Building Effective Teams

Once you decide to move from the traditional Council and Committee structure to an organic Body of Christ characterized by Gift-Oriented Ministry Teams, you need to take several steps to build effective teams.

The transformational journey will not happen without courageous leadership. Once you start the journey, identifying, equipping and coaching emerging leaders becomes critical. Without leadership, discipleship groups and ministry teams will not emerge. When they do emerge, Ministry Team and Discipleship Leaders will need a coach to help them learn the skills of team leader. A coach is one who develops people to their potential by creating an environment in which individuals can maximize their talents, skills and creativity.

So, the process starts with recruiting, equipping and coaching people who have the potential to become team leaders. Most adults have not been part of a true synergistic team in their work or church lives. They do not understand what one is or how to get there. Further, most have not experienced a healthy body of Christ described in scripture in part 1 of our article.

Groups become teams when they develop a sense of shared commitment and strive for synergy among members. How we get to that point is the focus of this article. In churches, effective teams will emerge when leaders gather together others who share their passion, and work through an intentional process of building a team.

The process of team building includes several different steps.

Develop Norms of Behavior. Norms provide the principles for how you plan to treat each other. They are not rules, but rather boundaries for team behavior. Norms provide the cement to hold the team together during times of stress. They help you work through conflict and develop trust and confidence in each other.

Norms are present in every organization, although they are often implicit. An example of an implicit norm in many churches is that adults are not really expected to spend time practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer and study in order to grow spiritually. Another might be that my spiritual growth is the pastor's responsibility. This one is evidenced when you hear the comment, "I'm not being fed spiritually."

In teams, we work on the front end to make norms explicit. Examples of healthy norms are: "Express your thoughts and feelings openly," or, "Don't speak in a derogatory manner about any team member outside the group," or, "Attribute positive intent to others on the team." This last one is especially powerful. How many times has someone done something, and suddenly, people are inferring negative intent. When this norm is in place, we are challenged to assume positive intent, and seek the person out. Let them know that you were disturbed by the action, but you know they did not mean you any harm.

When norms are not explicit, people are guarded about expressing true thoughts and feelings. You see uneven participation based on perceived power. Conflict is not effectively resolved, but swept under the rug. People are reluctant to give feedback, and you see superficial consensus with minimal commitment. Trust levels are low.

When norms are explicit, people willingly approach each other to offer help. Teams establish methods for disagreeing. Members volunteer feedback. People respect and encourage individual differences, and respect the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Make Expectations Clear. What do you expect from yourself and your team? We all have expectations, but do we make them explicit? Our lives are a self-fulfilling prophecy. Winning, achieving, and succeeding all result from your expectations. We can never achieve what we cannot first dream of doing. In team building, this exercise articulates what the team leader expects of the team, and what the members expect of the leader.

Examples of expectations are: "If you are planning to sing with the band, you must be at rehearsal," or, "Leaders here must make a personal commitment to living the Marks of Discipleship," or, "When we make a commitment to the team, we follow through."

Define Performance Objectives and Performance Measures. Every successful organization is concerned with continually improving its performance and quality. Performance objectives help people know if they are succeeding at their task. Each team member knows what needs to happen in order to succeed, and how he or she can contribute. Clear, meaningful objectives provide vital direction and focus team activity toward achieving its purpose. Objectives are observable and measurable, they chase your vision and stretch your team, they challenge individual team members, they give direction for achieving the mission, and require methods for how your team will achieve them.

The measures we are describing create a feedback system for the team. Teams must determine what feedback will be measured and communicated to the team. Further, the feedback needs to be timely, and someone must take responsibility for tracking and reporting the feedback to the team. An example of objectives and measures for a team brought together to create small groups in a church might look like this. Our goal is to train small group leaders in the first quarter, develop and launch small groups during Lent, and see 10 new small groups operating by year end.

Clarify Roles. Any team's effectiveness hinges on how well its members work together. Teams work best when they understand and agree on how the work will be divided and coordinated, and how decisions will be made. A role comprises the expectations, responsibilities, and behaviors that guide each team member in accomplishing the work. Jobs consist of activities and duties. Roles consist of responsibility for outcomes. Creating team member roles involves identifying the operational roles (responsibilities and tasks) and behavioral roles (how one thinks and acts) for each member. Once you think you are clear on your role, the next critical step is to present your understanding to the team for feedback, to make sure you are in agreement.

Spell out how decisions are made. Teams make decisions every day. Often they need to be made quickly. Clarifying what decisions must be made, along with who is responsible for making them is essential for a team to function well. There are three major types of decisions.

Directive decisions are made by someone with authority with no discussion or input from the team. Consultative decisions are made by someone with authority, but this person seeks out suggestions, recommendations and ideas from the team. Consensus decisions are made by the team by arriving at an alternative each member can support. Although the alternative may not be the first preference of all members, the team agrees finally that they can fully support it.

Balance Task and Relationship. There are two dynamics at play in any group work, the work we do, and how we work together. When we are clearing a forest, you work for a while and then you stop and sharpen the saw. If you continue to work and work without stopping to sharpen the saw, your output will decline over time. Likewise, a group that focuses exclusively on the task, and never stops to reflect on the group dynamics (how we work together) will not be effective long. In a church setting, this requires a commitment to prayer, fellowship, and study, in addition to the focus on the ministry task at hand.

For related articles, see Body of Christ as Ministry Team, and Collaboration is the Key to Synergy. This process of team building is drawn from material developed by Psychologist and Organizational Consultant Billy Browning, who trained me in team building. In conclusion, consider Peter Senge's thoughts on the discipline of team learning as described in his book, The Fifth Discipline, the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.

Team Learning. Senge defines Team Learning as “the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire.” Senge suggests that the first phenomenon of team learning is alignment, “when a group of people function as a whole.”

He believes that under normal circumstances, the personal interests and energies of individual members will work against achieving a team result. In an aligned team, Senge says, "there is commonality of purpose, a shared vision, and understanding of how to complement one another's efforts. Individuals do not sacrifice their personal interests to the larger team vision; rather, the shared vision becomes an extension of their personal visions."

"The discipline of team learning," Senge believes, "involves the practice of dialogue and discussion, the two distinct ways that teams converse." Discussion is an exchange of different views while defending or protecting a position. Dialogue, on the other hand, is defined as a free and open exchange of thoughts and ideas in the interest of arriving at a conclusion. While both are elements of effective team learning, "the purpose of a dialogue is to go beyond any one individual's understanding. In dialogue, individuals gain insights that simply could not be achieved individually."

However, dialogue is not without conflict. In the model for a learning organization that Senge defines, conflict is productive and is seen as an indicator of team learning and eventual success. It's important to note, however, that this constructive conflict is a conflict of ideas, not individuals. In fact, Senge states that in his experience, "one of the most reliable indicators of a team that is continually learning is the visible conflict of ideas."

In order to be effective, a team must practice their skills on a regular basis. A football coach once said, "You either get better, or you get worse; but you never stay the same." Therefore, if you are not practicing team dialogue, there is very little chance that team learning will develop. Senge says of effective teams, "People trusted each other, complemented each other's strengths, compensated for each other's weaknesses, aimed for goals higher than anyone might have dared individually--and produced an extraordinary outcome."