Does your leadership team debate, disagree, discuss, dump—or do you dialogue?  The group dynamics of a team can make or break your effectiveness as a leader.   Imagine what could happen in your ministry if you could lubricate your team’s communication skills.  The Collaboration Cube engages teams in such a way that the energy and synergy of the team is multiplied, resulting in often unprecedented unified decision-making. If group dynamics are healthy and well developed, there is opportunity to develop phenomenal momentum for your ministry.  On the other hand, sloppy discussions and miscommunication can become a roadblock to growth and promote “silo mentalities.”  So, how can you avoid this squeaky wheel and develop healthy team dynamics?  It begins with attention to developing your leaders by training them to collaborate well and maintaining a commitment to continually pursue great communication.

Healthy group dynamics grow out of:

  • A culture of understanding and trust
  • A shared and clearly articulated vision
  • Intentional leadership development training

At Auxano, we see the fruits of this approach in all of the churches and ministries we serve.   We engage teams in collaborative-vision-crafting environments that capture leadership horsepower.  The momentum that is created by building this culture is grounded in the demonstrated strength of collective intelligence–that the whole can exceed the sum of its parts. Ephesians 4 reminds us of how our diversity and unity within the body, when working properly, create synergy for growth.

How can we train and develop teams that capture this collective intelligence, or as Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) coined “think together?”  We begin by building a foundation of trust using personality preference assessments for teams to become aware of the strengths, weaknesses and the value that they and their colleagues bring to the team.  The ministry’s vision is always at the center of collaboration, as it keeps the focus on genuine shared commitment. As part of leadership develop training, we develop the heart and art of dialogue to create a collaborative environment so the capability of the team to make unified progress is enhanced.  To put it into action, we use a simple tool we have developed that reinforces collaborative-vision-crafting:  the collaboration cube. 

Start by Building Trust

It is human nature to see things through one’s own lens.  We are constantly filtering information based on our past experiences and our perceptions.  At times, this tendency, along with the desire for the advancement of our individual agendas, makes for a foggy view outside of ourself.  As a result, we can to loose sight of the church’s mission and often see other leaders, or their ministries, as competitors rather than interdependent partners –as chess pieces with coordinating and complementary moves.  Additionally, if our teammates have personality characteristics that are very different from ours, we can run into communication roadblocks.  It is amazing how something that seems so minor on the surface can be the source of impaired progress.  There are three essential actions that can be taken to remove the roadblocks:

  • Develop an awareness of ourselves and how our perceptions affect our communication
  • Develop an awareness of others and their intentions
  • Develop an awareness of the value each person brings to the team

Without a doubt, behavioral and personality assessment tools are the primary keys to unlocking the barriers that keep us from developing healthy, productive, well-functioning teams.  Using the reports generated by these assessment tools, we can learn how to acknowledge our weaknesses, accept our strengths, learn about our teammates and engage in authentic dialogue about one another’s communication style and values to the team. We can build an understanding of our partners in ministry service.  As a result, we develop trusting, respectful relationships that are focused on a common purpose. With this new perspective we wipe clean the windshield and focus on the shared road ahead.

Make Sure the Vision is Clear

Imagine that you are on a trip with some friends and you are deciding how to get to your destination.  You are all reading different travel guides and giving input–but you all have different destinations in mind!  I think Hawaii would be great, but you think Aspen! How are you going to get to your destination when you haven’t even agreed where you are going? Now imagine your team making a decision that will affect the entire church. What happens when the individual members have their own destination in mind?  How can your team work together for the mission of the church if it is not clearly defined? Enter “silo” mentalities.  Members will develop their own priorities and individual agendas that pull the team in different directions with competing energies:  for instance, when a children’s ministry director believes that the church budget should always give their ministry priority, even though the church has a sound system that regularly fails!  A clearly stated and well-defined vision–the church’s picture of the future– gives the leadership team a filter for making effective decisions that keep the church on course to realize its vision.   When a team has the same picture of the destination in mind, decision-making is focused.  The team begins to ask, “What is larger than my corner of the church – my ministry?”  With the church’s vision as “the one thing,” the members of the team become united in the journey.

Develop Leadership by Developing Dialogue

It is important that your team works together to learn to really be a team–empowered leaders who are interdependent–not simply a group of ministry professionals working together.    We begin by developing theteam dynamic.  First, the team must be trained in how to use the results of the personality profiles for improved communication, trust and understanding.  Second, there must be ownership of the mission and vision of the church.  The leaders should not simply agree on the mission but know how to communicate it clearly and implement it.  The last important element necessary to build teams that dialogue and collaborate well is intentional training in the value and methods of collaborative team.

The training itself is not complex. The key is having the discipline to practice it and adhere to the rules.  It involves educating your leaders in the elements of dialogue and the importance of commitment to the methods of systematic and purposeful collaboration.  Once it is practiced a few times, with honest feedback and facilitation, it becomes difficult for leaders to work together any other way. The resulting fruit of respect, creativity, and effectiveness in communication will leave the team permanently changed.

Collaboration 101

First, let’s unravel collaboration, dialogue and collective intelligence.  Collaboration is defined as “working together as a team.”  Dialogue takes collaboration to a new level of team interaction. Earlier we spoke of the heart and art of dialogue.  Listening is the heart; suspending judgment within the balance of listening and stating is the art. The trust that is built allows people to put aside their perceptions and assumptions to really become open to genuine listening—listening to hear; not to react.  The importance of suspending judgment, or to “delay conclusions,” cannot be minimalized.  Dr. Howard Hendricks (Color Outside the Lines) states that “premature judgment kills 90% of creative thinking!”  What a waste of leadership resources! Alternately, engaging the methods of dialogue results in two-way, open communication that generates an uninhibited flow of ideas.


Dialogue relates to more than communication—it involves creating an environment of trust, discipline and commitment to a common purpose where teams “think together.” Let’s be sure not to confuse that with  “groupthink” which is just the opposite. (Groupthink results from pressure to conform.  Creativity and independent thinking are inhibited and the group’s decision-making effectiveness deteriorates.)  The core of dialogue is that there is understanding and discipline on the team that the question –the problem at hand—always remains the focus of the dialogue, with the church’s vision as primary filter. It works because individuals put aside egos, assumptions, emotions and agendas to focus on the question for the good of the whole–the collective vision of the church or ministry.

With an understanding of the basics of dialogue, the team must relentlessly:

  • Practice listening to hear, not to react
  • Practice asking to explore ideas, not to judge
  • Practice advocating an idea that focuses on the question at hand, not to defend a position

Out of respect and trust, the collective intelligence expands as everyone on the team is free to speak, challenge and think.  Essentially, the group intelligence goes up because you are allowing people to become their best for the team.   The result is a team that is creative, purposeful and focused in the face of change and challenges and positive about the future. Commitment to decisions is high.   The team has greater confidence in the convictions they make because, as a team, they have examined the question from all sides. (Howard Hendricks, Color Outside the Lines)

You may be thinking, “this sounds great, but how can I get my team to really enter this level of collaborative team?”  How can we enter into collaborative dialogue? How do we use it to get results?

Unleash the Power of Collaboration

You have built team trust. You are all on mission.  Now you are ready to enter into collaborative decision-making. Dialogue occurs within the context of facilitated, skilled discussion with an individual designated to facilitate the session.  First, the “question” must be clearly defined.  Then, dialogue begins.  It is important that it is understood when it is time to brainstorm, when it is time to dialogue—consider an idea from all sides–and when it is time to commit to a decision.  We refer to these designated opportunities for expression as modes:  Blue Sky mode (brainstorm time, the sky is the limit), Discuss/Challenge mode (dialogue and inquiry of an idea) and Decide/Commit (DC) mode (the time to come to a team decision).  Simply put, there is collaboration time and decision time.

William Issaics (Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together) identified four necessary roles that individuals on a team take in collaboration.  Using Issacs’ work as a model we have identified the roles as:

·     The Initiator –for direction

·    The Processor – for reflection

·     The Supporter– for affirmation

·     The Challenger – to question

In collaborative dialogue, all of these roles have to be played out to have tapped the collective intelligence of the group.  People assume these roles in what we refer to as Discuss/Challenge mode.  Judgment is suspended and ideas are the focus.  While each member may have a personality preference toward a role, all members can assume any of the roles during collaboration. We see the value of these roles in decision-making as an idea passes through the process of discovery. The team uses these roles to creatively explore and advocate an idea.  The leader or facilitator must stay aware of the dynamics that are taking place so he or she can guide the team, perceive when the learning environment has been tapped and discern when it is time to move to Decide/Commit(D/C) – decision making time.

A Simple Tool Will Transform Your Team

Our approach, when working with leadership teams, is to engage individuals deeply in the process by making it “experiential.”  While staying on task, we keep it relational and fun – even though the dialogue can be extremely focused, intense and passionate, there is always respect. Auxano has developed a hands-on tool to use in collaborative meetings that not only reinforces understanding of dialogue and team dynamics, but personally engages each individual to enter into productive, healthy collaboration and apply what they have learned.

We call it the Collaboration Cube.

Our Collaboration Cube takes these ideas to an experiential level that not only encourages team involvement in dialogue, but gives them the ability to apply it.  Imagine a cube that has images that represent each of the four roles and the modes.  The cube is used by the facilitator to guide the group, and by team members to communicate with the team.

While in the Discuss/Challenge mode, individual members use the cube to inform the rest of the team which of the four roles they are experiencing by turning that image to face the team. The cube allows them to enter more deeply into dialogue while letting team members know the source of their expression.  Team members find this empowering as they are freed to participate openly and objectively.  While reinforcing collaboration itself, the cube engages teams in such a way that the energy and synergy of the team is multiplied.

The cube is also used by the facilitator to signal a shift in the basic operating environments–Blue Sky, Discuss/Challenge or Decide/Commit.

·     Discuss/Challenge is the default mode where the four roles are put into play and where feedback and pushback are openly discussed.

·     Blue Sky mode is the classic brainstorming time where it is critical to generate a great volume of ideas while delaying judgment or critique.  The basic principle of creativity is that great ideas are generated through many ideas.

·     Decide/Commit  is the time signaled by the facilitator to move toward a consensus decision and to “land the plane.”  This is the time when the facilitator feels there has been adequate discussion and “ah-ha moments” to move toward a meaningful conclusion. The facilitator turns the cube so the D/C side faces the team.  That signals commitment time.

When the D/C side of the cube is turned, team members are asked to voice their support for the idea that is on the table. An important point to remember is that Decide/Commit is NOT looking for 80% of the group to feel 100% good about the decision; rather, we are looking for 100% of the group to feel 80% good.  Eighty percent is a huge success and will be a better result than anything that anyone of us feels 100% in favor.  When the team commits to move forward with the idea, after engaging in this type of systematic, healthy communication dynamic, the momentum to run the idea to the finish line is unbeatable!

Imagine a unified team that can work together and support decisions because they are results that people really care about and they evolved from a shared experience. Now imagine what you can do with that kind of cohesive culture!  Give this method a try and watch the collective intelligence of your team and your decisions increase with results for your ministry that are unprecedented.

If you would like more information, email