If it’s true that teamwork makes the dream work, why do groups that come together in our churches to accomplish Kingdom tasks too often experience dismal results? Too much of the “teamwork” we experience in church (and elsewhere) conjures up images of wandering discussions, unresolved friction, wasted time, pooled ignorance, ineffective decision-making and frustrated group members—all in spite of good intentions regarding the potential of working together.
What’s the culprit and what can be done about it?
Those are the questions lead author Ryan Hartwig and I tackled in our just-released book, Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership. Even though just about everyone is trying to do ministry through teams, many teams seriously underperform and many people don’t know how to improve their teams. (Order the book by 4/15/15 and we’ll send you a free PDF bonus workbook so you can “Have a New Team By Friday.” Details here.)
Why Some Teams Flounder
Research shows that properly-structured, well-nourished, core-disciplined leadership teams significantly outperform individuals over and over again.
Often the first step in getting a team – or any effort for that matter – headed in the right direction is to pull out some mirrors and take a hard look at how your team is doing, and why it may not be living up to its potential. If you can take an honest assessment and identify some common reasons teams fail to achieve the dream, then perhaps you can chart a course for teams that accomplish their purpose and get great results.
Most leadership teams we see struggle do so because of one or more breakdowns in the team’s focus, structure, process or personalities. The following list offers many common reasons for team failure; it comes from chapter five of Teams that Thrive which describes even more “team sabotage” factors.
- Everything is a priority, so nothing is. Pastors often tell us that their teams are forever scrambling—there’s the next sermon series to plan, a new opportunity in the community, a fire to put out, another meeting to attend or a discipleship program to launch. Teams often suffer from the same problems as individuals—trying to take on too much, thereby overwhelming the team and preventing others from making meaningful contributions.
- Lack of team leadership skill and understanding. Many church leaders have not been specifically trained in how to run and grow teams and organizations. Too often the best seminary education breezes through the leadership and management skill training that are crucial to effective pastoral ministry and leadership of staff. In particular, we found that less than a quarter of team leaders have received special training in how to lead teams – which further motivated us to write a book that offers training.
- Absence of godly character among the team. Here’s a hard reality when it comes to building teams: Pastors are human, and leadership teams are full of sinful people. No one is perfect, but when leadership team members don’t demonstrate Christlike character and when they are not held accountable for it, bad things happen.
- Overreliance on the lead pastor. When team members think too highly of their lead pastors and look too much to them for direction and leadership, team efforts are hampered and the team cannot reach its full potential. Likewise, when lead pastors equate their church’s success almost exclusively to their own individual contributions, they often neutralize efforts toward teamwork.
- Dysfunctional team communication practices. Ensuring that church staff and leadership teams have the right information at the right time is a key need for teams in most churches of all makes and sizes. In fact, our research showed that the greatest predictor of leadership team performance was the amount of stress the team members experienced related to dysfunctional communication practices.
Good News: Help Is Here
Your team doesn’t have to continue to operate with these kinds of dysfunction. Instead, your team can thrive. Teams can outperform the individual—by far. Teams can accomplish the seemingly impossible. And team life can be quite fulfilling.
We’ve seen great teams in action in churches like yours. We surveyed them, watched them and talked with church staff, volunteers and elders that rely on them for direction and guidance. These teams are truly leading their churches collaboratively. And so can your team. Your team can grow to be extraordinary.
Ryan Hartwig and I wrote Teams That Thrive for just that purpose—to help your teams – especially your senior leadership team – grow to be extraordinary. To thrive together as you collaboratively lead your church.
Our book argues that the best teams are distinguished in two ways. First, teams that thrive believe that collaborative leadership is practically and biblically the right way to lead. Second, teams that thrive discipline themselves to practice the fundamentals that make a great team. Then we show you how your team can develop the disciplines to thrive in leading your church.
If you want an extraordinary team, including dozens of tips on developing a senior leadership team that thrives, take a good look at Teams that Thrive. You, and the team members you lead, will be glad you did.
p.s. Order the book by 4/15/15 and we’ll send you a free PDF bonus workbook so you can “Have a New Team By Friday.” Details here.
p.p.s. Here’s short video interview that Todd Rhoades did with the authors.