AddLead 08-12-170

Leading from the Sandbox

Develop, Empower and Release High Impact Ministry Teams



T. J. Addington

Next Step Resources, 2008, 204 pp., ISBN 978-0-979104-1-8



T.J. Addington is a Senior Vice President with the EFCA (Evangelical Free Church of America).  He is the author of High Impact Church Boards.  Teams are necessary but often frustrating.  The sandbox is a creative and simple paradigm to bring clarity to team operation, a clear and powerful model for leadership.  The chapters are chock full of very practical recommendations, including lots of helpful tidbits.  Each chapter begins with a one-page executive summary.  I give this book high marks.  dlm   


T. J. says he will never go back to an unhealthy team.  He has a passion to make teams work and to make them healthy, missional, effective and fun.  There were two things you learned about the sandbox as a child.  Everyone could have a good time as long as you got along and kept the sand in the box.  Similarly in teams, we do well to get along with our teammates and stay within the boundaries.  (Introduction)


Chapter One.  The Fallacies and Practices of High Impact Teams

Definition:  "A High Impact Team is a group of missionally aligned and healthy individuals working strategically together under good leadership toward common objectives, with accountability for results." (7)


Healthy teams align to a common mission, synergistically harness their gifts, encourage robust dialogue, follow healthy leaders, and commit to results.  (7) 


Teams are not about a group of friends but a common mission.  Friendships are collegial relationships centered on the mission.  Teams are not about meeting our social and emotional needs but achieving the mission.  (8-10)  Can you articulate the mission of your team?  (14)


Ministries often operate in silos.  Good leaders insist on ministry alignment around a common mission and develop teams to ensure it happens.  Integration means that all members are committed to ownership of the organizational values, practices and commitments. (15)  Leaders come to the team, not representing their turf but the mission.  The team strategizes to help move the whole organization forward.  (16-17) 


"Team means that we are willing to work synergistically with others and allow them to speak into our own areas of responsibility."  There is a price, but the payoff is high.  (18) 


"Healthy leaders are not defensive or threatened.  They have developed an attitude of 'nothing to prove, nothing to lose.'"  They are empowering rather than controlling.  They encourage dialogue and debate and help the group reach common conclusions and commitments.  (19-20) 


"Beware of who you put on your team!  Healthy individuals will make team work a joy.  Unhealthy individuals will kill an otherwise good team." (20)


Some qualities of a good team member: has a healthy EQ, can play at the level of the team, brings skills to complement the team, is a team player, contributes to the whole rather than guarding their turf, embraces the mission and values of the organization, understands the expectations of the team.  (21)


"One can judge the relative health of a team by the number of elephants in the room…." (24)


Chapter Two.  The Power of Clarity

The four critical areas of clarity are

n     Mission: What we are ultimately committed to accomplishing

n     Guiding Principles: How we are committed to operating

n     Central Ministry Focus: What we need to be doing day in and day out to accomplish our mission

n     Culture: The ethos we need to have to accomplish the first three areas  (26)


These are the four sides of the sandbox.  (36)


"Values should be clarified in a way that actually provides significant guidance in how we do what we do." (29)  "Does your organization have a clear set of values that are designed to actually guide personnel and ministries?"  (32)


"The central ministry focus of an organization is the one thing that it must do day in and day out--the most important thing it does to help it fulfill its mission." (32)  Everyone must be committed to doing it all the time. (33) 


The sandbox clarifies and defines how individuals proceed in the organization.  People have maximum freedom to play inside the sandbox.  (37) 


"Empowerment means that people need to be able to make decisions based on the situation they face from any number of available options."  This is enabled when they are clear on the ministry philosophy defined by your sandbox.  (39)  When someone asks if they can do something, I ask and help them clarify whether it aligns with the sandbox. (40) 


"Empowerment and accountability are two sides of the same coin.  Empowerment is much easier with maximum clarity about what is important."  The clarity also makes it possible to measure results.  (41)


Chapter Three.  Defining Your Culture

"Every organization has a unique culture that defines it."  "Organizational culture is the unspoken ethos of a group of people including its beliefs, social behaviors, practices, attitudes, values and traditions--all of which contribute to a collective way of thinking and practice."  (46)


Culture matters.  It impacts ministry and it impacts workers.  The best workers do not stay in an unhealthy culture.  Five common dysfunctions are control, bureaucracy, mistrust, ambiguity, and professional ministry.


Good leaders and organizations and teams empower people for ministry within appropriate boundaries.  They encourage them to utilize their strengths and gifts. (51)  The dysfunction of control is based on mistrusting others to make good decisions.  (52)  "High impact leaders ensure that trust is fostered by good communication, clear expectations and boundaries, elimination of unnecessary toll booths and accountability within clearly defined limits." (56)


"Culture is ingrained and it influences everything.  Since most people naturally resist change, the gravitational pull back to the old norm will often be huge--and powerful."  "True cultural change takes five-to-ten years at the organizational level…."  "It is often necessary to bring new blood (new leaders) into the organization…."  "Be absolutely sure that your senior teams…buy into the culture you are seeking to create." (65)  "Senior leaders are the champions of the culture." (66)  "Leaders themselves must be very clear about the organization's direction, believe it and be committed to it." (67)  "As a leader, I never want to violate the culture we are trying to create and I want to model what it means to live consistently with our commitments." (67)


Chapter Four. Building Your Sandbox

"The sandbox helps you visualize and communicate the most important 'big rocks' of your organization and, in the process, defines the ministry philosophy and the culture you are intentionally creating."  (70)  The sandbox helps you paint a simple visual picture of who you are, to visualize the key components of your ministry.  The four sides are Mission, Guiding Principles, Central Ministry Focus, and Culture.


Side 1: The Mission is your purpose, your reason for existence, your 'true north.' 

Side 2: Guiding Principles are the channel markers that point out the safe areas of sailing.  These include the non-negotiables, issues of necessary alignment, and key principles we must follow. 

Side 3: Central Ministry Focus is "the most important thing we must do, day in and day out to best fulfill our mission."  It should be the most effective and leveraged way to maximize ministry results.  While difficult, it is critical to define.  "For ReachGlobal, it is the developing, empowering and releasing of both our personnel and national leaders around the world." (75) 

Side 4: Culture.  For ReachGlobal this is a culture of health.  For churches it might be spiritual vitality.  (72-76)


Chapter Five. Healthy Team Leaders

"Healthy leaders…prioritize the health and results of the team, not the status or power of the leader.  This allows them to hire or recruit people who are even better than themselves." (83)


Five priorities of every leader:  personal development, strategic leadership, strong team, leadership development, mobilizing resources. (83) 


The cost of each successive step into leadership is leaving something behind in order to be successful in the new role. (87)  "You cannot take on new responsibility--and do it well--without giving up old responsibility.  Further, when we hang on to the old tasks we disempower those who should be responsible for those tasks." (88) 


"One of the tests of great leadership is whether a leader needs the spotlight, adulation, praise or credit for the results of the team's work." (90)  "In healthy teams…there is an egalitarian ethos where the leader is a coach and a cheerleader for the team--and all sit at the table as peers with the ability to make an equal contribution." (90) 


Strategic leaders always pull the team back to the mission.  They ask lots of questions, probing and looking for new ways to surmount problems.  They take frequent breaks to do nothing but think.  (95)  Carefully planned and well-executed meetings are critical. (96)


Good people need not supervisors but coaches and mentors to develop, empower and release them.  The big cost is the time of the coach and mentor.  (99)  "Leaders pay close attention to identifying and developing new leaders for the future." (99) 


Team leaders mobilize people, strategies, finances, and other needed resources.  And they are always looking for people who can contribute to the mission. (101)  They may seek donors for projects, partnerships that can help the team and even professionals in the workplace who can help us find solutions.  (102) 


Chapter Six.  Building a Healthy Team

Never negotiate character and good EQ.  And do not make hiring decisions alone. Build the team one at a time; build capacity through ongoing training; and never neglect the team. (105) 


Many good competent people will not fit your team.  People with a fatal flaw -- such as laziness, lack of buy in, lack of tangible results -- will bring continual frustration to a team and do not belong on the team.  Do not leave an incompetent person in place. (106)  "Your first responsibility as a leader is to ensure the health of your organization while always acting redemptively when a change is needed." (108) 


"Regularly build into your team's agenda major blocks of time for learning together, including dialogue around those topics you are covering." (115)


"Find the best people you can and then build their responsibilities around the gifting and wiring that they have so they will be most effective and happy in their work." (116) 


"Communication builds trust and trust minimizes conflict because information is power." (122)  "In the flat world, it is the job of everyone to share relevant information that they possess to those who need to know it regardless of where they fit in the organization." (123)


Example team covenant on p. 127


Chapter Seven.  The Power of Intentional Living

The key distinction of HI Teams is intentional vs. accidental living, focusing on results rather than activities.  "Key Result Areas help us determine the desired results of our work.  They answer the question, 'what is success?'  They allow us to focus on the critical rather than being driven by the urgent." (130)


"The Key to intentional living is being able to clearly identify what the results of our work and life ought to be…."  (136)


Key Result Areas are used to develop the annual plan, choose among opportunities, say 'yes' or 'no,' differentiate among competing agendas, delegate, and stay focused.  (139) 


"Saying 'no' allows me to say 'yes' to the key missional things God has called me to do.  I cannot say 'yes' to those without saying 'no' to other good things." (140)


Chapter 8.  Becoming a Mentor/Coach

"Good leaders use the mentor-coach paradigm to build great teams, develop their people and keep them aligned."  "Great leaders love to develop great people and they make it a priority!" (162)  Good people were made to be empowered, not managed.  (163) 


"Coaching is about releasing the gifting and potential in others and helping them become as successful and impactful as they possible can be." (164)  Coaches ask lots of questions that make others think and come to good conclusions.  It takes time to dialogue.  (165)  It is important for each individual to know that I care about them. (166) 


Mentors are more direct than coaches and sometimes they need to be direct.  Mentors give honest feedback.  Leaders need a healthy balance of both coaching and mentoring roles. (168)


"A best practice is to schedule a monthly mentor-coach meeting where you can play both the mentor and the coach depending on the circumstance, encourage, provide feedback, remove barriers and ensure that the individual is tracking with their Key Result Areas and Annual Ministry Plan." (171)  The author provides helpful details for doing these meetings, including well-thought-out questions to probe where growth is needed.  Always record your conversation where performance issues are involved. (176) 


"If I were to slip from the life I espouse, there are people around me who will gently but honestly confront me.  Who are those people for you?" (183)


Chapter Nine.  Dangerous Transitions

"In order for these [leadership] transitions to succeed, it is crucial that transitioning leaders are closely mentored and actively coached through the process.  Part of this transition is helping them give up the values and requirements of the prior level and take on the values and requirements of the new level.  They are not the same." (185)  "There are few moments that are more dangerous for leaders and organizations than these transitions." (186) 


"One of the unhealthy cultural realities of ministry organizations….is that personnel see themselves as 'independent contractors' who essentially are hired to do their own thing." (190) 


"Be willing to say NO to potential or current leaders who are not ready or qualified for additional leadership."  Three rules:  1.  Not everyone is wired to lead.  2.  Everyone has a capacity ceiling.  3.  Never make a hiring or promotion decision by yourself.  It is too dangerous.  (196)


Your transitioning leader must understand

n     How the new job differs from the old

n     What he/she must give up

n     What he/she must do that is new

n     How their focus needs to change   

n     [and several other excellent things in the list]  (197)


"Organizations that are empowered, healthy, and allow for innovation and creativity will see far more leaders surface than those that are not." (198)



 * * * * * *

Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.

To discontinue receiving book notes, hit Reply and put Discontinue in the text.