Building a high-performing team is not an easy task. Numerous factors determine the team’s success and not all of them are under our control from the get-go. But, there are four practices we can call on to make the process of building a high-performing team easier and more effective.
Last month I introduced the biblical approach to building a high-performing team by focusing on recruitment. By studying how Jesus built his team of 12 disciples, we identified three takeaways: focus on quality over quantity of people, bring in different and complementary skill sets, and rely on trusted relationships. We also looked at the need for high-performing teams in every organization, whether a business or a not-for-profit or volunteer organization.
Recruitment is only step 1 of 3. As Winston Churchill would have said: It’s not the end; it may be the end of the beginning. What’s next for your core team? Let’s take a look at how Jesus continued to develop his team.
As the group of disciples grew, Jesus did a lot of “walking and talking” with them. In today’s business vernacular, we would call this “Management by Walking Around (MBWA). Not a new idea if you see its biblical roots.
There are four practices Jesus used in developing his high-performing team: deep teaching and instruction, demonstrations, clear instructions for “test” missions, and openness to questions.
While each disciple he recruited had unique skills, we might agree they all needed additional education. In his small group, only Jesus was a teacher with formal knowledge of the Old Testament. Jesus knew that they needed to understand the historical references to the coming of the Messiah because without that context, they would have limited success spreading the gospel message. Specifically, they needed to understand and apply the passages in Daniel and Isaiah that prophesized the coming of the Anointed One.
The application to businesses and other organizations is clear: even when we recruit the best people, there’s often a need to help them get started quickly. New people need to understand their organization’s history, cultures, values, mission and vision. That helps them be effective team members and advocates for the organization.
Let’s look at a second best practice we can adopt from Jesus’ development of his disciples. Jesus used the miracles he performed as hands-on instruction. With more of the Old Testament learning in place, the disciples were able to first-hand witness Jesus’ healing power. While Jesus told the disciples that someday, they too, would have the ability to heal people and perform miracles, they did not have the power of the Holy Spirit yet because their faith was not fully developed. When Peter started walking across the stormy sea, he was successful until his faith weakened, and he began to drown. He wasn’t quite ready to take that next step as he did not have the power of the Holy Spirit at that point.
Putting people in positions without all the education, training, or hands-on experience they need can be a recipe for disaster. Showing them the way and giving them time to fully develop helps them be successful when it’s time to send them out and give them new responsibilities and accountabilities.
A third best practice comes right after the disciples were able to observe Jesus’ work in person. In Matthew 10:4, Jesus laid out a complete game plan for the disciples. Think about this as receiving a complete playbook: here is what to say, here is where to go, here is how to behave. What person wouldn’t want the best guidance possible from someone who has done this before? Our takeaway here is to go the full mile in preparing your team. You should assume that they will always benefit from further development. High-performing organizations continually invest in people development. And just as Jesus used real-life examples in the form of parables, bring clarity to the situation by structuring goals as a familiar story with a clear message and outcome.
Lastly, our final takeaway on the topic of developing a high-performing team is this. Don’t believe everyone gets everything the first time it comes around. Many years ago, I worked with an incredibly smart technology expert who was gracious in explaining something once. And if you later asked the same question a second time he would say “I already told you the answer.” Jesus didn’t do that. Look at the many times when the disciples asked questions that we might think they should have already known the answers to. Several times they questioned Jesus’ ability to feed thousands. Wouldn’t we expect that they knew his power to do that after the first experience? Jesus was a little irritated the second time (he called them out as having little faith) but kept instructing them and giving them multiple chances to develop their faith.
We can do that to, by giving people grace to make mistakes and time to develop. Some high-performing teams need more time to develop before their high performance is possible.
These are the four ideas you can take away from studying how Jesus developed his team of disciples: educate your people your organizational culture and values, use hands-on instruction, provide a clear playbook before putting people in roles of responsibility, give your people grace when they need more time to learn or make early mistakes. With Jesus as a wonderful role model, your focus will be clearer, and your working relationships will be strengthened.
Verse 10:1 “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority…”