Two Things Every Leadership Team Must Have

June 7, 2013

Who is the best sports team of all time? We could debate this subject for the rest of our lives. But, for the sake of keeping things civil, I’ll just tell you: it’s the 2013-2014 Seattle Seahawks… if they can stay out of trouble this year.

Whether in football, business or a non-profit, all great teams have two things in common: Unity and Diversity.

There is a reason that 5’6″ point guards like Nate Robinson can make it in the NBA, alongside of 7’6″ centers like Yao Ming. They’re diverse in their gifts (short and tall, in this case), but they’re united in the mission to create a great team and win. This diversity allows them to fulfill the necessary roles to accomplish their collective mission.

The same idea is true of leadership teams.

Great teams celebrate Diversity.

Leadership teams within any organization are made up of different people with different skill sets. Throw a bunch of people with the exact same set of skills into a room – how will they do? Sure, they might get along, but they won’t get far.

On the other hand, if a team is the right mix of a variety of expertise, it will be much more successful. They might have more disagreements because of their different perspectives, but they will also find new ways of looking at old problems. And conflict can be good when everyone involved is committed to a common mission. The give-and-take created by a diverse team is vital to the health of your organization. The best teams are not groups of carbon-copy individuals.

Great teams celebrate Unity.

Diversity without Unity is a recipe for disaster. If your primary points of agreement are about how you’re different, you’re headed for a train wreck. The Bible provides a great metaphor for considering Diversity and Unity: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12) This is specifically referring to the relationship of Christians within the church, but it also illustrates a universal paradigm:

Organizations—and the groups that lead them—include different roles that together form one body with one mission.

I wrote at length on this subject in my recent book Authority: The Leader’s Call to Serve, looking at some important ways to build a healthy team.

It is crucial that leaders are unified with each other on what the mission is, and diverse enough to accomplish that mission. Below are some practical steps to navigating this difficult balance between Unity and Diversity. 

How To Foster Unity and Diversity in Your Leadership Team: 

  • Agree on a clear mission and vision. Without a clear articulation of why you exist and where you’re going, you’re bound to lose or confuse team members. It’s not a matter of hand-holding, but rather showing and guiding the way. A clear roadmap creates a content, engaged, and strong team.
  • Include people for the right reasons (skills, experience, wisdom, character), not the wrong ones (popularity, prestige, mutual backscratching, obligation). Most teams are good at sniffing out the people that are there because they earned it and those that didn’t. Favoritism hurts because it usually leads to team members that don’t pull their adequate share of the load. 
  • Make your leadership team safe. A safe team is not absent of conflict, but they do know how to work through it. By wrestling through the difficult work together a teams becomes stronger and more unified. The diversity of opinions and personalities creates conflict, but is the exact thing necessary to build trust and take the team to the next level. Listen, work through conflict, encourage, and serve.
  • Know your own role. The leader of a team sets the tone. The better they understand their particular strengths the better they can foster and draw out the strengths of everyone else on the team. Don’t be afraid to find and hire people that are smarter and more talented than you are.

Who’s missing from your team? How are you navigating the tension between Unity and Diversity? What steps might you need to take to foster a more balanced team?