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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.

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