King David opens Psalm 133 with a simple exclamation: “How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!” I couldn’t agree more. Living in unity is good and pleasant. It feels good to get along with your family, your friends, and your co-workers. Working in unity is invigorating, inspiring, meaningful. In contrast, how bad and unpleasant it is when God’s people live together in division. Living divided, in conflict, on bad terms with the people around you, saps your energy, curbs your productivity, and steals your joy. There are few things that produce the powerful results of unity and few things that yield the destructive consequences of division. United we stand. Divided we fall. Unity is absolutely essential to effective teamwork in every arena of life. Division breaks us down. Unity builds us up.
How united is your team? Your staff? Your church? Your family? Recently as I was preparing to speak to a group of our church leaders, I took some time to put language around unity on a team. Here are ten signs I identified to help us know when things are going well in this category. For each sign, I’ll provide contrast with a corresponding sign of a divided team. Here are the 10 Signs of a United Team.
1. Morale is High
Morale is defined as the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time. So having high morale means your team is confident, enthusiastic, and disciplined. These things are hard to measure but they’re easy to feel. It won’t take much time with your team to get a sense of the spirit of the group. High morale is a good sign of strong unity on a team.
Sign of a Divided Team: Morale is Low
2. Energy is On Tap
Teams that are working in unity seem to have an endless supply of energy. Where does it all come from? It is the result of a compound effect as people draw off of one another. When we cut ourselves off from each other through division, we miss out on the energy that comes from bouncing ideas, sharing strategies, and refining one another’s work. Collaboration multiplies the energy on your team.
Sign of a Divided Team: Everyone is Tired
3. Laughter is Non-Stop
If you’re wondering if your team is united, pay attention to how much they laugh together. Laughter is more powerful than we sometimes give it credit for. Don’t underestimate its value on your team. Laughter is a sign that people are getting along. You don’t laugh with people you’re mad at. If your team is laughing together, they’re probably working together.
Sign of a Divided Team: Smiles Are Scarce
4. Work is a Joy
“We don’t have to do this. We get to do this.” If you hang around VOUS for more than a few minutes, you’ll hear this phrase pop up somewhere. We say it a lot. It’s a simple reflection of a deep conviction. Our work is not a burden. It is a joy. But it’s hard to be joyful when you’re in an argument with the guy in the cubicle next to you. (We don’t do cubicles but you get the idea.) Conflict kills joy. Unity brings work to life.
Sign of a Divided Team: Work is a Burden
5. Quickly is the Speed
Division slows everything down. It causes people to avoid one another, to work around each other rather than with each other, to find another way to get it done that doesn’t involve that guy or that girl. It eliminates efficiency. I don’t know about you, but I like to work fast. I’m into getting things done. If you want to move faster, do everything you can to resolve conflict and promote unity on your team.
Sign of a Divided Team: Slowly is the Speed
6. Everyone Takes Responsibility
It was my fault. I dropped the ball. I should have communicated more clearly. I’m sorry. These are powerful words to hear on a team. But people are not this vulnerable with people they don’t trust (or people they don’t like). The closer your team can come together, the likelier they will be to take responsibility for their roles and own up to their mistakes. When this level of ownership and honesty is the norm, it is a good sign.
Sign of a Divided Team: Everyone Shifts Responsibility
7. Tasks Become Missions
There is a big difference between completing a task and working to complete a mission. When people get caught up in minor conflicts and petty disagreements, they lose sight of the bigger picture. Meaningful assignments become mundane tasks. What they’re doing becomes divorced from why they’re doing it. And that leads to frustration, boredom, and a lack of purpose. When people come together in unity, they get the sense of being part of something bigger than themselves. Simple tasks become small pieces of the greater mission.
Sign of a Divided Team: The Mission Becomes Tasks
8. People Talk Directly to Each Other
The quickest way to resolve a conflict is to go directly to the person it involves. The fastest way to exacerbate an issue is to talk around it, going to everyone except the one person who can resolve it. Effective teamwork requires healthy communication. And healthy communication means speaking clearly, honestly, and directly to the right people about the right things. If people avoid one another for personal reasons, their work will suffer along with their relationships.
Sign of a Divided Team: People Talk About Each Other
9. Failure Produces Improvement
Bill Gates famously said, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Well, failure can be a phenomenal teacher, as long as we don’t allow it to seduce us into thinking we can’t win. When we maintain a healthy perspective on failure, we are able to reap the benefits of the countless lessons it has to offer. If you don’t quit, failure isn’t really failure. It’s research. As Thomas Edison put it, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”
Sign of a Divided Team: Failure Creates an Identity of Defeat
10. Problems Get Solved Quickly
If quickly is the speed on a united team, then quickly is the pace at which problems get solved. United teams aren’t crushed when problems arise. They recognize them for what they are: opportunities in disguise. They don’t wait around, hoping their problems will go away. They come together to tackle them head on.
Sign of a Divided Team: Problems Create More Problems
Our team isn’t perfect. But we work hard to stay united. And let me tell you, it takes effort. Nothing great just happens and unity is no exception. You have to work at it constantly. Our natural tendency as humans is to drift apart, to get frustrated with one another, to allow tension to build, and to isolate ourselves. Life in community produces all kinds of friction. But let me tell you, it is so worth the effort. Unity is powerful. And it is one of God’s greatest desires for his church. Listen to the prayer Jesus prayed for you and for me as he spent the night before his crucifixion with his closest friends: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). That is the prayer I echo for my life and for yours.