When Doug Mazza came to Joni and Friends as President twenty years ago, the organization was a small team dedicated to sharing the hope of the Gospel and give practical help to people impacted by disability. A successful, seasoned leader in the automotive industry, Mazza saw opportunity for his new employer to improve and grow. Yet, not without some work.
“Frankly, the ministry was struggling a little bit. We had a fantastic vision and fantastic visionary in Joni Eareckson Tada. Yet the organization was siloed. As a result, the team was unmotivated, because they didn’t have a common cause.”
Today, Joni and Friends comprises six distinctive ministries, and has grown by a multiple of 10 during Doug’s tenure.
The organization’s phenomenal ministry impact and growth stems, in part, to what Doug, the organization’s recently retired President and Board Member, told me in our recent private interview:
“A ministry organization needs to have one purpose, one focus, with a thousand ways to do the mission statement (not a thousand different missions).”
As Doug revealed, the organization’s purpose, focus, and execution came together through, “Fantastic Teams,” that exemplify a spirit of partnership and collaboration—not “me” but “we”—to achieve shared goals and objectives within a department, across departments, or organization wide.
Fantastic Teams is the first of eight culture drivers that make up The FLOURISH Model. In telling the Joni and Friends story, Doug was, in a sense, laying out a blueprint for how Fantastic Teams can create consensus, direction and momentum to establish, grow and sustain a flourishing workplace culture.
How does a ministry organization, a church, or a Christian-led business create teams that effectively collaborate, produce, and advance a strong, unified mission?
For Joni and Friends, the answer hangs on six, actionable convictions:
1. Lead from the front
“An organization’s leadership needs to be visible, available, approachable and engaged. If the staff is left wondering and asking what kind of mood the leader is in, you’ll never build a fantastic team. And if the leader isn’t engaged, no one else on the team is going to be engaged.”
Clearly, Doug had a leadership model in mind.
“The number one key to the long-term success of Joni and Friends was deciding that Jesus was going to lead the organization. Within Scripture, we found a mandate that fit what we were trying to do as ministry. Instead of having our own plan, why don’t we just follow Jesus:
“Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city
and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and
lame. . . Go out to the highways and hedges and
compel people to come in, that my house may be
filled” (Luke 14: 21,23).
To the exclusion of all other purposes and good works, to advance disability ministry, we have committed ourselves to following these words of Jesus.
2. Be consistent
“For fantastic teams to come together and flourish, people need to know the leader. His or her character needs to be the same each day to create and live out a standard to which we all hold. Thus, predictability is intricately linked to integrity.
“Consistency starts with great onboarding. Make your onboarding process a distinct competitive advantage in your workplace. Our onboarding process originates with one, constant prayer that never changes. Weeks and months before a new hire comes on board, we pray for the discernment to know the person God has to fill our open positions.
“When the new employee arrives at the front door on that first day of work, he or she is warmly met and welcomed by the vice president as an answer to prayer. The person is escorted to his or her desk where a special gift awaits. A get-acquainted, one-to-one conversation with the president, campus tour and lunch with colleagues follows.”
Clearly, this model of consistency is the gold standard of onboarding, a powerful first step toward forging a fantastic team.
3. Equip the team
Doug remarked, “We need to be transparent to be open to what is possible. Find out what your people need to do their job and be seen as a leader who will do everything in your capability to equip people with whatever they need to help them succeed.”
Envisioning productive, healthy teams is one thing; getting them to work effectively is another.”
4. Dream big—then dream bigger
“God is a big dreamer whose future is so great we can’t even imagine it. At Joni and Friends, we’ve created space and time for our people to think, imagine and dream for what is possible as a team, and as an organization.
“Envisioning productive, healthy teams is one thing; getting them to work effectively is another.”
Doug then brought dreaming and doing together in the story of a team that has literally left its mark on the organization.
“Some months back, the managers in our creative department came to our senior leadership with an idea to change the ministry’s logo. Of course, any organization’s logo is sacred ground, so this team was definitely being courageous.
“They were also incredibly thoughtful and well-prepared. These managers had interviewed and listened to people at every level of the organization in a very intentional, integrative fashion. They had looked carefully at our succession plan in light of where the organization would be 50 years from now when the founder was no longer around.
“When we saw the video and studied their rationale, our response was, ‘Wow.’ The new, proposed logo accurately describes the future ministry of Joni and Friends, worldwide.”
What excited me about the importance of teams is that the new logo for Joni and Friends didn’t come from the president or the vice president. Rather, it came, from middle management—a creative, thoughtful team of two, supervisor and a manager.
5. Encourage people
“Our team that proposed our new logo, believed they had the permission to experiment with no less than the graphic signature of the ministry. Here’s a team that had felt encouraged along the way, who understood the strategic direction of the organization and, most of all, felt fully engaged, empowered and equipped to courageously lead out and execute their dreaming, with informed rationale, to better the organization.
“Encouragement is so simple, yet so overlooked,” adds Doug. I don’t mean ‘glad-handing,’ but rather finding every opportunity to inspire and reassure. It can be as simple as greeting someone in the hall with, “Good morning!” Encouragement can be tucked inside a short, personal note to an employee for a job well done. The more specific the affirmation, the better.”
6. Encourage people even more
“People, regardless of their title or talents, are dying for encouragement. It is a force in nature that speaks to the psyche of people. When you encourage someone, you’re not only singling out what you value in him or her, you’re also letting them know their true value as a person on the team and in the organization! With encouragement, people will exceed their own expectations, and they will find enjoyment in the process of engagement.
“Encourage your people by involving them, as team members in decisions so that they see their goals and the goals of the organization. Result: Engaged teams make good group decisions, because it’s no longer, ‘How do I succeed?’, but rather, ‘How do we succeed?’”
What can a leader learn by understanding the vital importance of teams to an organization’s workplace culture?
Doug’s response was how the goodness of a team can start when a person becomes aware of God.
“I keep coming back to the question of ego, which I received from Lead Like Jesus: “In my personal and professional life, am I exalting God only (EGO), or am I edging God out (EGO)?”
Fantastic teams emerge and grow when you see God’s humility shine through a leader you’ve come to admire.
“Over the years we’ve worked together, I’ve learned that Joni Eareckson Tada is the most outwardly focused founder, CEO and person I have ever met. She has taught me that Christian maturity is a measure of your outward focus.
“None of us is born with outward focus. Jesus Christ was 100% outwardly focused. Joni’s genuineness is her strongest leadership quality. For me she sets the standard for integrity and commitment to her Savior.
“In all of this, what Joni has taught me is that the team needs to be outwardly focused. As the saying goes, ‘There’s no ‘I’ in team.’ The translation, in Christian organizations, is ‘Be focused on others.’
Doug Mazza then tied a ribbon on this case study story with a personal narrative thread that brought home the power of team.
“I left the industry years after my youngest son, Ryan, was born with horrendous deformities and disabilities. I asked God to show me the purpose of Ryan’s life, and God showed me the purpose for my life. When I asked God to save my son’s life, God saved me!
“I owe my son Ryan so very much. He is blind and has never spoken a word. God has humbled me with a true on-my-knees experience. At first, what I thought was a tragedy, has been used by God for a larger good. Through our work at Joni and Friends, Ryan has found his God-given crafting.”
“In our leadership and in our teams, as in work and in life, the only fear we should be concerned about is the fear of the Lord, which leads to wisdom. God can, and really wants to, do all things in the magnificent plan he has for our lives.
“The message for all of us, then, is to be courageous, confident and bold as we focus outwardly on Christ.”
It’s Your Turn
What part of Doug’s story helped you see the importance of teams where you work? What word, phrase, or person grabbed your attention and perhaps helped you see your organization, perhaps the team you’re on, in a new light?
Coming Up Next on our Continuing Series
“The Eight Ways to Build a Flourishing Workplace,”
Steve Macchia, Founder and President of Leadership Transformations
on “How Fantastic Teams Help Transform a Leader”
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