pressure packed deadlines are balanced with support for the people facing that pressure, the entire team finds the will power to keep their hands on the plow together.

If you can imagine these dynamics as intersecting axes, any team or organizational unit could actually plot their state of balanced tension at any given moment in time. In fact, a five minute check-in could help a team take its collective “temperature” in real time.

You could label these axes a number of ways: Task v. Relationship; Nurture v. Productivity; or as I prefer Cause v. Community.

The “Cause” axis measures the intensity of focus and demands your team places on the work it is supposed to be doing. (Is it very high or low at the moment?) The “Community” axis measures the weight of attention being given to caring for the people on your team.

The point where the two lines intersect reveals the current state of balance between these two tensions. [In the diagram, the dashed line example would be a team that is weaker as a caring community right now but highly productive. The dotted gray line shows a team that is less of a productive focused unit and more of a caring community right now.] And obviously, your team could score high-high or low-low just as easily.

Why does all this matter? It is because highly effective teams make greater impact. They are like finely tuned v-10 race engines instead of anemic gas saving 4-cyclinders. They steward people while making a difference.

So, thinking about the key team(s) you lead or function on how would you diagram these two creative tensions right now?

IDEA: Use this paradigm as a discussion prompt for a work-group, a task-force, a governing board, a focused team, or any other identified group of people you have the chance to work with.

COMMUNITY — THE FIFTH “C”

I love an old African proverb that says,

“If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.”

I love the invitation embedded in that proverb, but if I am honest, I have to admit that my native wiring is to go fast and furious. In fact, I think that for most of my life my practiced approach to community was to find others that wanted to run fast and furious with me. However, living in community is far more than that.

High capacity leaders in the 21st century are those that live and lead in community. It is one result of a tectonic shift in culture.  For example, it used to be that the notion of a leader as Lone Ranger was a good thing. Riding in on a white horse to save the day single-handedly is the way great leaders carried themselves. That day is over. Today, leaders that operate today as autocratic individualists are suspect.

Here’s the catch, for all the potential of leading in community, moving into community comes at a high front end cost. To develop community requires vulnerability, sacrifice, substantial time, and one of the toughest challenges for leaders — the subordination of personal opinions to the collective discernment of the community.

Leaders that live and lead in community pay attention to healthy process and cultivating safe environments. They transform basic conversation into relationally based journeys of discernment. They submit their personal agendas to the group and allow collective wisdom to shape priorities and decisions. They champion the contribution and giftedness of others in the community. They make themselves dispensable.

Even though leaders are surrounded by the people they lead, the reality is that most live in an ongoing state of isolation. So, even if you as a leader are the only one at risk, it is time to seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others.

So, what lives deep in you? The desire to simply go fast? Or the conviction that you long to go far?

[If you would like a .pdf version of a reproducible article describing the “5 C’s of a High Capacity Leader” send me an email request and I will forward it to you. Send to admin@noredcapes.com]

Five C’s of High Capacity Leaders

In a world that crowds after the illusion of simple formulas, what I am about to say might venture too close to that black hole. However, my conviction is that the five attributes below represent the journey of a leader’s life long development. As a matter of fact, our quest for quick-fix, simple leadership formulas is actually what derails us from the depth of this developmental journey.

The extent to which a man or woman has cultivated all five dimensions of his or her life, is the measure by which they will find the influence of their life growing exponentially. By the same token, every dimension that is missing or stunted  sabotages the scope of that influence.

I have taught on four of these five dimensions for some time, perhaps even beginning to take for granted that everyone already “gets it.” But this past week in a conversation with a very sharp woman leader I discovered that I have also come to understand the fifth dimension. So, whether this serves as a review of the familiar or as fresh thinking I hope it serves you.

I also make the assumption that you live with a God-given desire to live a life of influence — to make a mark that cannot be easily erased. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the shape of the following in your life:

CHARACTER :: Influence flows out of who you are more than what you do. Character is more than force of will or consistency. It is that unique combination of who you are when no one is looking and the formation of your soul through intimacy with Christ.

COMPETENCY :: At the same time, leaders need to have skills. In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their skills that they might lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.

CALLING :: Leaders are surrounded by those with an agenda, expectation, or demand for them. Yet, leaders of influence are those live before the Audience of One rather than for the applause of the crowd. They do so because they understand and align their behavior with a clear sense of calling and contribution.

COURAGE :: Unfortunately, the crowd won’t like it. Therefore, leaders must be people of courage. You cannot lead without conflict, even when you are doing the right thing in the right way. And, you cannot wade toward or through that conflict without courage. Without courage, you will dodge the hard stuff.

COMMUNITY :: Leaders don’t live or lead in isolation. While leading is often an isolating experience, leaders seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others. They create safe places of community for others by the way they pursue it themselves.

So, if you were to give yourself a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F’ on each of the five, what would your report card look like today?

MORE TO COME:
I am going to post an essay on each of these five every few days over the next couple weeks. I’d invite you to absorb them one at a time. Post a thought or two about how you are learning work on each dimension.

After I have completed the series,  I’ll post it as one downloadable .pdf and add some group reflection questions so that you might use it as a resource with those who lead beside you.

A Simpler View of the Church

We live in a world of moving parts. What used to be or at least appeared to be stable and predictable is changing. What was changing is now entirely unfamiliar. Shoot, even gas prices are in such flux that even though we are a car culture we can’t even take driving for granted anymore.

CommunityNow, drop the church into this vortex of change and you start running into destabilizing questions of identity, effectiveness, methodology, etc.

I am committed to the church and in fact have given my life to see her achieve the potential I believe God intended. But to be honest, in this world of complexity we need to re-discover the simple essence of what it means to be the church. I have given it a lot of thought and I’d like to offer a suggestion-a new attempt at definition, if you will.

My best understanding these days of the church as God intended is this: a community on mission.

When we start thinking about all the moving parts associated with the church, we get lost in traditions, methods, organizational structures, buildings, worship styles, denominational distinctives, etc. But when we cut things down to their basic essence, I find that the notion of a “community on mission” nails it.

The church as a community on mission confronts the notion that we can follow Christ or know God fully in isolation, that happens best in the safety, encouragement, wisdom, and diversity of a community. It also confronts the tendency of a well-trained consumerist culture to approach community as a place designed to serve us. A community finds its fullness in the very process of giving itself away. And since, God is a missional God, we find him when we join him in the work he is about.

There is great work being done on what it means to live in community as the people of God and there is equally significant work being done on what it means to live on mission as a normative expression of life. I am convinced these days that the church is an integration of both. As a community we are a place where people share life and discover more of the author of life. On mission we align our lives with His work in this world. We can never be a community apart from mission, nor can we be a missional enterprise apart from community.