T-12 Transformational Teamwork

1. Six Skills for Creating Transformational Teams

  1. Discern realistic goals, based on reasonable possibilities that reside within the “spiritual DNA” of the team and the cultural setting of the activity.
  2. Discern sources of conflict among team members and between the team and people in the cultural setting of activity.
  3. Practice “incarnational relationship skills.”
  4. Conduct intentional cultural compositing to create a stronger team.
  5. Choose and use methodologies that build “congruent infrastructures” for a stronger system.
  6. Address toxicity quickly and compassionately, and refuse to ignore it.

2. Six “I” Members on Intercultural Teams for Organizational Transition

  • The Six “I” Team Members
  • The Change Process. Described in One Paragraph
  • 1. Innovators – “Or” – Paintball-Splattergram
  • 2. Improvers – “Either/Or” – Leaf // Flowchart
  • 3. Integrators – “And” – Whirlpool // Spiderweb
  • 4. Implementers – “Either/Or” – Business Organizer
  • 5. In-betweeners – “Both/And” – Double Helix
  • 6. Interpolators – “Systems Synthesis” – File Cabinet // Rubik’s Cube
  • How is This Approach Any Different?
  • Afterword

Tutorial #12 – Transformational Teamwork

Summary: The first section of this tutorial shares Six Skills for Creating Transformational Teams. It serves as the overall framework for the second section, which is on Six “I” Members on Intercultural Teams for Organizational Transition. (Awkward title, yes, definitely – but at least it’s descriptive!) The second section focuses on how-to’s for Skill #4 from the first section, on intentionally compositing teams that are intercultural, as a way to model both personal and social transformation.

1. Six Skills for Creating Transformational Teams

In 35+ years of consistent church/ministry work and periodic community volunteer work, I suppose that I’ve been on about every kind of team imaginable, in terms of typical demographic categories – single generation and multi-generational; men only and both men and women; singles, couples, and/or families; monocultural and multicultural; American and international; rural, suburban, and/or urban. Umm … have I missed anything there?

These teams were formed for all kinds of purposes, from political to social, ministerial to denominational, informational to transformational. Some were community-based and others church- or ministry-based. Some were formal, working with non-profit agencies, others were informal, working with friends and colleagues. Some had great leadership, others had toxic leaders or “oversight” boards. Some were very successful in terms of accomplishing realistic and righteous goals, others failed – spectacularly! – at the hoped-for outcomes.

So, I think it’s more than fair to say that I’ve had a significant sampling of what DOES happen in teamwork, and come to conclusions about what SHOULD and SHOULD NOT happen in teamwork. When I consider the essentials of what makes for a workable team, it seems to me it all boils down to six critical features:

1. Discern realistic goals, based on reasonable possibilities that reside within the “spiritual DNA” of the team and the cultural setting of the activity. Many of the tutorial pages on this blog address aspects of creating goals that are appropriate to the composition of the team, the setting in which they are serving, and the most preferable direction for them to go. Explore, and see what you find …

2. Discern sources of conflict among team members and between the team and people in the cultural setting of activity. Conflict is inevitable, and the ways through it require careful listening and discernment. Is the core of a conflict about personality clash, paradigm and cross-cultural differences, or learning style distinctives – and addressing them appropriately. Just because there is conflict, that doesn’t mean that the people involved are automatically bad people. That’s often hard to remember in the midst of confusion and misunderstanding over ideas, different pictures of what the future should look like, stirred up emotions, differing views of what God is doing in a situation, etc. However, the alternative to intentional engagement and perseverance are contempt, invalidation, extinguishing, and a whole lot of other badditudes that “Aren’t very nice, now, are they Preciousss?” (Okay, once every three months, my nature requires me to post a quote from The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. There it is.)

3. Practice “incarnational relationship skills.” This involves learning to: listen carefully to others, ask questions to “get inside their minds” and understand situations from their point of view, and then communicate based on translating your own point of view into terms and metaphors that they are more likely to understand because it meshes better with their current framework. Incarnational relating is the core of ministry contextualization. If we do not improve in practicing this basic connection skill, why should we ever expect to have much fruit in our ministries?

4. Conduct intentional cultural compositing to create a stronger team. Since the body is made of many members, it makes sense that most ministry tasks and teams require a multiplicity of gifts to accomplish. And that means bringing together multiple gifted people, which inevitably means a diversity of: perspectives, and cultures, and learning styles, and demographic backgrounds. And all that means conflict WILL be discovered in dealing with the inherent differences. Compositing is abut skills required for intentional integration of teams where the differences are viewed as sources of strength to get the job done well in a way that brings personal and social transformation – not where differences are viewed as sources of weakness that impede progress or otherwise irritate the “leader.” Much of the material on this “futuristguy” blog deals with concepts and concrete practices for going from being a multiple-culture group (emphasis: peaceful co-existence), to a multicultural group (emphasis: appreciating our differences), to an intercultural group (emphasis: learning from our differences, being transformed thereby, and leveraging the differences to create a stronger social network and activities).

5. Choose and use methodologies that build “congruent infrastructures” for a stronger system. For the best possible teamwork, we need to create strategies and structures that match the team’s core values and move the group toward their goals. If there is no “congruence” among values, methods/structures, and goals, this lack of integrity will eventually damage the people on the team as well as dampen the possibilities of achieving the desired outcomes. The Transformational Index is a forthcoming system that addresses this critical need in the planning, implementing, and evaluating stages. The Mobilyzr system offers tools and evaluations for various stages of the ministry building process.

6. Address toxicity quickly and compassionately, and refuse to ignore it. There are times when certain people should not serve in roles of leadership, and perhaps not even be allowed on a team, when they’ve demonstrated a pattern of toxic behaviors that spiritually sinks themselves and others. This would include such patterns as manipulation, negativity, emotional enmeshment (no boundaries), uncontrolled anger, inflexibility, false loyalty, and a demanding nature (regardless of whether manifested in a harsh or sweet manner).

So – there they are. Perhaps I’ve missed a critical skill for succeeding in intentional, transformational teamwork. If you see something I’ve overlooked, please let me know. But I’d suggest that if we neglect or negate any of these six skills, we will definitely have difficulties in achieving what we hoped our teams could accomplish.

Explore, enact, enjoy!

2. Six “I” Members on Intercultural Teams for Organizational Transition

Introduction and Summary: This article offers an important translation of “interpretive patterns” (see Tutorial 11) for what information processing styles/learning styles look like when embodied by real people working together on real teams in the midst of real-world cultural shifts. It is a remix of concepts I first wrote about in 1998 after a number of experiences in church planting and extensive trainings in learning style theories with Dr. Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids, Inc., of Fort Worth, Texas. and then reintegrated according to my own technical studies into information processing styles, drawn from cross-cultural linguistics, discourse/rhetoric analysis, and epistemologies and paradigms.  My hope is that is begins to demonstrate how putting people with different learning styles together on teams will optimize the combination of their strengths, while helping the team avoid toxicities that typically occur when only one kind of learning style dominates.

The visual “interpretive patterns” hold important implications for the practical issues of creating “balanced” teams. The following material shows one way of building a ministry team based on incorporating all nine interpretive patterns. The particular team demonstrated here focuses on organizational transition, and the way the compilation of gifted people is developed is from an idealized, linear perspective. A more realistic version would have many layers of activity occurring simultaneously (e.g., innovation and improving, integrating and implementing, etc.). However, the point here is to emphasize the combination of people more than following the “correct” process.

The Six “I” Team Members

  1. Innovators
  2. Improvers
  3. Integrators
  4. Implementers
  5. Inbetweeners
  6. Interpolators

The Change Process. Described in One Paragraph

Changes that hopefully lead to sustainability start with the future-changing possibilities generated by the imaginative Innovators. Their ideas are tested and tempered by evaluations from several types of analytic Improvers who intuitively consider theoretical strengths and flaws. Then all stakeholders affected by any proposed changes are brought into the process by the relational Integrators, who make sure that people and justice issues are addressed, while practically-minded Implementers carry out the plans, processes, and procedures. Along the way, multicultural Inbetweeners help everyone stay connected and consider the dual layers of what God in His providence is doing while the people are undergoing the change process, and they engage their intercessory nature in praying for additional discernment and diligence. And the complex Interpolators fill in wherever needed, whenever needed, for whyever needed to keep both the big picture and the details, and both the processes and the people, all going in constructive directions that will accomplish the necessary changes while minimizing the inevitable culture shock. In this kind of teamwork that considers everyone interdependent, all people are leaders through using their God-given gifts. (Okay, so that was one very long paragraph …!)

1. Innovators – “Or” – Paintball-Splattergram

Innovators come up with practical ideas that can help us make our way from simply a plausible future (i.e., something that maybe could happen) to one that is more possible (i.e., something more likely to happen), or even toward the most preferable future as discerned by all the people involved. The Innovator’s creative ideas propel us on a different trajectory than the one we were on. Even if the change in our course is slight, it will still bring substantive differences in the long run.

2. Improvers – “Either/Or” – Leaf // Flowchart

Improvers critically examine the conceptual ideas of Innovators. They evaluate ideas for their probable internal strengths, weaknesses, and fatal flaws. There seem to be two basic kinds of Improvers: those who analyze for concrete details very effectively, and those who read between the lines and mentally model the abstractions of the proposed innovative process. Both kinds can suggest strategic changes that make the implementation plans much stronger. Improvers do this by improving the conceptual processes and by making the concrete procedures flow better through being more clear in the details and more coherent in the ways details link.

3. Integrators – “And” – Whirlpool // Spiderweb

Teamwork #3 Integrators

Integrators have a passionate concern for the protection, growth, and inclusion of others. This motivates them to critically examine proposed plans, processes, and procedures in light of how these affect real people. Integrators act as a corporate conscience, so you should expect them to be whistle-blowers if/when plans or implementation turn out to be detrimental to a spirit of community, unjust, or otherwise unethical. Integrators also serve the organization by bringing people together, and keeping them integrated as a community when change would tend to wrench people’s relationships apart when inevitable stresses and strains cause nerves to fray.

4. Implementers – “Either/Or” – Business Organizer

Teamwork #4 Implementers

Implementers pay incisive attention to details of tasks, production processes, and product standards. Their gift lets them contribute to the whole through managing the parts. They tend to be oriented to concrete reality and the world of the senses. So if an Innovator’s intuitive idea, even as modified by the Improver’s insightful but generally abstract suggestions, cannot yet be accomplished in the real world of time-space-resource limitations, the Implementer can make that known … usually in a concise manner with a checklist of ways to reformulate the process and/or products into something doable, if that is even possible. Implementers can be “now-sayers” as often as “nay-sayers,” if given the freedom to do so.

5. In-betweeners – “Both/And” – Double Helix

Teamwork #5 Inbetweeners

Inbetweeners have learned to bring redemption and reconciliation to conflicting opposites, transforming them into complements instead. This comes out of their life circumstances or experiences, which put them in a place of resolving the tension of living between two worlds. (For instance, being biracial or bicultural, or moving from a rural to urban setting.) Since they’ve learned to keep polar opposites in a dynamic paradoxical relationship, Inbetweeners can play crucial roles in the change process. They typically act as bridge-builders and peace-makers and negotiators among people who are at odds. They keep in mind prayer and intercession and perseverance in the spiritual battle. They also can keep us dually-focused on what God providentially seems to be doing among us, and on our acting responsibly while we do what we discern to be His will. Inbetweeners make great trouble-shooters, especially when it comes to people-related issues.

6. Interpolators – “Systems Synthesis” – File Cabinet // Rubik’s Cube

Interpolators seem to be far more rare than the other “I” team members. Those who have a highly noticeable strength in systems synthesis are basically able to conduct all other patterns of processing information. However, they do so through the lens of complexity, keeping in mind multiple elements and layers in the system. Here are some ways they can function – and these may appear that Interpolators are merely mimicking the other roles, but in reality, for them, these roles are memes … processing patterns that are part of their inherent makeup.

  • Interpolators can generate ideas like Innovators do, but these ideas typically interconnect various layers in the organizational systems.
  • Like Improvers, they can offer adjustments to ensure the plans are more comprehensive, not just clear or coherent.
  • Like Integrators, they take into consideration the impact of change on people and work with Integrators to help keep people aligned with the big picture motivation of how the benefits of sustainable changes will outweigh the draining effects of culture shock caused by change.
  • They can help Implementers understand how their particular parts in the plan relate to the whole.
  • And they can reinforce the Inbetweeners who seek to ensure there is ongoing discernment and spiritual integrity in the overall process. They make great trouble-shooters, especially when it comes to information-, process-, or systems-related issues.

The ability to function in all of these roles does not mean that Interpolators are the best “leader.” Rather, they may make the best “superhero sidekick,” as they are able to fill in pretty much wherever needed. One key caution for teamwork with Interpolators: Do not overstructure the assignments given to Interpolators, or limit them to only certain areas. They typically need to rotate among various tasks, or they will burn out quickly. Also, they often have heightened intuitive abilities and discernment skills, so the more you limit their focus or activity, the less likely you receive the benefit of their abilities to sense and follow where the Holy Spirit may be leading.

A similar caution for teamwork with Inbetweeners: Do not give Inbetweeners extensive responsibilities for creating information or implementing administration tasks – unless it is clear they have spiritual gifts relevant to those areas. They shine in the area of relationships and facilitating people working together. Too many required tasks out of their areas of strength (in this case, information and administration tasks) typically creates more of a stretch for them, and the stress of too much stretching leads to burn-out.

That basic principle of shining, stretching, and stressing applies to ALL six roles. That is why it is critical to composite a range of people with different dominant roles to ensure a dynamic balance in the team, and so it does not lead to burn-out. That is what a strength-based system is all about; it role-models both the importance of each and every spiritual gift in teamwork, and the importance of sustaining each and every gifted person on the team.

How is This Approach Any Different?

Many approaches to team building already talk about some four-part system similar to my version of Innovators, Improvers, Integrators, and Implementors. For instance, a system used by Leadership Training Network featured a self-assessment tool participants use to identify themselves as Designers, Researchers, Promoters, and Directors. (I think I may have some of those terms wrong, but I have the concepts and parallels right.)

The Southern Baptist’s North American Mission Board uses a system to suggest different settings for church planting/leading, based on whether your style is more an Initiator (pioneering of new projects), Organizer (putting order to chaos, creating an action plan especially when preparatory work has already been done), Revitalizer (focus on pastoral care, often for a plateaued or declining church), and Developer (taking an existing church or church plant to the next stage).

So my first four “I’s” are not exactly new ground, even though I have perhaps given more depth to the system by examining it through the lenses of learning styles. However, I would suggest I am plowing new ground with the fifth and sixth “I” team members – Inbetweeners and Interpolators. I believe these individuals use their gifts to bring in additional levels of discernment, intercession, multicultural considerations, complexity, paradigm shifting, and holistic systems thinking. These two new team members emerge in the world of cultural postmodernity where a holistic paradigm is coming into ascendancy. Thus, more complexity and systems-orientation are needed to rebalance teams and aim them toward being more suited and sustainable for postmodern times.

Much of my original work on Inbetweeners and Interpolators came out of my own processing of a disappointing experience as a church planting strategist in a very young church plant that merged with a dying church. What seemed to be heading toward an intercultural church with great promise to reach many kinds of people ended up being bogged down in a monocultural mire. It was run by a pastor who talked as if he were an Innovator, but acted essentially as an Implementer/Improver, and yet refused to serve as an Integrator, and rejected those who were Inbetweeners and Interpolators and Innovators. It turned out toxic. Why? As Dr. Kathy Koch notes in her trainings on learning styles, “Any strength that is overdone, is badly done.”

I would argue that no change is sustainable that does not incorporate all six of these strengths. Or, restated, plans for change based on anything less than consideration of all six interpretive patterns roles are inherently flawed and are likely to create as much long-term damage as it apparently seems to create short-term help.


So – there you have it. Some core principles and some key people. I hope someday to flesh this out even more with a case study or two  that shows how this all worked together for constructive change and organizational transition. However, it seems to have been my learning curve to be involved with many teams that COULD have become intercultural composites, but in which that process got interrupted along the way. If I had to suggest core reasons for whythat happened, it would be that one type of team member took over, or several types of team members were at loggerheads and the entire team got embroiled in their dispute. In either case, then it stops actually being a team and everyone has to start acting like a machine that spits out what The [Toxic] Leader tells them to. Hence, I have written much on unhealthy, irresponsible leaders and toxic organizational systems. Lord willing, that will not always be the case.

© 2010 Brad Sargent. All rights reserved.