Friday, March 30, 2012

"The Five Dysfunctions of a Team"

I recently read, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass – While it is essentially a book on business management, its insights apply directly to sports teams, church leadership teams and ministry teams. It is subtitled, “A Leadership Fable,” and that is an apt description of its literary style. It is an allegory of leadership with various characters and situations being emblematic of the five dysfunctions of a team. The team described in the book has all five in living color.

For our purposes here, I will simply list the dysfunctions and some potential applications to the sports world. In the book they are slowly unveiled and applied to the shape of a pyramid with the first dysfunction at the base and the fifth at the apex. Please give this book some consideration as it may be of value to you and your teams.

1) Absence of Trust – when there is an absence of trust among teammates they will not be genuinely open with each other about their weaknesses and mistakes, it becomes impossible to build a foundation for achievement. This happens in sport when players perceive themselves to be self-sufficient or project the attitude that they don’t need anyone else. This occurs when the player believes he is superior to his teammates and cannot trust them to fulfill their responsibilities. This often results in the shifting of blame, finger pointing, gossip among team members and division.

2) Fear of Conflict – the failure to build trust results in this dysfunction. Teams which don’t trust each other will not engage in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. They will spin off to side discussions, private phone calls and political caucuses which inhibit the team’s function. This is easily seen in the minutes following a team meeting when players naturally gather to process what they just heard and often to criticize the coaching staff, game plan, etc…

3) Lack of Commitment – when the team has not aired their thoughts nor engaged in open discussion, even in debate, they will rarely buy in and commit to the game plan. They may nod their heads and seem to agree with decisions made, but in their hearts they remain at least ambivalent to and often in opposition to what the team’s course of direction. The desired quality of everyone being “All In” is lost, even if they all join the huddle and shout it on queue.

4) Avoidance of Accountability – this comes about due to the team’s lack of commitment. If they aren’t committed to the team’s direction, game plan, etc. there is no way they’ll call others to account for the commitments which were agreed upon by the others. Leaders will hesitate to call others to account for behaviors and attitudes which can inhibit the team’s success. We’ve all seen this on the practice field when players act defiantly toward their coaches or team leaders and no one calls them on it. The awkward silence hangs in the air and only serves the defiant ones, feeding their counterproductive attitudes.

5) Inattention to Results – as teams fail to hold each other accountable they create an environment where this dysfunction thrives. When team members put their individual goals and aspirations (ego, personal performance, statistics, etc.) over the collective goals of the team (victory, team statistics, collective achievement, team development, etc.) the result will be an inattention to results. This is most easily seen when team members pick up a stat sheet after a competition’s conclusion. Does the player first look at the team’s statistical results or his individual stats? Some of this is simply human nature, like looking to find one’s self when handed a photograph. Human nature when left to its own, unabated by loyalty to team or more altruistic values, will focus on its own welfare and inattention to team results will be the inevitable results. This dysfunction is at the apex of the triangle because it is the capstone, the place where one’s attention is drawn. This is true for your team – the simplest and most profound measure of your team’s results is on the scoreboard, in the stat sheet and in the hearts of your players.

The author turns these dysfunctions inside-out and describes positive behaviors which describe cohesive teams. (Quoting now from pages 189 and 190.)

1) They trust one another.

2) They engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas.

3) They commit to decisions and plans of action.

4) They hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans.

5) They focus on the achievement of collective results.

Finally, the author outlines a number of ideas, exercises and tools for leaders to use in overcoming the dysfunctions they find within their own teams. If found this to be an engaging and readily applicable book with tremendous insight. Like most good stories I could see the faces of the characters in my own mind as they reminded me of my own teammates and situations on the best and worst teams in my experience. I heartily recommend it to you.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ministry With Coaches

Ministry with Coaches is a vital part of our ministry. There are some elements of FCA’s ministry with coaches which are easily seen as they are in public and are intended to be.

Among those are:

• Coaching Clinics, like the one we’ll do this weekend with Saluki Football for high school coaches all over Southern Illinois. In past years we have held such clinics with basketball and softball coaches also.

• Coaching Conventions, like the one we attended in San Antonio, Texas in January and the one in Champaign, just two weekends ago.

• The Coaches and Spouses Appreciation Dinner we hold each year in late January has become a vital part of our ministry with coaches as we seek to encourage them and their spouses.

• FCA Huddle Coach of the Year Awards are also a part of our ministry and tonight we will honor two area coaches for their faithfulness as FCA Huddle Coaches in their communities.

Each of these events and initiatives are a part of the public portion of FCA’s Coaches Ministry.

I’d like to pull back the curtain tonight and to give you a glimpse of our ministry efforts which are a little more “behind the scenes” and harder to see. We keep these parts of our ministry hidden because the relationships are valuable and it is not wise to expose people’s lives beyond what they desire to be public knowledge.

• Coaches Bob Murley and Scott Tickner, Pastor Bent and I meet with coaches, face to face, regarding their FCA huddles, their teams, their families.

• We make phone calls, send emails, text messages and write cards to help them solve problems, to give guidance and to resource them with tools for developing their student-athlete leaders.

• We send the Huddle Coaches weekly notes related to their campus ministry and a weekly devotional thought.

Still more private and thankfully infrequent is the ministry we do with coaches in moments of crisis. What follows is a brief list of some instances in which we’ve had to trust the Lord Jesus for grace to deal with some less than wonderful circumstances.

• We have sent hundreds of emails and text messages to coaches who are battling for their lives against cancer, leukemia and other brutal diseases.

• I remember standing on a practice field with a football coach as he wept due to the collapse of his marriage and the impending divorce.

• I remember being on the phone with a coach who had just received the news that he had prostate cancer and was asking for prayer and another coach who had just learned that his daughter had a very challenging condition.

• I remember sitting over coffee with a coach who was about to resign her position and trying to help her find God’s will in the situation.

• I recently stood at practice with a coach who was soon to be fired and then trading text messages with him before and after his firing.

• I remember sitting quietly with a coach whose dear friend had just committed suicide.

• I recall a car ride with a coach on the way to the courthouse and our conversation as we tried to decide the best way to handle a player’s foolish decisions and the proper way to be redemptive toward him and the team.

• I remember the pain and grief which surrounded the day we discussed a coach’s memorial service with his widow.

These sorts of moments require privacy and confidentiality and we are careful to protect coaches in such situations. Whether they are FCA Huddle Coaches or not; we will serve them as Jesus’ ambassadors. This is a vital, if less public, part of FCA’s Ministry with Coaches and we are privileged to be welcomed into the coaches’ offices, classrooms, homes, onto practice fields and gymnasium floors for such life-changing conversations, prayer and some tears.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Explo '72 - Forty Years Later

One of the hazards or blessings of being fifty-five years old is the propensity to reflect on the past. Sometimes that means the distant past. Usually it’s to gather perspective and to better understand the present day’s opportunities and to better discern potential distractions and errors. This summer will mark the forty year anniversary of “Explo ‘72” and its profound effect upon hundreds of thousands of young people, including one naïve, sixteen year old wrestler from Carbondale, Illinois.

Explo ’72 was an event held in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas in June of that year. Campus Crusade for Christ was at the center of the event, but it was certainly driven by the Holy Spirit’s power at the apex of “The Jesus Movement.” I was literally swept up into the event as another local kid could not attend due to having mononucleosis, the fees were paid and I agreed to go. I had no idea what was about to happen to me. After an incredibly long bus ride and clumsy introductions to roommates from Texas and Michigan, the meetings began and the Jesus Movement invaded my life.

Below is a bullet list of the remarkable events of that week and its effects upon my life. I imagine the experiences of many were very similar.

• I was a 16 year old, Baptist jock from Southern Illinois and I’m meeting hippies who have given up heroin for Jesus. There seemed to be some power in this relationship with Christ of which I was totally unaware. Acts 1:8 became personal that week.

• We attended nightly meetings in the Cotton Bowl for worship, encouragement, challenges and preaching. All this was to inspire and to empower our fulfillment of the Great Commission.

• Being high school boys, we did some things which should have resulted in our being sent home early. If Gene and Maxine Snider or Jim and Kay McCormack read this, I’m sorry. Nobody got hurt…

• During those days we were absolutely sure the Lord would return for us in the rapture of the Church right away, maybe within the week. We regularly exchanged “hitch hiking angel” stories and other urban legends which further fueled our evangelistic zeal.

• We were trained and deployed to share the “Four Spiritual Laws” and to use Spiritual Interest Surveys in neighborhoods all across Dallas and Fort Worth. Many of us have continued to use “The Four Laws” as an outline for our communication of the Gospel of Christ ever since. Many of us have since memorized them in second and third languages as we have continued to pursue fulfillment of the Great Commission.

• At the end of the week we experienced a “Christian Woodstock” of sorts at the “Jesus Music Explosion.” It was an all day concert which featured Johnny Cash, Larry Norman, Andre Crouch and the Disciples, Randy Matthews, Love Song and many more all playing in the hot sun of June in Texas.

• During the week I recall meeting and reading about the Athletes in Action Wrestling team. As a modestly talented, but ambitious young wrestler I was intrigued by how these men were able to honor Christ and to speak for Him in the tough and occasionally brutal world of wrestling. After we returned home I continued to read about them and to be inspired to action by their faithfulness to God and their excellence in sport. In particular, I remember 2-time Olympian Russ Knipp.

• Back in Carbondale that fall the Jesus Movement continued in my own life as well as in the lives of many others.

• Jerry Bryant, a Radio and Television student at SIU, began a radio show called, “Jesus Solid Rock” which grew and became nationally syndicated to over 100 stations weekly. Jerry became an integral part of Keith Green’s ministry in Southern California and then in Texas. He continues to share “Jesus Music” via a show called “Full Circle Jesus Music” now available on iTunes and at The passionate, spiritually vibrant and Christ infused music of that era still speaks deeply to my soul.

• Jerry and several of his friends operated a Christian Coffee House called “The Upper Room” on the strip in downtown Carbondale. I went in a few times, but the short-haired jock didn’t really fit in with the “converted hippies” that hung out there drinking herbal tea.

• I began sharing Christ with my teammates and even saw some trust Him, despite my clumsy efforts and youthful zeal. One in particular, Dr. Kevin Lasley, went on to play college football at Eastern Illinois University and he later completed a Master’s Degree and a PHD. Kevin made a career in higher education, married and had four wonderful children and then packed it all up to serve as a pastor to a Native American community in Northern Minnesota. It seems the Jesus Movement has continued in his life as well.

• A number of my teammates and I attended Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer conferences in Black Mountain, North Carolina in 1973 and 1974. I still recall the inspirational testimonies of players and coaches as well as the challenging lives of my huddle leaders and teammates.

• A couple of my teammates and I began doing pre-game chapels and prayer with our football and wrestling teams.

• We began a daily prayer circle prior to the first class of the morning in front of the school library. Other young Christians began to join our circle and it was suddenly “cool” to hang out with the Christian kids each morning.

In the forty years since “Explo ‘72” I have been amazed at the Lord’s faithfulness to accomplish His purposes, even through the weakest of vessels, like me. Simple and seemingly disconnected events and influences have furthered the development of my life in Christ. Success and failure, competitive sport and movies, music and contemplation, friends and enemies, mentors and detractors have all been used to draw me along Jesus’ path toward the fulfillment of His “wonderful plan for my life.” (Four Spiritual Laws)

Please allow Him to use every aspect of your life to fulfill His purposes in your life. He has a plan; it’s for your good and God’s glory.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Beware of Comparisons

Last week I was involved in a very large (nearly 900 people) event for our sports ministry’s staff. We had staff from across the USA in for the once every three years gathering to encourage and to cast vision for the future. As I drove the six hours from my home to Kansas City, Missouri I found myself thinking about all the people with whom I’ve served these last 18 years. Many are valued, trusted and deeply loved colleagues and friends, some annoy me a little and others have earned my distrust. As the miles rolled up my car’s odometer, I could feel my competitive nature preparing me for the inevitable pecking order that would be evident as we gathered and for the comparisons I knew I would certainly be making in a few hours.

If you’re not wired terribly competitively or are simply better in control of your nature than I am, please indulge me as I confess. Since I can remember I’ve walked into classrooms, dugouts, gymnasiums or wrestling rooms and sized up all the guys. “I could take that guy. I am faster than him. I’m tougher than that guy in the too-tight tee shirt.” Once I got a little older, I switched my comparisons to more intellectual issues, partly because my physical shape couldn’t support the former comparisons. “I’m smarter than that guy. I’m a better writer than him. Her use of grammar stinks!” We in the Church have our own special brand of comparisons, nicely packaged and neatly labeled with spiritual language. “I’m more committed than him. I’ve been on more mission trips than her. I have more scripture memorized than that guy. My car has a fish bumper sticker and a spiritually significant vanity license plate. I tweet quotes from A.W. Tozer and they don’t even know who he is.” On and on it goes. Thankfully, most of this is never expressed outside my own mind, but the effects are nearly as destructive.

After almost 45 years of development of my relationship with Christ I have finally learned to recognize these comparisons and my reactions to them as pure folly and sin from which to repent. One scripture which has stood guard on my conscience and has informed my heart is 2 Corinthians 10:12-13. “12 For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. 13 We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you.” NKJV I will forever be a debtor to my mentor, Fred Bishop of, for his quotation of this verse when others were vainly making comparisons between ministry efforts. We are not wise when we make comparisons between our callings in Christ. You and I are each uniquely called, gifted and placed in ministry roles by the Living God. It is simply foolish to compare our various stations in service.

The ambitious, competitive nature of our hearts will no doubt nag us until we die or successfully crucify it completely. We must deal faithfully and ruthlessly with the comparisons whispered in our ears by our flesh, by our foolish friends and colleagues or even by the Enemy. I will pledge to you that my aim will be to embody Paul’s value at verse 13: ”We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you.” Let’s each live in the calling of God we have received freely and without comparison. Let’s rejoice in the limits of our sphere and further rejoice in the achievements of our teammates and colleagues, even the ones who annoy us or whom we distrust.

Friday, March 2, 2012


One of the coaches whose team I have served for the last two seasons is about to be fired this afternoon. For a couple of years the team has seemed to decline and the record was certainly in decline. There have been issues with high profile recruits leaving the program after a couple of seasons and other issues have led to fewer wins and an increasing amount of scrutiny from the media, a fall in season ticket sales and a glut of message board second guessing from fans and wannabe coaches in the area.

As I have served the team by leading Team Building sessions and game day chapels as well as sounding board for coaches and support staff, I have anticipated this day and its implications for almost two years. The anticipation has not made it any better, but it has helped me prepare to communicate with all those involved.

As the team and coaching staff prepared for the conference tournament I sent them each text messages to encourage their preparations and performances. I sent them one on their travel day, another the morning of the game and another a few hours before tipoff. I sent another last night after the first round loss in the tournament to wrap up the season. It included thanksgiving for the opportunity to work with them and an offer to help in the future. I sent a message to the Athletic Director, whose job it could be to fire the head coach and to hire his replacement, assuring him of my respect and support no matter the results of the weekend. I sent another to the head coach assuring him of the same respect and support regardless of results.

By this morning the rumor mill was running full speed with reports of the coach’s firing on Twitter, facebook, national and area media web sites and more. By mid-morning I had heard from inside sources that the firing was a done deal and an hour later I was informed of a 3:00 pm news conference in which the firing would be announced. All this information, speculation and conjecture simply stirs the pot of grief and pain for the players, coaches and their families. Candidly, even the stoic team chaplain, is feeling the pain of this move and its implications for so many. I feel the grief of loss and can already feel the alienation and distance which comes from broken relationships.

Today I have texted the head coach Psalm 62:1-2 and “Coach, as the rumor mill grinds today, please be assured of my prayers and support. The Lord is not surprised by any circumstance. He has your future in hand.” I later sent this to the Athletic Director, “I realize the importance and urgency of the issues resulting in today’s news conference. I hope everyone is afforded dignity and respect. I know you’ll do well.”

As always, I will pursue and seek out the recently fired coach to encourage and to console, but he’s not obligated to respond. Some in this situation simply disappear and cut off all contact with those associated with the team. Some hang around for years in the community, but distance themselves from the program like friends who choose sides around a messy divorce. I hope and pray that I am able to serve faithfully all concerned. I will continue to support and even counsel those who remain as they seek to replace the head coach with a capable successor. I will seek to maintain relationship with the coach or coaches who leave the program and to support them as they seek new opportunities by praying for them, consulting with and encouraging them. I will seek to serve the new coach and his staff as well as the team they inherit.

Firings are never the part of sport which lead us to serve coaches and competitors. They may however be the moments of our most profound service to those on all sides of the matter. Let’s be the ones who serve faithfully and love extravagantly, even in these painful moments.