Sunday, April 20, 2008

Building Ministry Teams

A number of years ago a transition began within American life as both the corporate and non-profit sectors of our society began moving toward the development of “teams.” Sometimes the transition was primarily a nomenclature change and really did not involve real substance. A business may have renamed departments or divisions into teams even when the new organizations never actually made the transition to teams. Other organizations radically changed the nature of their structures and functions and began to benefit from the new potential generated by genuine teams. Unfortunately, the church is sometimes shaped by our world, instead of being shapers of the world. We often lag behind even when the ideas being applied are founded on sound Biblical principles.

I have the wonderful privilege of being a part of our first priority staff team. Our BGCM staff named our team first priority as a constant reminder that our first priority is serving churches. I have served with a wide variety of staff groups, departments, divisions, etc., over the past 35 years. I can genuinely say I have never served with a better “team.”

A few years ago I picked up a little book in an airport store while I was looking for something to read on my trip home. The book, entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, was written by Patrick Lencioni. He calls it a leadership fable. It was a lot different than most leadership books I have read. It reads more like a short story as the author tells the story of how a dysfunctional team becomes an effective and productive team. It was a fascinating read.

I have participated in a wide variety of “team building” seminars, workshops and events. I completed a 40-hour, facilitator certification training provided by the Next Level Leadership Network for “Building Powerful Ministry Teams” a few years ago. In reality Patrick Lencioni’s little book was simplest and most helpful approach I have found for building ministry teams. It focuses upon the barriers that keep groups from becoming real teams. Lencioni says, Genuine teamwork in most organizations remains as elusive as it has ever been. Organizations fail to achieve teamwork because they unknowingly fall prey to five natural but dangerous pitfalls.

The lessons from his book are:

1. The first dysfunction is an absence of trust among team members. Essentially, this stems from their unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. Team members who are not genuinely open with one another about their mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build a foundation for trust.

2. This failure to build trust is damaging because it sets the tone for the second dysfunction: fear of conflict. Teams that lack trust are incapable of engaging in unfiltered and passionate debate of ideas. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

3. A lack of healthy conflict is a problem because it ensures the third dysfunction of a team: lack of commitment. Without having aired their opinions in the course of passionate and open debate, team members rarely, if ever, buy in and commit to decisions, though they may feign agreement during meetings.

4. Because of this lack of real commitment and buy-in, team members develop an avoidance of accountability, the fourth dysfunction. Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.

5. Failure to hold one another accountable creates an environment where the fifth dysfunction can thrive. Inattention to results occurs when team members put their individual needs (such as ego, career development, or recognition) or even the needs of their division above the collective goals of the team.

While Patrick Lencioni writes for corporate America, I believe the principles he shares are both practical and Biblical. Healthy teams trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering on those plans, and focus on the achievement of collective results. I have had the opportunity to lead several workshops for church staff teams and congregations as they began to explore ways to make their ministry teams more effective.

Check out his Patrick Lencioni’s site at The Table Group. Let us know if you are interested in a workshop or retreat for your staff. (Free is a lot cheaper than Patrick Lencioni.) I would also recommend his other books: Death by Meeting, The Five Temptations of a CEO, and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. They are all interesting reading, and Death by Meeting is definitely appropriate for Baptists. He has two I have not read yet, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars and The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Let us know how we can help you as you seek to build effective ministry teams.

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