by Rick Love
For more than 20 years, I’ve experienced “the agony and the ecstasy” of team life, both as a member and as a leader. Over that time, I’ve noticed that most teams go through four stages before they become productive.
For more than 20 years, I’ve experienced “the agony and the ecstasy” of team life, both as a member and as a leader. Over that time, I’ve noticed that most teams go through four stages before they become productive: forming, storming, norming, and performing.1 Anticipating these four stages enhances team dynamics, reduces the pain of team life, and helps us persevere so that we can be fruitful in our ministry.
We should note here that these stages are also cyclical. Teams go through ever-deepening levels of storming, norming, and performing. Individuals may be storming with one teammate and performing with another.
FORMING AND STORMING
1. Forming. The beginning of team life. Expectations are unclear. Members test the water. Interactions are superficial. This is the honeymoon stage.
2. Storming. Conflict and resistance to the group’s task and structure. The team is struggling through its differences.
There are healthy and unhealthy types of storming. We must work through the healthy types and minimize the unhealthy types (which, since we live in a fallen world, are unavoidable). As a team leader and coach, I have found that conflict usually occurs in five major areas: character problems, gifting fit, authority issues, vision and values dissonance, and personality and cultural differences. However, if dealt with biblically, these five stumbling blocks of storming can be turned into five stepping stones of performing.
FIVE STUMBLING BLOCKS
1. Character problems. Even Jesus faced character problems on his team (Mark 10:35-45). Character problems—lack of godliness, servanthood, and sanctification—are usually the greatest hindrance to team life. While character is never fully developed, certain aspects of our character must be developed adequately for a team to perform. Through the Word and prayer, teams need to grow in the following two areas.
Each team member must see Matthew 7:3-5 as the first step to overcoming conflict. Teams must cultivate a deep sense of spiritual responsibility. They must be committed to spiritual introspection, getting the log out of their own eye first. Another key to mature character is a commitment to peacemaking as outlined in Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-17.
2. Gifting fit. Acts 6:1-7 indicates that the Hebrew widows were being taken care of while the Hellenistic widows were being ignored. So the apostles set guidelines to choose new leaders for this ministry.
A team needs to have people doing the ministry that best fits their gifts. The apostles needed to remain focused on praying and ministering the Word. But they also needed to serve the whole body. So they delegated the ministry of serving Hellenistic widows to those who were motivated and gifted to do so.
The following chart contrasts the differences between character problems and gifting fit.
3. Authority issues. Four New Testament passages directly address leadership and followership: Mark 10:35-45; 1 Cor. 16:15-16; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17.
These passages show that leaders are tempted to abuse their authority. Leaders can be closed-minded, overbearing, or too demanding. So they are exhorted not to lord it over their followers, but to humbly serve them (Mark 10:42, 43; 1 Pet. 5:3). Moreover, godly leaders are hard workers and teachers who are accountable to God for their work. They must serve their followers—praying, encouraging, resourcing, equipping, and empowering. The wise leader receives reproof (Prov. 12:1;15). Followers will follow their leader if they sense the leader is serving them and listening to them.
Followers, for their part, are tempted to rebel against authority. The Bible calls them to esteem those in leadership and submit to them. Followers must cultivate loyalty without being blindly loyal. They must develop what I call a “critical loyalty” to the leader—in the sense of asking hard questions in love, but without a critical spirit.
Submission to leadership is a very unpopular yet biblical teaching, but receptive, servant leaders and critically loyalfollowers make dynamic and productive teams.
4. Vision and values dissonance.A clash between what people say they believe about the direction and distinctives of an organization and what they really believe is a chronic problem. Too many teams lack leaders who know where they are headed. Too many churches and church-planting teams experience unnecessary division because the vision and values are not clear.
Some leaders have told me that their team really doesn’t believe in its stated vision and values. Team members have confirmed this. Vision and values dissonance often occurs through a lack of clarity on the part of the team leader or lack integrity on the part of the team member.
The team that performs has vision and values congruence. Members are committed to both the direction and the distinctives of the organization. This process usually takes place three ways: clarity, communication, and commitment.
The leader must know what the vision and values are, what is essential and what is negotiable. But clarity is not enough. Through word and deed the leader must communicate the vision and the values. This also involves direction from the Lord and feedback from the team. Jesus is the head of the church and thus the head of your team. As he guides your team, he will sometimes lead you into new directions and new distinctives. He will expose blind spots and show you new things. He will frequently help you make explicit what is already implicit in your vision and values. Part of the Lord’s guidance comes through team members giving fresh input. The team’s vision and values must continually be sharpened and refined. This process usually takes place in dialogue (communication) with the Lord and the team.
The third aspect of developing vision and values congruence is commitment. Understanding the direction and distinctives of the team is not enough. Commitment is the goal. The team needs to be wholeheartedly committed to the vision (what the team is trying to accomplish) and the values (how the team seeks to accomplish its task).
5. Personality and/or cultural differences. God has created us all with particular gifts and temperaments. We all have different personalities and styles of learning. Biblical authors reflect this same kind of diversity. Every personality has its unique strengths and weaknesses, but each must submit to Scripture. The Word of God cuts across every personality type, affirming its strength and correcting its weakness. Introverts are called to sacrificial love even if they don’t like reaching out beyond themselves. And extroverts are called to humility, even if they are tempted to parade around like a peacock. I’ll never forget the time my wife and I were counseling another couple. The woman vehemently objected to our counsel because it wasn’t natural for her personality type. We reminded her that our personality type never excuses us from obedience to Scripture.
Nevertheless, personality differences must be acknowledged and appreciated for healthy team life. Unnecessary conflicts are caused by frustration or misunderstanding over this. Personality tests like the Meyers-Briggs (also in the book Please Understand Me) help us understand the strengths and weaknesses of each type, as well as how the different personalities can best work together.2
The Bible also affirms cultural diversity. The New Testament describes how the gospel spread from a Jewish culture to a multicultural world. In this transition, God did not make Gentile churches live up to Jewish cultural expectations (Acts 15). Apparently this ethnic diversity will remain throughout eternity, where people from every tongue, tribe, and nation worship the Lord in nonstop, exuberant praise (Rev. 7:9-12).
Every culture (like every personality) has its unique strengths and weaknesses as well. The Sundanese of Indonesia are hospitable, gentle, and patient (virtues lacking in most Americans). But they can be sorely lacking in forgiveness and honesty. Again, the Bible affirms cultural values that are right and correctsthose that are wrong.
There are cultural differences, however, that are neither right nor wrong. There are different styles and different preferences. Americans value privacy (due to individualism), whereas Asians value community. The direct approach of Americans to problem solving is often offensive to Asians, who value a more noncon-frontational approach. Anyone on a multicultural team must understand the differing values of the people on the team.
Important as they are, however, personality and cultural differences are not fundamental to team dynamics. Godly character is. If we have a biblical understanding of godly character (displayed in the team’s commitment to peacemaking), then personality and cultural differences will be seen in their proper perspective—as helpful tools for enhancing team dynamics.
NORMING AND PERFORMING
3. Norming. A sense of group cohesion develops. Members accept the team and develop norms for resolving conflicts, making decisions, and completing assignments.
Norming takes place in three ways. First, as storming is overcome, the team becomes more relaxed and steady. Conflicts are no longer as frequent and no longer throw the team off course. Second, norming occurs when the team develops a routine. Scheduled team meetings give a sense of predictability and orientation. Third, norming is cultivated through team-building events and activities, such as celebrations, public and private affirmation, retreats, and fun get-togethers.
The team’s goal, however, is performing, not just norming. Yet, norming is a necessary transition stage. A team can’t perform if it doesn’t norm.
4. Performing. This is the payoff stage. The group has developed its relationships, structure, and purpose. It’s beginning to tackle the task. The stumbling blocks of storming have been turned into stepping stones of performing.
1. I first heard of these four stages years ago from a YWAM leader. I have borrowed the four stages concept, but the ideas in this article are original.
2. The Meyers-Briggs temperament analysis, the DISC work style profile and a book by Gary Smalley and John Trent, The Two Sides of Love, are three practical tools to help you develop personality acceptance.
Three books are especially helpful in developing cultural acceptance:
Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986
American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective by Edward C. Stewart
Duane Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
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