(This post was first published here on September 19, 2016.) 

Grace is a unique aspect of great teams. It’s also something that is seldom talked about by experts in team performance. Do you remember what we meant we used the term “grace” at our offsite where we explored the eight characteristics of great teams? The definition we used was “undeserved favor.”

There are two basic types of undeserved favor that I can think of. There is the undeserved favor offered when a teammate has done something that might deserve a negative response, and also the undeserved favor offered when a teammate hasn’t done anything to deserve a negative or positive response.

The former can be seen when a teammate is late getting a task done. While his teammates shouldn’t accept the poor performance, they may offer support by asking if he needs help, or if there is anything wrong. This offer of favor isn’t deserved, but it is offered all the same.

An example of the latter is seen when a teammate could easily deliver a presentation alone to the CEO about a special accomplishment her team has achieved, but rather than receive the CEO’s accolades all for herself, she asks a peer to join her, even if this peer didn’t play as key of a role in the achievement.

Both are examples of favor that wasn’t earned—favor that wasn’t deserved.

Imagine being on a team where this kind of grace is the rule. Would you want to be on that team? Of course it would mean getting a lot of favor from your teammates, but it would also require caring more about your peers than yourselves. Rather than spending a lot of time seeking favor, you would spend a lot of time seeking to give favor.

Most teams I’ve observed in my years aren’t willing to make this kind of self-sacrifice in order to be a better team. Teams that are willing to organize around this willingness to give out undeserved favor have a distinct strategic advantage. What is interesting about this is that any competing team could easily do the same thing, but most people aren’t willing.

As we are coming into the heart of college football season (and as a fan of team sports) I know I will start to hear team leaders talk about loving each other and playing and sacrificing for each other. Teams that do this well will perform better than teams with players looking to get their own recognition above the team’s—their own favor.

As a leader, how might you shape the culture of your team to be one that is full of grace? It starts with you. You will attract who you are, and you will repel who you’re not. If you practice giving grace and expect people on your team to do the same, over time you will develop amazing teams.

If enough of us do this, West Michigan will have even better teams than we already do, as compared to other regions in the nation and world. Our West Michigan corridor will get an even stronger reputation for being special; for being a region made up of great leaders and great teams. This is our mission at Leading by DESIGN—to help each of you grow into this kind of leader as we also work to do the same ourselves.

I feel so fortunate to work with Meredith, Jeff, and Gerald on this mission. I believe they are teammates that offer me greater favor than what I deserve. I only hope I can do the same for them.

We also feel very grateful for you, our LEAD 365 alumni. Thank you for continuing to strive to be the kind of leaders we can all be proud of—being people worth following who offer grace to their teammates.

Have a great week!

Image by Ales Kladnik. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.