Team of Teams

General Stanley McChrystal

Stanley McChrystal is a retired four-star general from the U.S. Army. His last assignment was to serve as the commander of all American forces in Afghanistan.

General McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Forces Task Force in 2003. He soon realized that although the allied forces had huge advantages in money, resources and training they were not winning against the nascent Al Qaeda network. He began to realize that conventional war tactics no longer applied in the twenty-first century.

To defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq, his task force would have to adopt the speed and flexibility of the de-centralized network of Al Qaeda. During the war, McChrystal and his colleagues transformed the Task Force into a network, combining transparent communications and decentralized decision making. Walls between silos were torn down. Decision making was pushed down. Adaptability and flexibility were emphasized. The Task Force became a team of teams and began to defeat Al Qaeda.

McChrystal and his colleagues argued that the challenges that the U.S. Army faced in Iraq were germane in today’s world to countless businesses and organizations.

The basic principles implemented by McChrystal and his team included the following:

1. Shift from silos to networking.

2. Shift from secrecy to transparency.

3. Empower individual team members.

4. Decentralize decision making whenever possible.

5. Focus on adaptability more than planning and predicting.

6. Flexibility and cohesiveness of small teams must be scaled to fit larger organizations.

7. Leadership is no longer command and control, micromanaging, but creating the broader environment.

McChrystal argues that these principles apply to all of life in the 21st century and not just when you are fighting Al Qaeda.

Our struggle in Iraq in 2004 is not an exception – it is the new norm. The models of organizational success that dominated the twentieth century have their roots in the industrial revolution and, simply put, the world has changed. The pursuit of “efficiency” – getting the most with the least investment of energy, time, or money – was once a laudable goal, but being effective in today’s world is less a question of optimizing for a known (and relatively stable) set of variables than responsiveness to a constantly shifting environment. Adaptability, not efficiency, must become our central competency.

McChrystal makes a strong case that the old adage of sharing information on a need-to-know-basis no longer works in today’s world. The emphasis must be on transparency and information-sharing so that all members of the teams have an opportunity to contribute.

Walter Isaacson, the renowned biographer of Steven Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci, outlines the basic principles of the book in the foreword:

1. Whether in business or in war, the ability to react quickly and adapt is critical, and it’s becoming even more so as technology and disruptive forces increase the pace of change. That requires new ways to communicate and work together.

2. Organizations need to reinvent themselves. This involves breaking down silos, working across divisions, and mastering the flexible response that comes from true teamwork and collaboration.

3. High-speed networks and digital communications mean that collaboration can – and must – happen in real time. The distributed, decentralized, and weblike architecture of the Internet empowers each individual to be a collaborator. Likewise the necessity of real-time innovation and problem-solving requires integrative and transparent leadership that empowers individual team members.

4. This new environment gave Al Qaeda a distinct advantage, allowing the networked organization to strike rapidly, reconfigure in real time, and integrate its globally dispersed actions.

5. The U.S. military and its allies had to transform the way the special operations community operated, changing the way it waged the War on Terror.

6. Management models based on planning and predicting instead of resilient adaptation to changing circumstances are no longer suited to today’s challenges. Organizations must be networked, not siloed, in order to succeed. Their goal must shift from efficiency to sustained organizational adaptability. This requires dramatic shifts in mental and organizational models, as well as sustained efforts on the part of leadership to create the environment for such a change.

7. One conclusion they reached was that agility and adaptability are normally limited to small teams. They explored the traits that make small teams adaptable, such as trust, common purpose, shared awareness, and the empowerment of individual members to act.

8. The primary lesson that emerged, and is detailed in this book, is the need to scale the adaptability and cohesiveness of small teams up to the enterprise level. This involves creating a team of teams to foster cross-silo collaboration.

9. Doing this requires increasing transparency to ensure common understanding and awareness.

10. Decisions are pushed downward, allowing the members to act quickly. This new approach also requires changing the traditional conception of the leader. The role of the leader becomes creating the broader environment instead of command-and-control micromanaging.

At the end of the book McChrystal recaps a few basic points for leaders everywhere:

* Although we intuitively know the world has changed, most leaders reflect a model and leader development process that are sorely out of date. We often demand unrealistic levels of knowledge in leaders and force them into ineffective attempts to micromanage.

* The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing.

* A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.

The Ideal Team Player

By Patrick Lencioni

It is always a significant occasion when Patrick Lencioni writes a new book.  Lencioni, along with Jim Collins, is perhaps one of the two most insightful writers today on leadership and organizational health.  A former Bain consultant who now has his own organization called The Table Group, he has impacted millions through his writings.  This book is about how you find and develop team players.

Lancioni writes that the most valuable quality a person needs to develop in the world of work is how to be a team player.  He then argues that the three essential traits for team players are humble, hungry and smart.  The key issue is how he defines these three terms.  He writes this book in the form of a fable, a true-life story that is quite interesting.  His fables are always good reading.  And then he follows with a final 50 pages explaining the fable in more detail.

He argues that humility is the single greatest and most indispensable attribute of being a team player.  Here are the questions to determine if someone is humble.

Does he genuinely compliment or praise teammates without hesitation?

Does she easily admit when she makes a mistake?

Is he willing to take on lower-level work for the good of the team?

Does she gladly share credit for team accomplishments?

Does he readily acknowledge his weaknesses?

Does she offer and receive apologies graciously?

The second key trait is hungry.  He says that hungry people almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder, because they are self-motivated and diligent.  Here are the questions to determine if someone is hungry.

Does he do more than what is required in his own job?

Does she have passion for the “mission” of the team?

Does he feel a sense of personal responsibility for the success of the team?

Is she willing to contribute to and think about work outside of office hours?

Is he willing and eager to take on tedious and challenging tasks whenever necessary?

Does she look for opportunities to contribute outside her area of responsibility?

The word smart can be confusing.  He is not talking about IQ here, but more about emotional intelligence, or people intelligence.  He’s talking about being smart in how you deal with people.  It basically refers to a person’s common sense about people.  Here are the questions to determine if someone is smart about people.

Does he seem to know what teammates are feeling during meetings and interactions?

Does she show empathy to others on the team?

Does he demonstrate an interest in the lives of teammates?

Is she an attentive listener?

Is he aware of how his words and actions impact others on the team?

Is she good at adjusting her behavior and style to fit the nature of a conversation or relationship?

He then describes why you need all three traits, and how problems will arise if you only have two of the three traits.  And how disaster might arise if you only have one or none of the traits.  He talks about how these three traits affect hiring, how you develop these three traits more in your current employees, and how you embed these three values in your organizational culture.

Finally, he connects The Ideal Team Player with his well-known book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.  They go hand in glove.  The Five Dysfunctions focuses on how a group must interact to become a cohesive team, centering in on the essential nature of trust, conflict, commitment, accountability and results.

By contrast, this book focuses more on the individual team member and the traits that make him or her more likely to overcome the dysfunctions that derail teams.

The book is superb.  It is exceedingly practical and relevant.  It is a fascinating read.  However, here is a warning:  Patrick Lencioni is a Christian and I imagine a devout Christian, but he does use earthy language at times in the fable, perhaps to reflect the workplace today.


Preaching by Timothy Keller

Preaching is the latest book by Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and a well-known author. It is superb. It is probably the most helpful book on preaching that I have read, ahead of Between Two Worlds by John Stott.  

No doubt the book is stronger because Keller has been a practitioner of preaching for 40 years. But that is not enough. Keller is extremely insightful and incredibly well-read. He draws on a wealth of scholarship.


My bottom line: This book is a goldmine. I wish I had read it when I was a young preacher, but I’m glad to have read it now. If I could have young preachers – or older preachers for that matter – read one book on preaching, this would be it. Do yourself and your people a great favor and go out and read this book as soon as possible.


He has seven chapters on the art of preaching.


Chapter 1: “Preaching the Word”

In the first chapter, Keller emphasizes that we must focus on the Word of God. He makes the case that the normal way to preach should be expository preaching. He gives six reasons why expository preaching is so important.


  1. “Expository preaching is the best method for displaying and conveying your conviction that the whole Bible is true” (p. 32).


  1. “A careful expository sermon makes it easier for the hearers to recognize that the authority rests not in the speaker’s opinions or reasoning but in God, in his revelation through the text itself” (p. 36).


  1. “Expository preaching enables God to set the agenda for your Christian community … Expository preaching means you can’t completely predetermine what your people will be hearing over the next few weeks or months. As the texts are opened, questions and answers emerge that no one might have seen coming” (p. 36).


  1. “A related reason is that expository preaching lets the text set the agenda for the preacher as well. It helps preachers resist the pressure to adapt messages too much to the culture’s preferences. It brings you to subjects that you would rather not touch on and that you might not have chosen to address, since some of the Bible’s positions – on subjects like sexuality – are so unpopular right now” (p. 37).


  1. “A steady diet of expository sermons also teaches your audience how to read their own Bibles, how to think through a passage and figure it out” (p. 38).


  1. “Sustained expository preaching keeps you away from pet themes and gets you into a greater range of passages and subjects. Yet it also should lead you to see even more clearly the one main biblical theme” (p. 38).



Chapter 2: “Preaching the Gospel Every Time”

Keller argues in this chapter that we should preach Christ in every message and specifically preach the gospel in every message, that the gospel is the fitting conclusion to every sermon on the Bible. He begins with an extensive section on legalism and antinomianism and shows that the answer to both is the gospel. He ably supports the claim that Christ is the theme of the entire Bible, and that if you preach Christ and the gospel every message you will be showing your people how the Bible fits together into this one grand theme, the gospel of Jesus.


“Any sermon that tells listeners only how they should live without putting that standard into the context of the gospel gives them the impression that they might be complete enough to pull themselves together if they really try hard. Ed Clowney points out that if we ever tell a particular Bible story without putting it into the Bible story (about Christ), we actually change its meaning for us. It becomes a moralistic exhortation to ‘try harder’ rather than a call to live by faith in the work of Christ. There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: Is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do or basically about what he has done?” (p. 60).


“The only way to avoid what Whitefield is describing – the person spiritually searching for a relationship with God falling into the universal trap of moralistic religion – is to preach Christ from every text of the Bible, to preach the gospel every time” (p. 63).


“So we have a balance to strike – not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to preach the text without preaching Christ. Charles Spurgeon tells of a Welsh minister who spoke to a younger minister about his sermon after hearing it. ‘It was a very poor sermon,’ he told the young man. ‘Will you tell me why you think it a poor sermon?’ came the response. ‘Because,’ said the Welsh minister, ‘there was no Christ in it.’ ‘Well,’ said the young man, ‘Christ was not in the text; we are not to be preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.’ The exchange continued:


“‘Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?’ ‘Yes,’ said the young man. ‘Ah!’ said the old divine, ‘and so from every text in Scripture, there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your business is when you get to a text, to say, “Now what is the road to Christ?” and then preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis – Christ. And,’ said he, ‘I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there is a savor of Christ in it’” (p. 67-68).



Chapter 3: “Preaching Christ from All of Scripture”

“The key to preaching the gospel every time is to preach Christ every time, and the key to that is to find how your particular text fits into the full canonical context and participates as a chapter in the great narrative arc of the Bible, which is how God saves us and renews the world through the salvation by free grace in his Son, Jesus Christ” (p. 70).


Keller gives us six ways or categories to preach Christ from all of Scripture:


  1. Preach Christ from every genre or section of the Bible.


  1. Preach Christ through every theme of the Bible.


  1. Preach Christ in every major figure of the Bible.


Jesus is the true and better Adam, who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us (1 Corinthians 15).


Jesus is the true and better Abel, who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out for our acquittal, not our condemnation (Hebrews 12:24).


Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answered the call of God to leave the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void “not knowing whither he went” to create a new people of God.


Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me.” Now we can say to God, “Now we know that you love us, because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from us.”


Jesus is the true and better Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved so that we, like Jacob, receive only the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.


Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who at the right hand of the King forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.


Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant (Hebrews 3).


Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses, who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.


Jesus is the true and better Job – the truly innocent sufferer – who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends (Job 42).


Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.


Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life but gave his life – to save his people.


Jesus is the true and better Jonah, who was cast out into the storm so we could be brought in.


(p. 77-78)


  1. Preach Christ from every major image in the Bible.


  1. Preach Christ from every deliverance story line in the Bible.


For example, the story of David and Goliath really points to Christ as our deliverer from sin and death.


  1. Preach Christ through instinct.



Chapter 4: “Preaching Christ to the Culture”

Keller emphasized that we not only preach the Bible but that we also preach to people in a specific culture. This is a strong chapter on being culturally sensitive and aware, so that we can address the issues and questions that people in our culture are asking. For example, we should use language that people understand, rather than Christianese. He argues that we can strengthen our points by using respected authorities from the culture. You might argue: “Well my people are all believers and so they don’t need any authorities from the culture.” But if you do employ authorities from the culture and avoid Christianese and demonstrate an understanding of doubts and objections of secular people, then your people, believers, will begin thinking to themselves: O, I wish I would have invited that friend here today. However, if you’re not culturally sensitive they will make contrasting mental notes: I will never invite a non-Christian friend here.



Chapter 5: “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind”

Chapter 5 is not an easy chapter. He basically gives an analysis of much of the culture in America today to help the preacher become aware of some of the basic assumptions that we need to be aware of that need to inform us in our applications and illustrations.


“The late-modern mind presents itself as something like this. We have come to realize that we don’t need God to explain the world we see – science does that job for us. We don’t need God or religion to be moral, to love and work for a better world, or to have meaning and fulfillment in life. What we need is to be free to live life as we see fit and to work together to make the world a better and more just place to live. Religion gets in the way of all this – it constrains our freedom to live as we wish and divides us so we can’t work together” (p. 124).


He talks at length about the “narratives” or basic values of modern culture. He talks about an identity narrative of deep individualism. He talks about a freedom narrative – freedom from all constraints. “The only sin which is not tolerated is intolerance.” He also talks about a morality and justice narrative and shows that our culture knows there is some need for morality and justice, but has not basis for it. They are secular. And then finally he talks about science being the secular hope and the inadequacy of this foundation.


This chapter feels like it belongs in a book analyzing current culture rather than belonging to a book on preaching. It is not a quick read, but yet it is extremely valuable and worth the preacher’s time to work through.



Chapter 6: “Preaching Christ to the Heart”

In this chapter Keller says that preaching to the heart entails at least these six things.


  1. Preach affectionately. It should be clear that you yourself have been humbled, wounded, healed, comforted, exalted by the truths you are teaching. You cannot fake this. A rich, deep private prayer life is essential to preaching affectionately.


  1. Preach imaginatively. This means include appropriate stories and images and metaphors. Keller includes an excellent six or seven pages on illustrations, probably the best little section on preaching with illustrations that I’ve read.


  1. Preach wondrously. He argues that there are indelible, deep longings in the human heart for wonder and story and fantasy. Fairy tales are so powerful because they point to an underlying reality. People are looking for stories and words that evoke wonder.


  1. Preach memorably. This includes insight, depth. This kind of insight and depth will not be there apart from a depth of research and reading. Also, be sensitive to the difference between the written word and the spoken word. Be a student of orality.


  1. Preach Christocentrically. This has been a major point earlier in the book. Preach Christ in every sermon.


“Resist ending your sermon with ‘live like this,’ and rather end with some form of ‘You can’t live like this. Oh, but there’s one who did! And through faith with him you can begin to live like this too.’ The change in the room will be palpable as the sermon moves from primarily being about them to being about Jesus. They will have shifted from learning to worship” (p. 179).


  1. Preach practically. Be practical and relevant to everyday life. At this point Keller includes 4-5 pages of very helpful, practical insights, such as diversify your conversations patterns, partners, and your reading. Diversify the people that you are picturing in the congregation as you prepare. Weave application throughout the sermon and not just at the end. Use direct questions that you ask the congregation. Finally, be emotionally aware. This is a very strong section, as is this entire chapter.



Chapter 7: “Preaching in the Spirit”

How can we invite the Holy Spirit to work in our preaching?


“It has been reported that when George Whitefield was first approached with the idea of publishing his sermons, he agreed but noted, ‘You’ll never be able to put down the thunder and lightning on the page.’”   (p. 193 – first paragraph in middle – is that to be added? Not sure.)


Whitefield was referring to the power of the Spirit. The best preachers combine both gentleness and warmth on the one hand and courage and authority on the other hand.


He argues that some preachers have an underlying message: “Aren’t we great?” Other preachers have an underlying message: “Aren’t I great?” There is a subtle message: “Don’t you think I’m a great preacher and don’t you think this is a great church? Don’t you want to come back, bring friends, and give money?” This is a performance mentality that is a form of selling. A third group of preachers have a subtext: “Isn’t this truth great?” These churches want to be fed, they want solid food. The focus of communication is completely on the insiders. A final group of preachers have an underlying message: “Isn’t Christ great?” This is what we want. This is the underlying message of worshiping Christ, which is at the heart of true preaching. Ultimately preaching is not about us at all, but about Christ.




In an appendix of 20-30 pages, Keller has an excellent section on how to write an expository message. He fleshes out the following four steps:


  1. Discern the goal of the text by itemizing all the things that it says and looking for the main idea that all the other ideas support.


  1. Choose a main theme for the sermon that presents the central idea of the text and ministers to your specific listeners.


  1. Develop an outline around the sermon theme that fits the passage, with each point raising insights from the text itself, and has movement toward a climax.


  1. Flesh out each point with arguments, illustrations, examples, images, other supportive Bible texts, and, most important, practical application.


This book is a goldmine. Again, I wish I had read it when I was a young preacher, but I’m glad to have read it now. If I could have young preachers – or older preachers for that matter – read one book on preaching, this would be it. Do yourself and your people a great favor and go out and read this book as soon as possible.

Passing the Leadership Baton By Tom Mullins

Tom Mullins was the Senior Pastor of Christ Fellowship, a large church in Palm Beach, California. This is the story of his experience in passing the leadership baton to his son Todd Mullins, in what was apparently a very effective transition. John Maxwell, a member of the church and part of the teaching team, coached them through the transition process. He talks about eight aspects of the transition process.  

  1. Leading through transition
  2. Keeping the right perspective
  3. Preparing for the win
  4. Selecting and preparing your successor
  5. Positioning yourself for success
  6. Positioning others for success
  7. Leading through crisis-driven transitions
  8. Creating a legacy


This is a solid book. Not superb, but solid. A few highlights: He recommends that a transition coach can be very helpful, someone giving outside perspective. If you are the one who is leaving, don’t just leave something but go to something. That is, have something to go to. Decide, as a team, your relationship to the church that you have been leading. Have a clear plan that would cover the last five years, the last three years, and the last one year.


For example, Tom’s role at his former church is to meet weekly with the new senior pastor as a sounding board and confidant. (That sounds a bit much for the new pastor.) He pours into new leaders at Christ Fellowship. He helps with building acquisitions and raising money, as well as speaking on weekends a few times a quarter. He also writes and speaks around the country. And he is the president of a non-profit organization dedicated to raising up Christian leaders around the world.


All successors crave the approval and encouragement that only a predecessor can offer.


Some stumbling blocks to transitioning well:


  1. “But this is my baby.”
  2. “But this is what I do.”
  3. “But I am still alive and kicking.”
  4. “But I’m not financially ready for this.”
  5. Resistance to change. “But no one else will do it right.”


Start about three years out in discussions. Three years out lay out a transition plan of how it will actually unfold. One year out formalize the plan and go public with it.


Communicating the plan is vital:


  1. Talk with your family
  2. Talk with your board
  3. Talk with key leaders and donors
  4. Talk with your staff
  5. Talk with volunteers
  6. Talk with your congregation


Be sure and emphasize the things that are not going to change. Be clear about the team role in the transition.


Prepare your successor beforehand:


  1. Develop his communication skills
  2. Allow him the sole leadership at special services and events
  3. Let him take over leadership of staff and board events
  4. Encourage him to manage the finances and develop relationships with key donors
  5. Introduce him to other leaders of influence
  6. Put him in the center of your world


It is vital that the successor and the predecessor always speak well of each other.


The successor must be very slow in making changes.


He gives eleven practical tips for handing off the baton well.


  1. Make tough calls before the exchange
  2. Make yourself available after the transition has been made
  3. Ask your key leaders to be loyal to your successor during the transition
  4. Invite your successor into your network
  5. Be your successor’s #1 advocate
  6. Get your personal financial situation in order
  7. Stay relevant to what God is doing in the church
  8. Adopt a spiritual son and disciple him
  9. Start writing
  10. Pray
  11. Never retire


Mullins includes many examples of successful transitions as well as examples of failed transitions.


Overall, a helpful book, though not nearly as helpful as the book Next by Vanderbloemen and Bird.


A Coach's Life

By Seth Davis John Wooden is widely regarded as the best college basketball coach in history, winning 10 NCAA championships at UCLA.  He is unusual in that he is in the National Basketball Hall of Fame, both as a player and as a coach.  He was an outstanding high school player in Indiana, and then later at Purdue.  He eventually became the coach at UCLA, where he had outstanding success, including coaching Lew Alcindor and later Bill Walton.  Wooden died a few years ago at age 99, having had an incredible impact on the sports world and beyond.

Wooden was a strong believer who was devoted to his wife.  He is an excellent model of a man who was committed to his family, a man of integrity and character.

This is a well-written biography, probably the definitive biography of Wooden.  The author is favorable towards Wooden but doesn’t idolize him, and recognizes some of his flaws.  For example, Wooden could be way too hard on the referees, and many of his players had disappointing experiences with him.  This is a solid biography, though I couldn’t say it’s a great one.