5 Key Elements at the Core of an Effective Team

How many licks are there to the center to a Tootsie Pop? No matter how hard various cartoon creatures have tried, they have all failed to slowly make to the candy center. Because it's the center—that tootsie roll (or bubble gum) core—that everyone loves. It's that core that makes a Tootsie Pop what it is. Otherwise, it's just another run-of-the-mill lollipop.

Likewise, there are certain elements that make an effective team distinguishable. In a recent article, I discussed the necessary foundation of a healthy and functional team. Now, I want to continue in that vein to focus in on 5 key elements to move forward: diversity, trust, competence, empowerment, and dialogue. These five elements interact to form the core of the team pyramid while Shared Vision and Personal Awareness form the foundation with Learning at the point.

1. Diversity

Diversity is essential to a well-equipped, balanced, and effective team. Varying points of view, perspectives, approaches, personalities, and skills bring strength. As the leader, your responsibility is to cultivate diversity and a deep and honest appreciation for it.

A big-picture visionary may not enjoy having to address the details and resources involved in the implementation of the vision, but the team is richer and better equipped through having the full picture. 

The “task-oriented” implementer may be impatient with the need to engage and respond to the more relational needs of the “people-oriented” person but both bring essential value and balance to the team—especially if they can work together.

 Diversity may emerge in many ways: whether we approach a problem practically or theoretically, the way we engage challenge with thoughtful caution or joyful abandon, whether we use facts or intuition as first resource we access for drawing conclusions, if we tend to think of the task or the person first, or the cultural, ethnic, and family traditions that guide us. 

I Corinthians 12:17 uses the metaphor of the physical body to instruct us in the need to not only accept but also to deeply value diversity. How ridiculous, ineffective, and limiting it would be for our body to be one big eye, or ear, or nose. In this same way, we must come to understand and embrace the value of diversity. To tolerate diversity with sighs and rolled eyes is far from adequate. A healthy, high performance team will strive for diversity and all the richness of process, experience and expertise that it brings.

2. Competence

Competence is essential. You would think there is little need to address the value of competence on a high-performance team. And yet, we often overlook the need for ongoing skills development and training—to the detriment of the individual and the team. 

Certainly, we must enlist people who share our vision and core values. We must also enlist emotionally and spiritually healthy people who will strengthen the team. But on top of all these things, we must also have team members who are skilled, gifted, and equipped for the challenge at hand. We must be continuously aware of what skills are required and have a plan to develop them.

As followers of Christ, competence involves more than learned skills. Spiritual gifts also impact our competence. Romans 12:4-8 makes clear that “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (v.6). We are instructed to exercise those gifts to our full ability with full confidence that we have a place in the body of Christ. 

The same applies to teams. When teams assign responsibilities in a way that allows each team member to function utilizing both spiritual gifts and unique personal skills, energy is directed toward achieving the vision. Being forced to work consistently outside your gifts, strengths, and areas of expertise requires an enormous expenditure of energy. Doing this is personally exhausting and detracts from overall team effectiveness. 

If a team member has no gift for administration, it does not serve the individual or the team to give that person a primary responsibility to organize and implement events. If a team member has no gift for teaching, it makes little sense to burden them with the responsibility of the new members’ orientation class. 

Thoughtful matching of spiritual gifts with learned skills will result in a higher level of overall competency in your teams. As a leader—no matter how many vacancies you need to fill or how much work needs to be done—it is your responsibility not to force an “ear” to be a “nose” for an extended period of time. 

Your team will be stronger, healthier, happier, and more effective in the long run. 

3. Trust

Trust-based relationships and interactions among the team are essential to the success of the team. Indeed, competence is an important part of developing that trust. It is hard to trust someone who can’t or doesn’t do his job. Even more important is confidence in one another’s motives. 

Philippians 2:3-4 teaches us the most foundational principle of all. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (NIV) Trust is inspired by the conviction that you have my back and I have yours. 

Trust is inspired by the conviction that you will never throw me under the bus or use my shortcoming against me or to make yourself look good. It hangs on the idea that you will never usurp the spotlight as an individual and are as committed to my success and well-being as you are to your own—or even more so. 

A biblical interpretation of team requires that each of us looks out for the others. 

4 Empowerment

Empowerment is almost impossible and certainly ill-advised without the previously-mentioned necessities—shared vision, personal awareness, competence, and trust. With these elements firmly anchored in the team, empowerment can be successful. Empowerment is more than delegating, though that is a part of it. 

Empowerment is sometimes framed as shared leadership. It involves trusting that competent, committed team members share a vision and are equally committed to the achievement of that vision. The leader does not bear the sole responsibility to protect, share, or achieve the vision. 

If the vision is truly shared by a team that is well-equipped and honest with one another, they will take action to pursue the vision whether or not the leader is in the room. Members of the team are empowered to make decisions and respond to challenges—individually and as a team—because they are competent and committed to the achievement of the team vision. When the leaders trust the team and the team trusts each other, empowerment is possible.

This type of leadership is reflected in the type of leadership that Christ demonstrated, sometimes framed as servant leadership. Christ led by example. In John, he washes the feet of the disciples, making it clear that they must not hold themselves above others. Surely, this scene is in the mind of the author of Philippians in chapters 2:5-7 as he writes of the attitude that we must have toward one another: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage . . .” 

Whatever power, influence, or status that we have on a team is never to be used to advance our own causes. It is especially incumbent upon the leader to strengthen the team by empowering others.

5. Dialogue

When both the foundational and these core elements of the team pyramid are in place, true dialogue can occur. It is dialogue that yields the type of learning that is essential to the continued effectiveness of a team. 

Dialogue centers around the exchange of ideas and the exploration of ideas and assumptions. It requires the ability to ask questions, listen carefully, and respond thoughtfully. Because skillful dialogue is so closely intertwined with the ability of a team to learn and succeed, it will be explored in-depth in part 3 along with the final team element: Learning.

Dian Kidd is UBA's Associate Director and has served UBA for almost 30 years. She guides the day-to-day team actions as team leader for UBA's consultant team and oversees daily implementation of data management, communications, strategy, and inner-office workings.