By Phil Kendon
Leading a team and being part of a team each have their own unique challenges and opportunities. I’ve had the privilege of serving on a team for about 10 years and now leading a team for the last year. There are some very practical ways that a follower can help a team fulfill its potential. Many of these I didn’t fully understand until I became a leader. These are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Support your leader.
One of the things about leading a team that is different than being a member of the team is that you are the person most visible as being responsible for decisions and vision. This can be a lonely place, because even though many discussions happen and opinions are expressed before decisions are made, these discussions are often not visible to others. It is extremely encouraging as a team leader to receive a text message or a brief word of encouragement from team members to know that you are supported and that the team is united behind the communication and the execution of the decisions that have been made.
2. Say yes.
A great asset to any team is a proactive team member who is willing to take on any task. Many teams become cumbersome and find it difficult to accomplish much because of a tendency to wait for someone else to pick up a new initiative or responsibility. A great motto for any team member is—just say yes. This is modeled for us through many biblical people. Joseph is a prime example of someone who accepted every responsibility passed his way, even when he was in prison and there was no obvious benefit to be gained.
3. Give honest feedback.
The willingness to speak the truth as a follower is another great characteristic of a good team member (just as you hope the leader will then hear the truth). Insecurity or the desire not to rock the boat can be a great stumbling block to communicating the truth and implementing the adjustments necessary to succeed. Proverbs 23:23 instructs us, “Buy the truth and do not sell it—wisdom, instruction and insight as well.”
4. Contribute positively.
Team dynamics are an often overlooked value when selecting team members and when orienting new members to the team. Discussions within the context of a Christian leadership team require humility, the ability to hear one another, and the mutual submission to seeking the will of God. Sometimes a team member can bring a contribution to a discussion as though it is the concluding statement. This has the effect of shutting down the discussion prematurely or else provoking a strong response from other members who still have contributions to make. A discussion in progress is like a stone rolling down a river—each contribution should help to keep the stone moving until such time as it reaches its final resting place.
5. Pick your timing.
Some things are appropriate to be discussed in the public forum of the team as a whole. Some things are appropriate for private discussions. A leader of a team is always under some pressure that is not always understood by team members. Even a routine team meeting has the potential to go well or go badly. A moment of misunderstanding can produce much hurt and a breakdown in trust that is not necessary and also harmful to the effectiveness of the team. It is important to be sensitive about what contributions you make in a public forum. If there is a sensitive subject that you feel should be raised, let the leader know in advance, as he or she will be responsible to guide the discussion as it unfolds. Err on the side of graciousness and sensitivity, as these are always great values to have in a team.
6. Pursue the best.
Even good ideas have to be denied for the sake of the best. This is an area that is sometimes very hard for team members to accept, especially if the idea being discussed is in their particular giftings or areas of responsibility. It is times like these where offense can easily take root in hearts. Team members can begin to mistrust the team or the leader. When we look through the eyes of mistrust, we take things personally instead of in the interests of the whole. When we feel that our specific project or area of interest is being ignored, we are tempted to stop making contributions and withdraw from the process. It is so important that we keep our hearts free from offense and that we keep making our contributions to the team, because our trust is ultimately in God to accomplish his will and his purposes.
7. Build trust.
Trust is one of the key foundations of any team. When trust goes, the team has no chance of survival. There are ways to build an atmosphere of trust in a team long before this gets tested by any crisis or difficult decision. We can get to know other individual team members. We can find out about their lives, their families, their hopes and dreams. When we value each other as people and not just the functional contribution we make to the team, we are building a layer of trust that will strengthen everything we do. The leader has a critical role in fostering this kind of value system, but everyone contributes to the level of trust in a team.
8. Serve the team.
One of the battles we have to fight as team members is the constant temptation to act in the same way as the culture around us. Self-preservation, self-promotion, selfishness, thinking about our rights, and expecting certain privileges are all worldly ways of conducting ourselves. Servant-heartedness, sacrifice, humility, the laying down of rights and expectations are the way of the kingdom of God. We should keep in mind Paul’s strong words to the Corinthian church when they were embroiled in competitive and worldly conduct: “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:3).
Godly teams with godly members are a great blessing to the people of God and to the extension of his kingdom. There are spiritual reasons why some teams succeed and others fail, and there are also simple, practical reasons. May God bless you and your team and the ministry you are engaged with as you continue to learn and grow and follow him, working together for the sake of his name.
Phil Kendon is a pastor at Black River Church in Mauritius, South Africa, is married to Leigh, and has three teenage children.