Over the years, I've often bragged publicly about the folks who have worked with me, and for me, and I have been truly blessed through most of my ministry to have some great team members. But I've also had some bad experiences in this department, and my observations of these contrasting experiences have revealed a few characteristics that make someone a truly great team member. So if you have leadership responsibilities over a group of people--be they paid subordinates or volunteers, how can you tell if someone will make a "great team member?" I've found the following five questions helpful:
1. Do They Want You to Personally Succeed? Great team members aren't just after their own success. They want the entire team to succeed, and they have a clear understanding that if the guy/gal at the top fails, such failure will also reflect on them. This means they will sometimes challenge the leader for what they perceive is the leader's own good. It doesn't mean they will always get it right, but if their motivation is to see you as their leader succeed, they are someone you want to keep.
2. Do They Care About Your Well-Being? Great team members aren't all about the work, principally because they understand that anything affecting one's personal life in a negative way will eventually spill over into the professional arena. Great team members are personally concerned for your family, for your health, and for your mental well-being.
3. Are They Loyal without Being Blind? One doesn't need to be a "lap dog" to be loyal. In fact, "blind loyalty" is actually disloyalty, because it ignores things that can bring a leader down. As a leader, I've always had a policy with those who work for me that is expressed in this way: "My door is open to you, so long as you close it before you criticize me." If I'm about to do something incredibly stupid (its happened once or twice!), I want people on my team who will tell me that. Part of "managing up" is striking the careful balance between respect for authority in public, and appropriately challenging that authority in private.
4. When they Offer Criticism, does it contribute to solutions? Anybody can criticize. Anybody can find something wrong with the plan. And anybody can tear down people they work for. We are all imperfect, and finding those imperfections merely to point them out is the work of kindergarten students. Great team members are able to offer appropriate criticism, at the right time, aimed at the right place, in order to point toward a right solution.
5. Do they love the mission? I have a friend who says that Marines don't need to sit around for hours discussing their mission. They simply dig a foxhole and fight together. Too often in the church, we think that if we can just somehow "create" community, we will have mission. But it actually works in the opposite way. Community doesn't create mission. Mission creates community. In the end, how educated or skilled the individual members of your team are matters far less than their passion for the mission. If you aren't clear on the mission, and engaged in it together, your team will always be dysfunctional. This means you have to ask, of each individual member of your team: "Do they understand that the overall mission is more important than any 'part' of the mission, and are they committed to that mission with us?"
You can't be a loner and be in ministry--at least not for long! And you can never do it effectively by yourself. Be sure you have good people on your team, and ask these questions before you put them there.