If you’re a leader, you know the incredible value of a great team, and you also know the heartache and exhaustion of a team that doesn’t function well.

Silos, lack of clarity, unhealthy competition, division, blame, politics… you know the kinds of things that destroy good teamwork.

Have you ever wondered how that happens?

You could jump right to sin nature, but great church teams are subject to sin nature too, so that’s not it.

You never hire a staff member or select an incompetent volunteer leader, at odds with the vision, divisive, immature, political, and can’t get along with people. Right? Right.

But teams break down.

How?

Teamwork breaks down largely due to a lack of intentional effort to communicate clear vision, values, expectations, and cultural norms and behaviors, along with the lack of trust, grace, and encouragement.

There are no perfect teams, but the potential to be a great team is available to any leader who is willing to invest the intentional effort, make tough decisions, develop the people well, and genuinely care about each person.

A good question that often comes up is:

If I want to improve our teamwork, do I start by cleaning up the problems or investing in the solutions?” 

Both.

But let’s break that down. 

You must begin by clearly cleaning up some of the mess, or the rest of the team won’t believe anything is really going to change. In fact, you lose credibility as the leader if you allow unhealthy behavior to continue.

But then begin to add intentional investment into the things that help the team become both healthy and productive.

Great teams are both healthy and productive. One without the other soon becomes a nightmare.

Volumes have been written on teamwork, but for this post, let me offer you a seven-point framework as a guide to building a better team.

7 Traits:

1) Trust, morale, and taking personal responsibility are high.

The foundation of great teamwork is trust. If team members don’t trust each other, and especially if they don’t trust those who lead them, teamwork will never flourish.

Teamwork without trust is like driving a car with an eight-cylinder engine, but only five cylinders are working. You can still go forward, but slower, with much greater wear and effort.

High morale involves many factors, but big picture, it’s about trust and results. You must have both. Trust each other and get some wins under your belt. (You can read much more about how to build morale here.

For your team to experience trust and success, each person must take personal responsibility to do their part. Accountability is essential.

2) Insecurity, blame, and politics are low.

As a coach and consultant of many years, it’s easy to spot teamwork killers like insecurity, blame, and politics. The fascinating thing is that when it’s in your own team, it’s not so easy to spot because it’s part of your environment.

When conversations leak defensiveness and blame ranks higher than results, teamwork always breaks down.

Start by calling out this behavior.

Not in anger, but in a way that clearly communicates the behavior that is not acceptable. And, not in the form of a threat, but team members need to know they can lose their seat on the bus if there is no change.

How is that not a threat? Because it’s their choice.

None of those three things are about skill or competence; they are all about attitude.

Next, develop, coach, and encourage!

Call out the bad. Invest in what is good.

3) Honesty and ownership about flaws and problems are open and evident.

One of the high marks of a great team is that they own their own stuff.

Blame, cover-ups, and finger-pointing never solve problems on a team.

  • If a ministry isn’t working, own it, and make it better.
  • If you make a mistake, own it, and do your best not to make the same mistake.
  • If the church isn’t growing, own it, and pray and work hard to regain momentum.
  • If the morale of the team is low, own it, and start today to improve it.

You get the idea.

Healthy teams are open and honest about their flaws, and they get up every day to make things better.

4) Commitment to the vision and each other is unwavering.

I didn’t know what “I’ve got your six” meant until a few years ago when one of my prayer partners texted that phrase to me after he read one of my prayer requests.

It originated in WWI with fighter pilots referring to the rear of their plane as “their six.” (Six o’clock is straight behind you and sets up the best strike zone.) It later evolved to being used anywhere in combat, like “I’ve got your six.” Meaning, obviously, I’ve got your back, I’ve got you covered.

“I’ve got your six” kind of commitment and loyalty to each other on the team is paramount.

Team commitment and loyalty, however, must be directed; they need vision. A common goal is required so that everyone on the team is headed in the same direction for the same reason.

That’s the only authentic way to engender that level of commitment and loyalty.

5) Spiritual authenticity is natural, not an add on.

Spiritual authenticity among your team does not infer spiritual flawlessness; it means your team naturally pursues their relationship with Jesus and realize consistent growth in spiritual maturity.

Spiritual authenticity indicates honest self-awareness about strengths and shortcomings regarding your walk with God and a humble willingness to make spiritual growth a central focus.

Let’s make this practical. Spiritual authenticity means that prayer isn’t an add-on to your life; it’s core to your life.

Another practical way that spiritual authenticity reveals itself is the receptivity of your heart to hear God’s voice and obey.

Here are three simple questions that will tell you much.

  • Does your team pray together?
  • Do groups of your team pray together other than to start or close a meeting?
  • Is one to one prayer common on your team?

Please don’t let these three questions produce any guilt or “check box” kind of behavior. Just use them as a prompt to ask if prayer is where you want it to be amongst your team.

6) Work and play integrate well together.

It might sound like work and play don’t belong together, but they really do.

Play at work doesn’t mean goofing off; it means a playful spirit, laughter, and a sense of enjoying each other while you work.

Yes, some might take advantage of it, and instead of a few minutes over a cup of coffee, 30 minutes later, they start working again, but that’s not most people. Lead to the whole group and speak directly to those who may take advantage of it.

Sometimes flat out play is good too!

There are dozens of possibilities, from simple things like out for ice cream to a little basketball out in the parking lot.

Your team will actually get more done with a playful spirit, and they will enjoy it more!

7) Accountability is high, expectations are clear, and performance is strong.

All teams want to win, and that’s only possible with clear vision, accountability to goals and expectations, and everyone doing their best.

Does everyone on your team know the vision and exactly what their role is along with what is expected?

Three practical and important questions for you and your team:

  • Does each person have a clear knowledge of their expectations?
  • Are you developing your team in their needed leadership skills and providing consistent coaching?
  • Are you willing to have tough conversations when needed?