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Chemistry

In his final article on The Three Cs of leadership, Ray Evans says leaders need to work hard at making sure there is good Chemistry in a team. That will mean making sure every voice is heard and recognising that people work in different ways.

Chemistry primary image

The first two articles in this series looked at Character and Capability.

Chemistry. What does that mean? Do we all have to click as best buddies? Or do we have to be a team of sycophants, sucking up to the senior pastor?

Of course not!

At its heart, chemistry is all about teams functioning well. It’s about keeping teams from being toxic, helping them when they plateau and, above all, enabling them to go forward with a gospel impact.

Good chemistry will create teams where people want to serve alongside others, and where success is defined in terms of God being honoured and people being blessed.

Team culture is an important element to this good chemistry. Recent work on civility has pointed out how any form of rudeness, abruptness or being ignored is incredibly harmful to team morale.1 Senior leaders can set a crucial tone by welcoming everyone, and especially by personally saying goodbye to each as they leave.2 Such little kindnesses are easily neglected.

And let’s not follow the world in saying unkind things behind the back of an absent group member and then hiding behind the ‘banter’ label. That will ruin team chemistry.

Creating Trust

Lencioni argues that the first element of strong team culture is the ability to speak with candour to one another.3

The lack of candour in conversations leads to a lack of trust. To create trust, people need to know that it is safe to challenge both conventional wisdom and the senior leader’s opinion. Good chemistry will mean that no one’s comments are demeaned, even if the senior leader may still need to overrule some people to reach a final decision.

Trust leads to greater accountability, and that means we’re more like to achieve the results we are aiming for.

Emotional Intelligence

In my first article on The Three Cs, I underscored the importance of emotional intelligence. It comes to the forefront again here. Recent research has emphasised the important role that introverts play in good teamwork if they are embraced and not made to feel inadequate and compared to the life-and-soul-of-the-party extroverts.4

Good chemistry also means that all the ‘Five Voices’ must be heard.5 Pioneers may only be 5% of the general population but they speak three times louder than nurturers. A commitment to good chemistry will mean that all recognise the importance of speaking in ways that don’t alienate others.

For example, if a pioneer demands that a member of the team ‘man up’, it will only confirm a nurturer’s suspicion that pioneers don’t care. A guardian voice spoken in a censorious tone can mean others don’t feel comfortable in making a contribution. Better ways of using our words are vital if teams are to have good chemistry.

Emotional intelligence will help everyone on the team to understand how they are heard by others, so that they can make adjustments for the sake of the whole team. That is good team chemistry in action.

Use Team Tools

The CARE plan is a key team tool. Its usage can improve team chemistry, for at its heart is a mechanism by which all voices are empowered. Telling stories about how the mission is being accomplished, detailed discussions about how we are going to achieve the team’s goals, reviewing together the progress we are making, and group discussion about how we might better be equipped, are ways in which each and every person in the team is allowed to contribute.

A good chair’s main role is to encourage all to contribute. It doesn’t mean that team meetings are just talking shops with no outcomes, but rather that the action points are a result of whole-group consultation and agreement.

Good chemistry is not all about being ‘pally’ with everyone either.

Human beings are incredibly varied in temperament, outlook, experiences, humour, background, aspirations, and preferences. It can be hard to predict who will click with whom. That people have an inexplicable affinity to some, not others, is just how life is.

Take the Lord Jesus; John was closest, his brother James, and Peter, were good friends too, and everyone else in the Twelve felt incredibly loved. But clearly there were different kinds of relationships with the Lord amongst the Twelve. Good teams don’t see this as a threat, but are glad in one another’s friendships.

Working Pace

Another element that helps good team chemistry is recognising what we might label, ‘speed awareness’. Good teams embrace different work rates, varying capacities and variable gifts.

Life circumstances change all the time which is a crucial factor in wider church leadership teams. When my four children were teenagers I needed to help them with homework, using up a lot of evening hours in a way I could scarcely have imagined when they were all tucked up in bed by 7 o’clock as young children. At this point, my contribution to the overall work of the team had to be different from what it had been. But I wasn’t relegated to the category of ‘less valuable’.

It helps the team to recognise that its members will be serving at different rates, some working longer hours, others in concentrated periods. But, ‘All contributions will be gladly received’, without a superior/inferior culture arising (see David’s courageous wisdom on this in 1 Samuel 30:9-10, 21-25).

Team Roles

The final factor which will help improve team chemistry is to have clarity about team roles. Good chemistry can’t develop if the 70/30 role is broken.

If a worker spends 70% of their time doing a part of a job they love, they’ll knuckle down to the 30% that ‘just has to be done’. The other way round and it won’t work. In the long term the individual will feel frustrated, others will sense that, and even be critical that work isn’t being afforded the priority it should have, and team chemistry will suffer.

Clarity, according to Lencioni, is the key ingredient to team health, and nothing trumps team health. Not performance, not recognition, not even team growth.6

It’s why Jesus was so insistent on the training of the Twelve. He exemplified what servant leadership looks and feels like. He provided every reason why team chemistry should have been good (but verses such as Matt 20:20-28 show us that teams, made up of people like us, are work in progress!).

Can you think of ways in which you can promote better team chemistry, clarity about roles, understanding about differing personalities, and embracing other voices? If you can, it might mean that the whole team works better, and thus achieve more that anyone could do on their own.

Footnotes

1. Christine Porath, Mastering Civility (Grand Central Publishing, 2016).
2. Bill Hybels, Leadership Axioms (Zondervan, 2008), pp96-98.
3. Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002).
4. Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Publishing, 2012), and The Power of Introverts (TED Talk, March 2012).
5. Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram, Five Voices (Wiley, 2016).
6. Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage (Wiley, 2012).