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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

15 May '08

Characteristics of High Impact Teams

Posted by T.J. Addington in communication, ministry teams, organizational alignment


High Impact Teams are groups of individuals who are committed to the same mission.
A team is not a team because it is called a team. Healthy teams are based on a clear, definable, well-articulated, passionately held, common mission. In fact, if there is not passionate ownership of a common mission you cannot have a High Impact Team.

One of the key reasons teams do not function well is the absence of a clearly defined mission that all are committed to. Many churches and ministries do not have a clear mission. In the absence of clarity of mission, a team will find some other glue to hold it together but it will not be very effective because it does not have a central focus. Whatever your team, the glue that holds you together if you want to see significant results of your work must be a well articulated mission that you are passionate about. Mission is everything!

High Impact Teams are committed to alignment around a common mission. A common dysfunction of ministries is the lack of alignment between various departments. It is not unusual in church staff meetings for members to spend time reporting the happenings of their respective ministries without any concrete alignment between them. They essentially operate in silos, doing their own thing, oblivious to what others are doing in their ministries and while all the parts may be 'good' they are also 'isolated' and not part of a whole. Staff member are focused only on their slice and are not interested in doing the hard work of ensuring alignment.

Healthy teams reject that kind of silo mentality because it keeps the organization from being great and from maximizing its God-given potential. It takes more time and energy to be aligned than unaligned but the results of alignment around a common mission are a quantum leap from the outcomes that results from disparate, unaligned ministries. Good leaders and teams take the harder road because it yields greater ministry impact. A characteristic of good leaders is that they insist on ministry alignment around common mission.

Healthy teams commit to common values, practices and commitments of the organization at large. Integration means that all members are committed to a set of common factors. In the mission organization that I lead we have a common mission, a set of ten guiding principles, a central ministry focus and a defined culture. No one gets into leadership in the organization today without complete buy-in with these four areas. In fact, a person cannot join the organization in a ministry position without agreement in these four areas. Healthy teams commit to common ownership of the organizational values, practices and commitments.

Healthy teams believe in the complimentary use of gifts. Why bother with team? A central reason to care about team is that healthy teams get far more done in a more creative and synergistic manner than any one person could ever do alone. I am fascinated that God designed the senior leadership of the church (elders, overseers) as teams and not as a single individual. When the early church sent missionaries, they sent a team (Acts 13). When the early church designed a ministry to take care of the widows and the poor (deacons) it created a team. This is a recognition that God gives various gifts to different people and when they work in concert with one another, the team is at its strongest.

Good teams are not simply a group of people indiscriminately thrown together for the sake of 'team.' They are carefully made up of people with differing gifts that, when combined, creates something far more powerful than any one of the individuals could accomplish on their own.

Healthy teams think strategically and are execution oriented. Healthy team members focus on developing the best-possible strategies for the organization at large so that its mission is fulfilled. While there is an important element of simple communication and coordination in team meetings, the real work of teams is that of strategizing together on the best way to move the organization (or their part of the organization) forward. Team meetings should have a significant portion of time devoted to current problems that need solving, opportunities that can be leveraged, and planning for the future. This is always done in the context of the mission, values, and preferred future of the organization.

While some organizations are high on planning, they are often short on execution - or getting things done. The bottom line for good teams is that they are results-oriented. Team leaders must ensure that discussion regularly comes to concrete proposals with accountability for who is responsible for doing what.

Healthy team members allow others to speak into their ministries, methods and results. This is a logical extension of the descriptions we have given for teams. Because it is all about mission! Because all that we do is in alignment. Because we believe in the complimentary use of gifts, and because we care more about the whole than we do our piece of the ministry, we are ready and willing to allow others to speak into our area of ministry involvement without being defensive or protective.


Many talk team but do not live team. And the strongest reason not to live team is the cost it incurs. It demands our time, a commitment to a common mission, commitment to one another and alignment with others, a release of our independence, a focus that is wider than our personal ministry, and a submission of our gifts for the good of the whole.

Healthy teams have healthy leaders who love to develop, empower and release team members. Healthy teams are not possible without a healthy leader who has enough self confidence to bring around him or her other highly competent individuals without being threatened by their strength. Healthy leaders are not defensive or threatened. They have developed an attitude of 'nothing to prove, nothing to lose.' They are empowering rather than controlling. Good leaders hire good people, clearly define the boundaries of their work, and empower and release them to get the job done.

Healthy leaders are not autocratic but believe in and practice collegial, collaborative leadership. They allow robust dialogue and debate and help the group come to common conclusions and commitments. For those of us who lead teams, there is no substitute for continuing to grow as healthy, effective, empowering leaders. Others love to work for leaders who have those characteristics and will be exceedingly loyal to them.

Healthy teams are made up of individuals who are emotionally healthy. Beware of who you put on your team! Healthy individuals will make team work a joy. Unhealthy individuals will kill an otherwise good team. There is a growing awareness of the need to hire people who are competent, who have character and who fit the culture of our organizations. However we pay too little attention to the EQ of those we recruit to be members of our teams.

Healthy teams are deliberately created. They are created to maximize the effectiveness of the team through the right set of gifting and need in order to create the synergy, alignment, energy, wisdom and skills necessary to carry out the team's mandate.

When you consider adding people to a team consider a number of questions:
  • Does this person have good EQ (emotional intelligence)?
  • Can this person play at or above the level that the other members of this team play at?
  • Do they have a skill(s) that will complement the team?
  • Is this person a team player?
  • Can they contribute to the whole rather than simply guard their turf?
  • Do they fully embrace the mission and values of the organization?
  • Do the other members of the team think they will fit well?
  • Do they have the expertise needed for the ministry in which they will participate?
  • Do they understand the implications of joining your team and the expectations for them as a member?
Healthy team meetings are carefully planned and executed. There are few things more irritating than to be required to attend meetings that are carelessly planned and poorly led. Leaders effectively set the tone for their team by the care they model in designing meaningful agendas, keeping the meeting on target and ensuring that the time is well spent. When this is not the case, the message to team members is that 'this is not that important,' and they will not take their part seriously.

Too many leaders under-prepare for team meetings considering them a distraction from more important issues. Team time is not an ancillary part of a leader's priorities. It is central. Team time is where leaders remind people of mission. It is where they plan, solve problems, dream, and whiteboard around the preferred future of the organization - or the slice of the organization represented by the team they lead.

Healthy teams encourage robust dialogue between members. One of the reasons team leaders must have a healthy EQ is that healthy teams encourage honest, frank dialogue about all issues with the exception of personal attacks. In our organization we constantly say we want no elephants in the room, and where they may exist, they need to be named and put on the table.

This does not work for insecure leaders who easily become defensive. One can judge the relative health of a team by the number of elephants in the room - the number of topics that are instinctively known to be out of bounds. The ability to have honest and frank discussion without personal attack is a sign that trust has been established between members allowing them to evaluate one another's areas of responsibility without taking umbrage of one another.

Robust dialogue is the ability to freely discuss any issue of organizational or ministry importance with candor while refraining from personal attacks or driving hidden agendas in order to further the effectiveness and mission of the organization.