Building a Dream Team
All of us want a great team. That’s a given.
The problem is there’s usually either a shortage of good people or a shortage of money to hire those good people. So we’re left dreaming of what we could do “if only…”
I know it’s a frustrating place to be. You feel powerless to change anything. It’s as if you’re left waiting for the right people to show up and you wonder if that will ever happen.
So, what do we do?
Well, having gone through this predicament myself, here are a few suggestions I’d offer.
Improve your “now”.
This sounds backwards, I know. But it works. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can’t get better until we have the right people on our team, and to some extent that’s true. But in my experience, the best people aren’t in the business of “rescuing” organizations from bad situations. The best people are looking for good opportunities at healthy organizations. So, the first step in building a great team is improving the one you already have.
Early on in my role as the Arts Director at Church on the Move, we didn’t have a wealth of incredible people that wanted to work with us. We had some good people, but in a few key positions we were clearly lacking. It was during this period I learned the difference between working “with” people and working “through” them.
We’d all like to work with people who get it – who understand how we think and how we want things done – people who can take our thoughts and ideas as leaders to the next level. That’s what I call working “with” people, and it’s fantastic. To be able to give your vision to someone and watch them improve it is the epitome of artistic collaboration. The trouble is that those kinds of people are often hard to find and aren’t always cheap. That leaves you two options: to sulk and wait, or to work “through” the people we have instead.
Working “through” someone is altogether different than working “with” them. It’s a bit like a puppeteer manipulating a puppet – everyone sees the puppet, but in reality it’s the puppeteer doing the work. I’ve had to work like this many times in my career. Sometimes the people on your team just aren’t able to grasp the concepts you’re pitching. It doesn’t mean they’re useless, sometimes it just means they’re the wrong person for that particular job – so you have to step in. Other times it’s simply a competence issue. They may be a great person, but if they can’t handle the job they’ve been given, something might need to be done. I realize this could sound a little harsh, but remember the parable of the talents? Not everyone got a trophy. At some point, productivity matters and only you can decide where that line falls in your organization.
Years ago we had a lighting director who was hard worker, but he just couldn’t grasp the concept of the lighting design I was trying to achieve. Rather subjecting myself to his weakness as a lighting designer, I chose to work “through” him instead. I would literally sit with him at the lighting console and walk through the programming for each every light for each and every song. It was incredibly tedious and quite boring. But it was the only way I could achieve my vision. This is what it means to work “through” someone. It’s not always the best way, but sometimes it’s the only way when you’re just getting started.
Now we have a great lighting designer who takes my concepts and makes them ten times better. I’m not working “through” him; I’m working “with” him. But I’m convinced that if I didn’t make the most of the situation with the guy I had previously, we never would have gotten the guy I wanted.
Who do you want on the team?
So, let’s say you’re in a position to assemble your dream team. How do you know who to look for? In my experience, you’re looking for three qualities:
1. They have a similar taste level.
Recently, I saw the film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. It’s a documentary about Jiro Ono, a man most consider to be the best sushi chef in the world.
Here’s what struck me about the film: You can’t make the world’s best sushi without having a highly refined sense of taste.
Said another way: if you can’t taste the difference in quality between a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget and a piece of world-class sushi, you’ll never be a world-class chef.
When I’m looking for teammates, I’m looking for people whose taste level is similar to mine. If they think Transformers is a great movie and Nickelback makes great music, we’re probably going to have some taste level problems.
Here’s why this matters so much: if we can’t agree on what “good” is, how can we ever consistently make it?
2. We have a mutual respect.
If I’m not sure that you really know what you’re doing in your job, it will color every conversation we have together. Likewise, if you doubt I really know what I’m doing in my position, it will color your conversation toward me.
This is huge when it comes to the arts, because creativity thrives in open, honest environments, and it dies in tense environments. Think about it. The last time you were involved in an awkward conversation, did you feel more or less creative? Less, right? That’s because tension in relationships kills creativity, and when we don’t really respect each other, tension is automatically created.
So, when I’m looking for people I intend to create with, I want to make sure I really respect them. Otherwise, that relationship will always be slightly awkward.
3. They have a heart for the church.
This may be the most important quality of all. If as a leader, I doubt your heart is really for our church, it makes it difficult for me to really trust you, and it’s hard to discern your real motives.
Again, I can’t stress how important authentic trust is to building a great team. When you aren’t sure that everyone’s fully bought in to your church’s vision, it creates mistrust and that destroys creativity.
How can you tell if someone’s fully bought in? Jesus talked about faithfulness in small things being an indicator of faithfulness with big things. In other words, how are they handling the responsibilities they currently have? How well are they doing at their current job? If they badmouth the situation they’re in now, chances are they’ll be bad mouthing you soon enough. So avoid those kinds of people – no matter how talented they may be.
Let’s wrap this thing up.
No one starts out with the team they want, and sometimes it feels like the right people might never show up. But remember, it’s not your job to bring the right people to your church – that’s God’s job. Your job is doing the best with what God has placed in your hands, and when you do, somehow the right people always show up. Bank on it.