YOUR MINISTRY MIX
Team Synergy: Who’s In Your Boat?
By Laura J. Bagby
-- Harnessing talent, releasing creativity, maintaining
unity, experiencing synergy, evoking effectiveness—these
are qualities that every ministry team leader wants for their
organizations. But creating a smooth-working team is no easy task.
Just look at what personality mix you might have in your boat:
Sammy So-Slow can’t seem to make a decision, Rick the Rule
Breaker doesn’t want to play by company procedures, Darla
Dynamic wants to throw out the status quo in favor of change at
all costs, Vinnie the Vision Caster, though highly optimistic,
has a tendency to disregard critical facts, and Annie the Analyst
is too caught up in the minutest details to see the big picture.
With a conglomeration of opposites like that, how do you make
it work? Can you make it work?
John Trent, Rodney Cox, and Eric Tooker, authors of Leading
from Your Strengths: Building Close-Knit Ministry Teams,
say a resounding “Yes”! The key is to understand who
is in your “raft” and how each person will react when
navigating the “whitewater” of change.
I was privileged to talk with John Trent, president of strongfamilies.com
and the chairman and CEO of Ministry
Insights International, an organization that seeks to build
strong organizations, staffs, families, and individuals through
assessment tools that pinpoint individual strengths, and find
I was already familiar with Trent’s work, specifically
the personality test based on the four animals—lion, otter,
golden retriever, and beaver—found in the book The Two
Sides of Love, that he co-wrote with relationship expert
Gary Smalley, so I was excited to find out what Trent and his
team had newly uncovered through their extensive research.
from Your Strengths, Trent uses the analogy of a whitewater
rafting trip to explain what typically happens in a ministry organization
if caught unaware during seasons of change.
“Imagine that you are putting in at the Colorado River
in a raft,” says Trent, “and you have never had a
guide, and you don’t know what is coming up ahead of you.
Obviously, you are in for an interesting ride. That is what most
of us do—we even swim out to the raft, jump in while it
is still in the river, and have no idea what is ahead of us. But
what if there was a predictable way to understand conflicts and
Fortunately, for ministry teams, there are predictable indicators.
Trent notes that there are four transitions, or what he terms
“rapids,” that every ministry faces. They are the
‘problems and challenges’ transition, the ‘people
and information’ transition, the ‘pace and change’
transition, and the ‘rules and procedures’ transition.
Different personalities will react differently to each transition.
Knowing this will help leaders place individuals in the correct
positions so that they can adjust to each change effectively and
work in their areas of strength.
Each transition highlights a different personality variable,
asking the following questions:
- Are you an aggressive problem solver or a passive problem solver?
(problems and challenges transition)
- Are you more trusting or more skeptical of people, situations,
(people and information transition)
- Are you a slow decision maker, careful to gather all the
facts before deciding, or are you a quick decision maker who
moves toward a fast resolution?
(pace and change transition)
- Do you play by the rules, carefully weighing what was done
in the past, or do you take risks and doing something new?
(rules and procedures transition)
Unlike personality instruments that only show what a person is
like, Trent’s Leading
From Your Strengths: Understanding Strengths and Blending Differences™
indicator looks at what a person is most like, what a person
is least like, and the correlation between the two. Plus, unlike
the Myers-Briggs type indicator, which measures 16 behavioral
characteristics, and the DISC test, which measures 28 behavioral
characteristics, Trent’s indicator looks at a total of 384
behavioral characteristics, thus hoping to give a broader and
more accurate picture of the whole person.
The test, which uses the lion, otter, beaver, and golden retriever*
categories as a base, is quick and relatively inexpensive, less
than $30—free if you buy the book—and the results
come back instantaneously as a 28-page in-depth analysis in your
When you take the assessment, you will see graphs showing your
“core” style and your “adapted” style.
Your “core” style is who you really are. Your “adapted”
style, on the other hand, reflects how you think you need to adapt
to be successful in the environment that you are in.
The more these two differ, the more likely that you will experience
stress on the job because you are trying to be something that
you are not. But before you note any major discrepancies between
these two graphs and decide to change jobs or positions, consider
that this might simply show a growth area for you.
As Trent points out, “If you are having to adapt, that
doesn’t mean that is not where God wants you.” Trent
tells the story of a policeman who is a high golden retriever/beaver
combination who was tasked to become an early response captain,
a position that calls for high lion tendencies, a quality he typically
has very little of. For the past 11 years, this same policeman
has risen to the challenge of being an effective early response
captain because he believes that is what God has called him to
I was highly curious about this assessment, so I took it online.
Much of the information I received back was accurate, but in some
areas, I think I skewed the results because I was trying to answer
how I thought I should rather than how I really am. I am much
more analytical and slower on making decisions than my test results
That’s why I offer this word of caution: be yourself. If
you have worked in a ministry environment for a while and you
know what your organization highly values, you might sway your
answers to fit your ministry’s beliefs. For instance, if
your company values change and aggressive decision-making, you
might define yourself as a quick decision maker also. On the other
hand, if the ministry you work for believes in the tried and true
and a steady progress, you might indicate that you, too, value
the status quo when you are really more of a change agent. Make
sure you aren’t biasing results because of highly held external
A diverse team, once understand, is much more valuable in the
long run than a homogenous group who thinks and acts the same
way. Why? Because a ministry needs people who see the big picture
and people who see the details. A team needs those who venture
forth optimistically, getting the ball rolling, and those who
put on the brakes to avoid foreseeable pitfalls. A team needs
to make both quick decisions and deliberate decisions, depending
on the circumstances. Wherever you land in the spectrum, you are
invaluable to the success of your team.
As Trent says, “God has placed the members of the body
just as He desired [see 1 Corinthians 12:18]. If that is true,
if your ministry team is together by divine design, it is crucial
to understand who is in the boat with you.”
So, do you know who you’ve got in your raft? Do you know
what makes them swim and what makes them sink? Do you know what
makes them paddle with vigor and what makes them turn the boat
around? With tools from Trent you will.
For more information about John Trent, his organization, or the
various assessments you can take online, please visit www.insightsinternational,
Also, be sure to pick up Trent’s latest book in the Leading
From Your Strengths series called Leading
From Your Strengths 2: Building Intimacy in Your Small Group.
*For those who aren’t familiar with the four animal personalities,
the lion is the assertive, take-charge type; the otter is a fun-loving,
highly verbal and spontaneous type; the golden retriever is the
very understanding, compassionate, eager to please type; and the
beaver is the detail-oriented, systematic type.
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