What's the Foundation of a Team?

I haven’t always been a big fan of teams. My perception of teams was what is commonly known as the 80/20 rule—20% of the people are doing 80% of the work. I generally equated “team” with “committee” and saw both as sterile ground for finding solutions and fertile forums for discord. It was not until I arrived at UBA in 1990 that I encountered a learning culture that differentiated between a group of people on task and a truly high performance team. 

Team resources were scarce in the early 1990s. The Fifth Discipline was published in 1990. The Wisdom of Teams, now recognized as a classic that's still in print, wasn’t published until 1993. The UBA staff began to read and apply principles from these and other books on leadership. The term “high performance team” entered our UBA team vocabulary and culture.

I am convinced that healthy, skilled, highly functional teams are essential if we are to face the challenges that are before us.

We began to identify differences between a group of people who simply came to work at the same place and a group of people who were a “high performance team.” We worked hard to identify and apply characteristics and values that formed and empowered a true team. I am convinced that healthy, skilled, highly functional teams are essential if we are to face the challenges that are before us.

Bringing it Together

As the UBA teams explored many resources over the years, we came to identify nine key elements of a strong, healthy, and high performance team: Spiritual Vitality, Shared Vision, Personal Awareness, Diversity, Trust, Empowerment, Competence, Dialogue, and Learning. The list is not exhaustive and sometimes the name shifts a bit depending on the audience, but we determined that these elements were at the core of great teams. 

Model for high-performance teams

Model for high-performance teams

In this first part of a three-part series, we’ll explore the three elements that I believe must be in place before other characteristics can be fully anchored in the team: Spiritual Vitality, Shared Vision, and Personal Awareness.

Imagine the elements of team as blocks arranged in a type of pyramid. Learning is at the top because without it, you can not make progress or overcome failures. Shared Vision and Personal Awareness are the foundational blocks upon which the others build. Spiritual Vitality covers and encircles all.

1. Spiritual Vitality

Spiritual Vitality is the element that is usually missing in books targeting the business audience.  Yet, as followers of Christ, we knew that the spiritual component was one that we could not afford to omit or neglect if we wanted to be high performance in the work of the Kingdom. 

The importance of spiritual vitality for teams committed to accomplishing vision and goals that glorify God is clear: Jesus says, 

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV) 

Nothing. You can do nothing. Those are serious words. Ones that underscore the importance of maintaining spiritual vitality on a team that is committed to accomplishing the purposes of God.

Much of the training and education related to teams or high performance targets the business world. There is much to learn from the business world, but there are still knowledge gaps to fill. As followers of Christ, we must apply our understanding of Scripture to further understand how these practices can be applied in our work for the Kingdom. We found that there are scriptural principles underlying the core team values that we embraced.

2. Shared Vision

The importance of shared vision is disturbingly illustrated in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The people had a vision to reach the heavens. A common language gave them the means to communicate this vision. They developed a strategy to build a city with a tower that would reach the heavens. They had the means, “bricks and tar for mortar.” They shared a compelling desire, “so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered.” 

This shared vision did not please God, but he recognized the power of it. God said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6 NIV) The Lord confused their language so that they could no longer implement their flawed shared vision. “Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them” is a powerful statement about the strength of shared vision.

A high-performance team that accomplishes God’s purposes must start with spiritual vitality, shared vision, and personal awareness.

3. Personal Awareness

You might not think that personal awareness is a critical element of a great team—unless you’ve been on a team with a person who isn’t self aware. She isn’t aware that her previous work experience causes her to distrust the motives of others. He isn’t aware that he interrupts and talks over others without listening to them. She isn’t aware that her only response to conflict is withdrawal. He isn’t aware that he has only two responses to criticism—defend or attack. They are not aware that they’re always late, make excuses, are intolerant, dismissive, closed minded, prejudiced, unskilled, ill-equipped . . . . The list goes on. You know that person. You know how negatively they impact the team

We all have blind spots. We all have weaknesses and shortcomings. We will never in this life achieve perfection nor complete knowledge of ourselves. Personal Awareness doesn’t have to be 100%. As children of God, we are blessed to know that our Creator knows us fully and intimately.

Psalm 139 teaches us that God searches us and knows us, he discerns our thoughts, and he has created our “inmost being.”  He knows us 100%. He knows what is yet hidden within us and loves us unconditionally. This allows us to accept who we are and courageously address our weaknesses and shortcomings without defensiveness. That willingness to identify and address a shortcoming without defensiveness is a critical building block of team.

A high performance team that accomplishes God’s purposes needs these three foundational elements firmly anchored before attempting to develop the remaining elements. Without spiritual vitality, shared vision, and personal awareness, it is detrimental and unproductive to attempt to move forward. Once these elements are in place, the remaining elements can begin to build upon and support one another.

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.