The Secret to Creating a Highly Motivated Team

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One of the most significant challenges of leadership is aligning a group of people around a common mission, vision and strategy.

Some of you are trying to rally a dozen people around a common cause. Some of you are trying to rally hundreds, others thousands.

Sometimes I feel like I spend half my time as a lead pastor trying to keep people aligned around a vision mission and strategy that’s bigger than all of us.

How do you do that?

There are a lot of factors.

But today I want to share a secret with you.

Something that I think has gotten us more mileage than many of the other things we’ve done.

And something you can do too. If you have the courage.

And I believe you do. 

We Discovered the Secret By Accident

We have groups of leaders visit our church on a fairly regular basis. They usually come to see how we do portable church, what it’s like to be an Orange church or details on being a North Point Strategic Partner.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever called us up asking to study our volunteers.

But almost every team—without fail—wraps up their visit with a question that goes like this. What is the deal with your volunteers? How do you motivate them? 

I can understand the question. It takes between 300-400 volunteers to run our church at this stage. We only have 10 staff spread out over two locations.

We’re a fully portable church at this point.

That means volunteers roll out of bed as early as 3:30 a.m. to pick up trailers full of gear and drive them to our sites.

Others arrive between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. to start set up, and others flood in to serve in our production, family ministry, guest services and other environments.

And what’s amazing even to us is that they do it with a smile. You can’t buy the kind of energy, commitment or joy they bring.

For a while, we didn’t have a good answer to people’s questions about our team’s energy and motivation.

We usually said “I don’t know” and “God’s been good to us”, both of which are true, but neither of which is particularly helpful to the leaders who were  asking the question.

Then one day our team sat down to talk about it, and we came up with an answer.

So What’s the Secret?

So how do you motivate a team to serve with joy and without pay?

Stay laser-focused on a common vision, mission and strategy and eliminate ALL other options. 

We have spent a lot of time defining not just our mission and vision, but also our strategy. And we go to great lengths to explain each regularly to our team. Recently we even spent eight months trying to define our cultural values and will be sharing that with our team (I’ll blog on that soon.)

The mission, vision, strategy and values of an organization are crystal clear, it leaves little room for competing agendas, differing strategies or conflicting objectives.

When you clearly define the what, the why and the how of your organization or church, it rallies those who remain in an exceptional way.

Most churches won’t do this well.

And the reason they won’t do it is because it required eliminating other options.

We have said no to dozens of other visions, strategies, ways of being the church, program ideas and anything that would add complexity or competition to our common mission vision and strategy.

Saying no to many things allows you to say yes to a great thing.

That takes courage.

Saying no to many things allows you to say yes to a great thing. Click To Tweet

The Secret’s Dark Side

Your next question might be: Well did people leave as a result?

And the answer is yes. They did.

When we wouldn’t start the program they wanted to start, they left. And it wasn’t that they’re bad people or that their idea was bad. It was just that we are committed to a particular way of being the church which for us, gives us (we think) the best opportunity to reach unchurched people in our community.

The good news of course is that there are lots of other churches they could go to. And many did.

Now that’s tough on a leader…on a team…on a church.

At one point, a year into our existence, we were losing more people than we were gaining.

But we believed our mission vision and strategy, while not perfect, had potential. So we kept going.

As much as clarity unites, it also divides.

Which is why so many leaders are afraid of clarity.

Who am I to say which way to go?

What if other people are right?

Can’t we just let people do what they want?

The problem is you end up with an organization that can’t accomplish it’s goal because it’s not sure of what it’s goal is and because, quite honestly, it might have dozens of goals that are competing with each other.

Clarity initially divides people.

Back to the Good News

But…(and this is what most leaders miss because they don’t hang on long enough) the clarity that initially divides people ultimately unites people.

Eventually as the dust settles, the people left will rally around the clear common cause—assuming its a good one—and the mission will advance.

That’s because the people who are left are there because the believe in the mission vision and strategy. They’re committed to it.

They’ll give their lives to it, which is our case, means leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by creating a church unchurched people love to attend. It’s a cause I’ve given my life to as well.

The people who want to create a church that churched people want to attend are gone.

But there are dozens of churches in our neighbourhood that are great for churched people. We just want to create one that our friends and family who have yet to know Jesus want to be a part of.

And that’s what makes alarm clocks ring at 3:30, 4:30 and 5:30 on Sunday mornings.

The clarity that initially divides people ultimately unites people. Click To Tweet

Is There More?

That’s not the only thing that motivates a team, but I think it is an essential thing.

If you want more, I wrote this post on 6 reasons team lose high capacity volunteers.

And this one on how to attract and keep great leaders you can’t afford to pay.

The Big Question

The question every leader needs to wrestle down is this: Am I willing to lose a few to gain many more?

For us, it’s turned out well. In all my time in leadership, we have never reached more people and we have never reached more truly unchurched people. We’re not done yet by any means, but we’re accomplishing our mission.

And we’re doing it with a team that’s highly aligned, motivated and thankful to be involved (as I am).

But to get there, we had to be clear enough to risk losing people who weren’t on board.

Are you?

A key question for leaders: Are you willing to lose a few people to gain more? Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.