Sunday, August 14, 2016

Seminary PL 19: Leading Healthy Teams

How can church leaders best work together? We are in a series of posts on church leadership and management. Last week we looked at the various positions in a church and how best to formulate them.

This is the fifth post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this seminary series, first I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the nineteenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).
1. Patrick Lencioni has written a classic book on team dynamics called, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Although the book is written with a business setting in mind, the basic ideas apply to any organization working toward goals together, and the church certainly falls into that category as well.

The five dysfunctions are 1) absence of trust, 2) fear of conflict, 3) lack of commitment, 4) avoidance of accountability, and 5) inattention to results. Lencioni wrote the book in the form of a "fable," which helps bring the ideas home in a powerful way.

The first dysfunction, a lack of trust, refers to a team that does not open up to each other. They don't really know each other. They don't let their guard down to each other. They don't become "vulnerable" in front of each other. How can the juices flow and synergize to do great things if everyone on the team holds back with each other?

Spending time together on retreat is one way to work at trust. Going through personality inventories like Myers-Briggs or Strengthsfinders is another. Having team members who don't trust the rest of the team--or who poison trust on the team--can be so serious that the team will not be able to achieve anything great.

The second dysfunction can be particularly true of Christian circles, especially holiness circles--a fear of conflict. I personally grew up associating conflict with carnality. But an "artificial harmony" only squelches important voices of disagreement. Lencioni makes it clear that he has in mind constructive conflict, not name-calling or getting personal with sarcastic remarks.

A great team considers the positive and the negative sides, and if someone doesn't trust the rest of the team enough to push back, then you're in danger of heading down the wrong paths when you could have seen otherwise. "Consensus is horrible" (95), if you mean that no one feels free to voice contrasting points of view.

A lack of commitment to a decision is the next. This could be the person who continues to argue against a decision after it is already made or the person who doesn't go all in. Lencioni talks in terms of "buy-in." If the team doesn't buy-in to the direction you are headed, then the team isn't going to give it their all.

I might point out that Lencioni is talking about the executive team here, those who actually implement decisions. The other author we are looking at today, Larry Osborne, wisely points out that a board or congregation does not have to have full buy-in for a pastoral team to move in a certain direction. He suggests that you need "permission" from this circle more than "buy-in" (77).

Failure to hold each other accountable is a fourth dysfunction. Unless you trust each other, then this dimension can come across as destructive. But if a team recognizes each other's strengths and weaknesses and positively encourages when necessarily, the team will accomplish more. If the team doesn't hold each other accountable and has "low standards," then it won't achieve much.

Inattention to results is the last dysfunction. If the team has no collective goals, it won't achieve them. A key dimension here is that they are collective rather than individual goals. The pitfall here is the individual who is just out to achieve status or success for him or herself rather than the greater good of the group as a whole. A team owns each other's goals as their goals.

2. The second resource on teams for this week is Larry Osborne's Sticky Teams. Osborne's book is of course more directly relevant to the church situation because he is writing with the church in mind. He thus deals with the specific dynamics of the three team layers of a typical congregation: the staff level, the board level, and the congregation level. Even more helpfully, he recognizes that the dynamics of the relationships between these three teams changes as a church grows from small, to mid-sized, to a large congregation.

A helpful metaphor for the way the team dynamics change is a sports metaphor. So in the smallest size church, the pastor can be something like a "track star." He or she does just about everything. As the church gets a little bigger, Osborne suggests that the church can become a little like a golf game, the team is playing together but really everyone is playing his or her own game. Lencioni might suggest that it should never be like this.

Particularly helpful are the sports Osborne suggests for the mid-size and large church. The mid-sized church, he suggests, is like a basketball team. You are working together toward a common goal but no one person should be hogging the ball. When the church grows to a certain size, then it become more like a football team. You can't know what everyone else is doing but need to focus on your part of the game.

3. Perhaps the biggest dysfunction for Osborne is a lack of unity. Here he doesn't mean that everyone agrees on everything. In other words, he is not contradicting Lencioni's thoughts on conflict or artificial harmony. He is also not as worried about doctrinal unity or personal unity. On most church boards, he suggests, there is a doctrinal unity. He doesn't seem as worried about "respect and friendship" either, which is the kind of unity that Lencioni targets.

Perhaps he passes by these first two dimensions of unity too quickly. He insightfully points out that different Christian groups may use the same words but mean quite different things. I have found that both with transfer pastors to the Wesleyan Church from other denominations and at Indiana Wesleyan University with new professors. There are often assumptions that certain words mean the same thing as the places from which they came when it has not historically been so.

What Lencioni calls "philosophical unity" is an agreement about the priorities and methods of ministry (31). He tells a story about a conflict in a parking lot over pcolitical fliers. An attender not only assumed that the church had the same political slant as he did (which probably was a good assumption of its individuals), but he did not know that the church as a method, did not take political sides. They agreed on the ideas but not on the methods. Realizing that it's best to convey such things before conflict happens, Osborne set up a retreat of sorts for new people.

4. Osborne suggests five major roadblocks to team unity: 1) meeting in the wrong place, 2) ignoring relationships, 3) not meeting often enough, 4) constant turnover, and 5) too many members. More on meetings when we get to the administration part of this series.

He also mentions some key characteristics to look for in a good team member. So you want people who speak up (or if they don't, who then shut up). He suggests "leaders, not representatives." He wants people who are thinking of the greater good, not people who are simply representing interest groups in the church. No "theys" allowed--if you're on the team, then it is a "we." "Good enough" probably isn't. Everyone looks better on paper than in person. Character is more important than giftedness. Philosophical unity is important--on methods and priorities.

5. There are many good insights and tips in this book. For team leadership tips he gives six: 1) ignore your weaknesses. That is to say, focus on the strengths, as we've pointed out before. 2) Surveys are a waste of time, because people answer what should be the case rather than what is the case. 3) Seek permission, not buy-in. 4) Let squeeky wheels squeek. This relates to Lencioni's point about welcoming constructive conflict. 5) Let dying programs die. Languishing people and programs will sap the energy of the mission.

6) Plan in pencil, because things change. For this one he suggests fuzzy budgets and flexible policies. "A budget is a planning tool, not a straight jacket" (84). "At no point should a policy be allowed to trump common sense."

6. He gives the following advice to pastors as leaders: 1) present first drafts, not final proposals, 2) Keep no secrets from the board, and 3) Follow the board's advice.

As the sports game changes as a church grows, he suggests that the role of the church board changes accordingly too: 1) in the small church, the board does everything. 2) Then when there is some staff, the church approves everything. 3) In a still larger church, the board reviews everything. 4) In a fairly large church, the board sets direction and boundaries. 5) Finally, in the mega-church, a board gives wise council, applies brakes, and is a crisis team in waiting.

Similarly, the function of staff changes as the church grows too. 1) At first every staff member has to be a generalist, because there is so much to be spread around. 2) Then the staff shift toward being specialists in specific areas. 3) As the church grows, staff leadership become empowerers of those under them. 4) Also key, as with Lencioni's fifth dysfunction, is that the staff do not see their area as a silo but as a contributor to a greater good.

7. There's a lot of miscellaneous wisdom in Osborne's book. He has a whole chapter about making sure that "young eagles" have a seat on the table. I completely agree with him when he says that leadership roles shouldn't have to do with who has been here the longest. He has his board and staff read some of the things he's reading. In other words, he takes people who have experience from other walks of life and gives them some enculturation to ministry. Imagine when the church boss reads what seminary classes have been saying about him or her for years!

He clarifies that a pastor shouldn't "lobby." Inform of philosophy and such long before you get to the moment of conflict. People tend to polarize in a conflict and often don't back down once they've staked a public position. It's good to have addressed issues before the conflict comes. "In any field, the seemingly obvious solutions are often the wrong solutions" (130). That is to say, experts in a field often know better than what seems common sense to an amateur.

For moving forward, he gives the following advice: 1) Test the waters. Informally put some feelers out before you bring a proposal forward. You'll get good advice and won't surprise anyone. The most natural first reaction to change is resistance. 2) Listen and respond to resistors. 3) Put the idea before individuals before groups. "If there are more than 6 people in the room, then the decision was already made elsewhere" or there will be just be mindless wandering in discussion. 4) Lead boldly. Champion the cause once it reaches that stage. All in.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 20: Good Communication

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

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