Four Secrets of Great Team-Based Leadership

When the lead team is committed to the cause, has great community, and believes they will change the world—amazing things can happen.

There are some things you would never say out loud; even though you know they are true. The reason you don't say them out loud is (despite the fact they are true) they just don't sound right. If you uttered these secrets people will probably misunderstand you. In addition to the risk of being misunderstood, you start to think that perhaps they aren't right. So we keep our mouth shut and they remain secrets.

Fourteen years ago a childhood friend, a college roommate, a brother, a friend-of-a-friend, and I made up the team who pioneered the adventure called Community Christian Church. We started as a team partly because of a shared dream and partly because it sounded like a lot more fun doing it together than doing it on our own. And from the beginning when it was just the five of us until today where there are more than 3000 of us at three campuses, Community Christian Church has always been led by teams. The leadership team I'm a part of today: Jon Ferguson, Troy McMahon, Eric Bramlett, and myself is the finest team I've ever been a part of. During that fourteen years, there have been some things about these teams that I knew were true (I have a hunch we all knew they were true), but we never said them out loud. We might be misunderstood. We might be wrong. So we kept these as secrets.

Now, however, I've either gained enough confidence that they are true, or I'm willing to risk being misunderstood, so I've decided to tell all! Here are four secrets of great team based leadership:

The Secret About The Cause—"We are committed to the cause first and each other second."

Great leadership teams are always clear about the cause. There is no great team that is not clear about the cause. There is no good team that is not clear about the cause. A lot of other stuff may get fuzzy, but the cause is always very clear. At Community Christian Church (CCC) you are hard pressed to find a job description for any staff position. Most people don't really know how much vacation time they are allotted. Most people don't know how many hours their job requires. No one is told how they should dress. (This one is kind of embarrassing) I don't even know the dollar amount on my twice-a-month paycheck.

At CCC there may be a lack of structure and policy, but the one clear thing is the cause. We are clear that our cause is to "help people find their way back to God". We do have a mission statement: "Helping people find their way back to God by reproducing congregations, campuses, and churches that celebrate, connect, and contribute to the dream of God"

Last week my assistant got an e-mail requesting a staff policy manual from another pastor. I love her answer: "our policy is not to make policy". I love that! Why? Because policy is what happens when we cannot get people to do what we want them to do, or when people are not championing a clear cause. Policy occurs when the ethos of a church culture is weak and the cause is not compelling.

Why all this talk about cause? Because I believe our leadership team is committed to die for the cause of "helping people find their way back to God." And when I say "die," I'm not using hyperbole. I mean willing to let our hearts stop beating before we let them stop beating for the cause. The four of us who lead Community Christian Church are willing to die for the cause of "helping people find their way back to God," whether it is one day at a time or all at once.

This is one of the secrets of great lead teams—we are committed to the cause first and each other second. Doesn't it sound disloyal to put the cause first? That is why it is scary to say out loud. That is why it is a secret. The truth is that it is the cause that brings us together and keeps us together. It is when we put other things or other people before the cause that we compromise what God dreamed of in the church and in the great commission. I believe that this is at least 50% of what it takes to create great team based leadership—an uncompromising loyalty to a clear cause. There is never a great lead team where the cause is not clear!

In Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith's great book, Wisdom of Teams, they make it very clear, "the primary objective of the team must be performance results (cause), not becoming a team." One of the great mistakes is forgetting that the cause is what creates community or a team. Ask yourself this, "Why do men always remember athletic teams or army platoons as the place where they experienced the most genuine community? Answer: because there was a clear cause that created community. The cause of winning a game or a tournament created a team. The cause of defeating a common enemy created a team. Why is it so hard for athletes to retire? Listen to their stories and it's not the money they miss as much as the team.

The Acts 2 church was also brought together by a clear cause. It was the cause called the Great Commission that brought about community. That first great leadership team of apostles had a clear cause for which they were willing to die.

The Secret About Community—"We don't know when we are working and when we are playing."

I love the way Eric Bramlett describes working at CCC; "working here feels like recess." I feel the same way. Sure, there are times we fight about who gets to go down the slide first; sure there are times when fights break out; but it is still a playground and it feels a lot more like recess than school. In my 14 years as a part of the leadership team at CCC, I don't remember one day (literally) that I looked at my watch thinking, "when is it going to be 5 o'clock so I can leave work. It sounds trivial, but being a part of the leadership team at CCC is just plain fun! Consequently, I can't tell the difference between working and playing; they feel the same!

When we are looking for new staff, my team mates have been coached to consider the three C's of character, competency and chemistry. For us, chemistry is always the first priority. I'm not saying chemistry should be the first priority, but it is because that's what draws someone into our church culture and draws us to them. Since we hire so many of our staff from within the church, we have a chemistry test that someone must pass called the "parking lot test". The "parking lot test" is comprised of one question we ask ourselves before we put someone on our staff team. The question is, "When we drive up are we glad when we see their car in the parking lot?" If we are excited about seeing their car and knowing we will see them inside, they pass the parking lot test—there is chemistry! If we feel our stomach sink, knowing they are inside, they fail—no chemistry! All this is to say that there is a great chemistry with each of the people on our leadership team. I love playing basketball, traveling, going to Starbucks, and working with every person on our team.

What contributes to the chemistry of a great lead team? First, complimentary gifts help create the chemistry. When I look at the gift mix of our lead team, I see people with creative gifts, administrative gifts, leadership gifts and apostolic gifts. Secondly, a common strategy that we all buy into creates chemistry. And thirdly all four of us can't imagine doing anything else. We have all had offers to do other things in other places for more money, but we just can't imagine doing anything else.

Bottom line: working as a part of our lead team is a lot like recess!

The Secret Characteristics—"We may look crazy or chaotic to you, but there is a method to our madness."

When other churches visit and see the open office concept we use, where almost all of our 35 staff are in the same room with one another, they will often say, "How do you get anything done in the middle of this chaos?" When other teaching pastors find out that we write all our messages as a team of people from not only multiple campuses, but multiple churches using video conferencing they say, "Oh, my style would never work in that environment." I used to be concerned that outsiders may think we are crazy, chaotic or even out of control, but now I understand that as one of our secrets.

One of the secrets of a great leadership team is that, in their relentless pursuit of the cause, they become a community with characteristics that are exactly how God made them. This may appear crazy or chaotic to the outsider, but there is a unique method to their madness. These characteristics are often paradoxical. Here are some of the paradoxes you would see in our lead team…

Highly Collaborative AND Very Competitive

Every person in our lead team is very competitive. We want to win in basketball, we want to win the argument, and we just want to win. But, at the same time we know if we are going to win our part of the world for Christ (back to the cause that creates community), we know it will take collaboration. So, we collaborate on everything. I started to make a list of things that we collaborate on, then it hit me that the much shorter list would be those things on which we don't collaborate.

Very Compassionate AND Comfortable with Conflict

Lencioni, in his book, Five Dysfunctions of a Team tells us that healthy teams are comfortable with conflict. We are definitely comfortable with conflict—confronting, challenging, debating and sometimes yelling (and later apologizing). We are totally comfortable with conflict. But, I also know that when I need a group to rally around me, they will be there for me. There is no doubt about it—my team loves me!

Loves Spontaneity AND Wants Accountability

"Lead with a yes" is what you hear from our leadership team. We love being flexible and spontaneous enough that we lead with a 'yes' to new ideas. The new idea could be anything from going to Steak-N-Shake for shakes during our lead team meeting to starting a new service in a few weeks…we love leading with the 'yes' and spontaneity. That spontaneity however is balanced by our desire (that might be a stretch … I think we just know we need it) for accountability. We want accountability for how we are doing versus the goals we set for ourselves a year ago. We want and expect accountability for the ministries we oversee. We want accountability for our budget areas.

To the outsider we may look like an overly competitive team who is constantly fighting about our goals, but come back next week and we may look like this highly collaborative group in love with one another. To the outsider it may look crazy but, it's just how God made us and it works!

The Secret For Creating Culture—"We REALLY are going to change the world."

It is the lead team more than any other team that will create the culture and the ethos for a church. When you have a lead team that is clear about the cause; willing to die for the cause; and where serving feels like recess you have created a church culture where people start to believe that we REALLY are going to change the world!

When people get wind of that kind of opportunity, tremendous sacrifices become normal. Tim, a leader in our church came to us and told us that he would like to take early retirement and work for the church without a salary for one year. After that year was over, he wanted us to evaluate him and, if we felt he added enough value to our church, then we would hire him, if not, then he would find another job and continue as a leader in the church. We said, "Sure!" (Talk about a deal you can't refuse!) One year later, Tim proved himself so invaluable that we brought him on staff and now he oversees hundreds of unpaid servants and all of our ministry teams. I could also tell you about Tammy, or about John, or Tim, or…tremendous sacrifice is normal.

Why do people make such tremendous sacrifices over and over and over again? Because of a belief (that starts with the lead team) that this might just be the church that actually does change the world! There is a vibe in our church that we are up to something big and something special. This is not something that is talked about in a prideful manner. In fact, we are very careful to make sure that God gets all the credit.

It starts with a lead team that is the micro-culture of the rest of the church. They are very clear about the cause; willing to die for the cause; when they serve it feels like recess, and together they believe that they REALLY are going to change the world! Ok, there I've said the secrets out loud. What do you think?

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