What All Effective Teams Need

Well run teams are more essential than ever before in growing complex organisations. There are few that are as complex and inspiring as churches, given that they achieve enormous output in welfare and community support, give substantial aid to developing nations, provide counsel for life-controlling addictions and relational difficulties, and offer countless other services, often without external support and on limited budgets. The sheer volume of volunteerism that needs to be managed involves incredible feats of cooperation across a range of skills areas. Here are a few important keys to improving team function.

1. Be Clear About The Team’s Purpose.

Teams need to think holistically and not individually. Adopting a set of related goals and associated tasks will help to focus their energies productively and with synergy. This is so important when all teams already inevitably have to navigate (rather than eradicate) uncertainty.

Individual needs and concerns become subservient to the global purpose of a team and this fact is helped by defining the limits of authority for those within it as well as for the team itself in relation to the whole organisation.

Church teams often get this wrong. Boards can inadvertently micromanage what should be staff roles, and staff often micromanage the roles of other teams. Empowerment doesn’t delegate without support, but it does delegate without control. Teams need healthy empowerment and their freedom is given within set limits.

A leadership team responsible for many roles or tasks may need regular reframing of their terms of reference, if not of the particular goals that overarch their operations. Success in one project or season actually just opens up new challenges needing new decisions.

While goals may therefore need modification, a team or its approach sometimes needs to be recast for new seasons of opportunity. A team might take a church or a department to a certain level, but not have the capacity to exceed it. Celebrating wins and seasons helps to legitimise necessary change as people find new seats on the next bus in their journey together.

Freshness always invigorates performance, anyway. This should not be mistaken for impulsive reactionary change when what is needed is proactive and intentional change that is vision-driven.

2. Be Well Served By Effective Management Processes.

Management helps organisations to run efficiently, while leadership helps them run effectively. And while leadership does the right things, the need in management for things to be done right (as Peter Drucker famously states) is about each person knowing their place in the overall operation.

This doesn’t deny multiple voices into direction, of course, but opinions in teams are best stated without emotional attachment to outcomes. Leaders help manage these emotions for those outside teams by ensuring that decisions are made by teams, not by individuals. This empowers everyone to have a say, but distils authority and protects personnel (including leaders).

Inside teams, group agreements and specific role descriptions provide objective reference points (just as policies do for whole organisations). These include the need to keep comments objective and solution-focused (and preferably face-to-face).

Good team players lead within their scope of influence but they need to follow their leader(s), too, and shouldn’t expect to argue every point fully before complying with what is needed by their team.

The need for alignment can often be trumped by a desire for agreement. Where this becomes problematic is where agreement is on one team member’s terms, rather than him or her choosing to agree with what is needed to get a job done, and with the sort of hard work to match that is evident in all high-performing teams.

After all, and as I often say to people, “Everything worth anything will always cost something.

3. Balance Roles Across the Team.

People often need to rise to do what needs doing. They ideally find the right skills or adapt roles to the skill sets they already have on board. But the work that is then shared across a team needs to be understood throughout the team.

Niggles of discontent won’t always be discussed openly, but will gain momentum in cases of perceived unfairness or where team differences are not understood or appreciated. Even established leaders will struggle to cover for team members not pulling their weight, but may sometimes also struggle to understand each other’s different strengths, anyway.

Ministry gifts are traditionally found in vocational leaders of churches, even if the relevant people are not credentialed as ministers. These gifts, named in Ephesians 4:11-12, bring clear strengths to a church, but can be under-appreciated in favour of a preferred point of difference. If a church is led by a prophet, it may prefer more grace. If an evangelist, then more ‘meat’. If a teacher, perhaps more inspiration. For a church that is overseen by an apostle, it may desire less overt pressure to build, disciple or focus outwardly. If the leader is a pastor, they will often want more vision. Such needs are not necessarily right or wrong, as context clarifies what is required.

Of course, balance in gift implementation needs to come from relevant persons learning to accentuate their strengths and modify their weaknesses. To a large degree, though, it also comes from having others rise to serve and use their own gifts to help, recognising that we all can, and perhaps should, ‘do the work’ needed (2 Timothy 4:5) without necessarily being the best qualified person. Checks and balances will allow such diversity while respecting particular roles and appropriate levels of authority.

Team players rise to the occasion and do what is needed, not only what is wanted. This sometimes involves sharing responsibility for less desirable or less fill-able roles. It also requires more opinionated participants to become more operative partners, but also needs more gracious non-confrontationalists to pursue more direct mediation in healthy conflict resolution, where needed, so as to protect team interests.

Of course, all of these factors assume that teams are well established. A previous post on developing teams offers keys to the growth of teams, if needed. Often, though, teams in which there is healthy rapport and trust, along with open communication, can see a love for people mask a lack of performance.

Naturally, healthy teams clearly need both in balance if they are to achieve maximum ongoing success.


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