We often preach the value of teams and try to instill teams in our churches, whilst continuing organisational and leadership cultural dynamics that squelch any possibility for those teams to thrive. If you want to improve your team (especially your leadership team), don’t ignore these cultures that will kill your team’s ability to thrive.
A CULTURE THAT UNDERMINES THE LEADERSHIP TEAM’S IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION
Talented leaders move on if the don’t feel that their contribution is essential or properly recognised. People on leadership teams want to be keenly involved in developing what’s next for the church. The long term impact of their frustration is a high turnover of leadership at this level and the church then suffers from a lack of quality leadership.
A CULTURE OF SPONTANEITY THAT LIMITS PLANNING AND STRUCTURE
No matter how much we talk about wanting teams to thrive in our churches, they won’t if teams don’t have the organizational environment that offers fertile soil for teams to thrive in. In particular, teams thrive in organizational contexts that privilege thoughtful, deliberative action and provide structures that allow for planning. As researchers Frank LaFasto and Carl Larson note in their book When Teams Work Best, fertile organizational soil typically exists when:
1. Leaders set crystal-clear mission, goals and priorities that guide team efforts and establish clear operating principles.
2. Leaders give enough time for ideas to be thought through and established before communication and implementation occurs.
3. Organisational structures and systems foster effective group decision making.
4. Teams enjoy ample, planned time to stay connected and work jointly on problems.
5. Teams possess all the information they need to solve problems and make decisions.
These structures offer the support a leadership team—and all the teams in the organisation need to be able to truly lead the church. Without them, teams spin their wheels and don’t make progress. Before your team will be successful, you may need to engage some cultural change to enable the team to thrive.
At one church where interviews were undertaken, the senior team’s culture fought hard against any sort of planning. One pastor stated, we are more comfortable “fighting fires than building safe houses.” As such, the team constantly deferred to the lead pastor rather than seek God together and work together to develop direction and strategy for the church. Church cultures that prefer to fight fires rather than do the proactive work to avoid and protect against those fires are infertile ground for thriving teams. In such cases, addressing cultural challenges might be the first step in enabling a team to truly lead the church.
A CULTURE THAT REMOVES REAL-TIME FEEDBACK AND ACCOUNTABILITY
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” (Prov 27:6).
Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and mutual accountability is the not-so-secret success ingredient of exceptional teams. But too often, for a variety of reasons, team members avoid lovingly wounding a teammate, neglect offering feedback and refuse to hold one another accountable for their contributions to the team. That behavior is often learned in the larger church culture, where biblical accountability and confrontation is not pursued.
If your church avoids confrontation and biblical accountability, chances are that your team will never gel or perform at its peak. Your team as a whole needs feedback on its collective performance, and individual team members need feedback about what they contribute to the team. Your team needs faithful friends who will tell the truth, even when it stings. Without confronting the (sometimes painful) truth, your team doesn’t have the insight to improve nor the fuel to do its job of effectively leading your church.
Adapted from: Teams That Thrive by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird