Tom Groot, Director of Student Discipleship - Assemblies of God Youth Ministries

I have had a number of jobs over the years. I have worked on a farm, in manufacturing, the food industry, and the church world. From being a cashier at McDonalds, to being responsible for all research and development and quality control of a second-shift lab in a plastics plant, to my current role as the Director of Student Discipleship for the Assemblies of God Youth Ministries, I have had jobs that represent various levels of responsibility. As a result, I have seen many different styles of leadership and employee experience.

One of my favorite roles was as a server at Don Pablo’s in Lakeland, Florida while I was at Southeastern University. I loved the challenge of the job, the pace, and (as a college student) the ability to make money in a short amount of time. I often laugh about how I took a pay cut to become a youth pastor! Those aspects are all important, however, those reasons are not why I bring it up. What I learned while waiting tables at Don Pablo’s is how important employee relationships are to job satisfaction and personal pride in performance. I loved that job because of the people I worked with. We were not a team, we were a family. Did we provide great service as a restaurant? Absolutely. But we also took care of each other, helped each other, challenged each other, and cared about each other.

At AG Youth, we strive to be more than a team. Here are four characteristics that I watch and nurture as our team moves to the next level and becomes a family.

  1. People like each other: I know that is easier said than done. Great teams will have many different strengths and personalities represented. When you bring a lot of people together who see things differently, opportunities for misunderstanding or conflict may arise. If left unattended, unresolved conflict will destroy your team. As a leader, you must always be aware of the nuances of your team and the tension points that exist. Promote an environment where differences are embraced. Continue to remind people of why they are on the team and why they are important to the organization. Encourage a team mentality and camaraderie.
  2. People challenge each other: In my family, we like to win. Playing the board game Risk at a family gathering always provides the type of drama you can sell tickets for. Why? For no other reason than we like to win! In a culture where people want to win, there will always be positive peer pressure to bring your best every day. I feel like this is incredibly healthy for a team if members challenge each other to improve and grow towards their potential. However, as a leader, you must make sure that this does not get out of control (like my family game of Risk). While clearing a table and seeing little different colored army guys fly across a room may be funny for a few minutes at home, it’s not as funny in the workplace.
  3. People laugh with each other: Laughing at each other, with each other, and at yourself are all very healthy experiences in the workplace. I know, there are many leaders who are afraid that a respect line can get crossed. In this instance, I think of my grandfather. I had immense respect for my him; however, if any of the 17 hairs on his head were out of place, yes, I was laughing at him. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect him. It means it’s funny, and that’s okay to admit. A work environment where people can laugh is extremely important in today’s world. Life is too serious and people deal with heavy pressures everywhere they go. As a leader, I want the office to be a place where team members can take a deep breath and remember that God is good and we are in this together. So…together we laugh!
  4. People hurt with each other: The true mark that a team has moved to the next level and become family is when the team begins to hurt with one another. This is more than being moved or saddened by someone’s misfortune or difficult circumstance. When someone on the team is going through a situation, it will affect how everyone interacts and responds. This calls for more than the typical, “I’m sorry you’re going through that. I’ll be praying for you” response. This is when your concern reaches a level that causes you to extend a hand and go above and beyond for each other. When a team hurts together, people will personally make sacrifices for the sake of their friends. As a leader, you should continually create space for this. It starts with the “How are you doing?” questions that come from a place of sincerity and care.

Leaders must create opportunities and margin to allow this type of experience to materialize. It’s okay to have impromptu conversations in the office. It’s okay to bring in donuts for no reason and spend a few minutes chatting with your team. Being a family takes time, energy, and commitment, but in my opinion, it’s all worth it. I’ll caution you now though, don’t fake it. If you don’t have it in you to embrace your team as a family, throw this article away and pretend you didn’t read it. Insincerity will destroy momentum and devalue your team. Instead, embrace your team as a family and you will all experience a new level of purpose, significance, and value.

I’m certain there are other qualities of teams that have gone beyond and become family. What are your thoughts? What other characteristics does your team demonstrate that you would add to this list?