Building effective teams

Committee 1 gathers monthly – more or less – to maintain one of the church’s ministries. It has a dedicated core group, plus some other participants that drift in and out. The meetings tend to be needlessly long and rehash a lot of the same issues each time. Action items are unevenly distributed, and implementation is hit-or-miss.

Committee 2 gathers monthly to carry out one of the church’s ministries. The members are clear on their task and have spent time agreeing on how to accomplish it. Before beginning their work each time, they revisit the covenant they created that guides how they interact with one another. Sometimes there are differences of opinion during discussion times, but each committee member makes an effort to understand where others are coming from. At the end of each meeting, the chair ensures everyone is on the same page about the action items, point people, and timelines they’ve agreed on.

What’s the difference between the two committees? Committee 1 is a group, a loose collection of individuals who share an orbital pattern. Committee 2, by contrast, is a team. In teams the members share a purpose, a grasp on the process for accomplishing it, and responsibility for seeing it through. Someone has taken up the mantle of leadership (which may be passed among the members) and someone has given this group the authority to move on their plans. There is a cohesiveness among the members that allows them to build on one another’s strengths and hold each other accountable.

There’s nothing wrong with being a group, if that’s what the situation calls for. The people gathered for a class or training, for example, co-exist well as a group. They’re all there for the learning, but there’s no project to require interdependence. However, church leadership teams will be much more effective if they embrace a team identity with all it entails.

To start making the move from being a collection of individuals to a true team, build mutual understanding by discussing together these four questions:

What is our shared purpose?

What is our process for living toward that purpose?

Who will be responsible for which pieces of the process?

How will we know we can trust one another throughout the process?

These aren’t the only considerations for team-building, but they’re a good start.

What groups in your purview need to evolve into teams – or be disbanded and re-formed as teams from the start?

Creative Commons image “Clever Cupcakes” by Our World, Our Home Cupcakes is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Two levels of trust

A friend talks about you behind your back. Your significant other makes decisions that impact you both without your input. Your supposed advocate throws you under the bus to protect her own reputation, position, or livelihood. We’ve all had our trust broken at one time or another. And put simply, if inelegantly: it sucks.

That’s why it is so tempting to frame trust as predictability. When we can anticipate the actions of others, we can exhale. I can let my guard down a bit at a green light because the Department of Transportation has promised me that crossways traffic will be halted by a red light. If I know what you’re going to do, I can trust you.

But is predictability the full measure of trust? Some of the most relationship-deepening moments I’ve experienced were the result of surprise. Unexpected words of affirmation or acts of care. Sharing a hidden piece of one’s soul. Defending another at great risk to self. Anticipated? No. Trust-building? You’d better believe it.

I may trust that oncoming cars will obey the law, but I’m still going to drive defensively. (I hope others will do the same!) But in the world of relationships, people will know and be known only at a surface level if we stay on our side of the double yellow line. The more foundational level of trust, then, involves risk-taking. Being vulnerable and creating space for others to do the same.

What relationships, either with individuals or groups, need to grow roots down into that lower layer of trust? How can you take the first step by sharing something about yourself that lets the other know it’s safe to return in kind?

Creative Commons image “Trust” by Terry Johnston is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The makings of a functional team

It always mystifies people that I once played basketball, since my height has not changed since roughly the third grade. (Even then, I was in the front row for class photos.) Part of the fun for me was being part of a team. We worked out together. We pushed each other. We were united in our goal of having the higher number on the scoreboard when the final buzzer sounded.

Contrast that experience with group work in class. That was often the pinnacle of “ugh” for me during my middle and high school years. Inevitably, some group members put in more time and effort than others. One person was passionate about busting the bell curve, while another was happy simply for a passable project to be turned in.

There’s a difference between being an allied force with a goal and being a collection of individuals with an assignment. In Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators, Patrick Lencioni outlines the process of becoming an honest-to-goodness team.

  • Build trust. Without creating a safe space for vulnerability, conversation will be surface level.
  • Be willing to engage in conflict. When there is trust, participants are willing to put all possibilities on the table.
  • Commit. When it’s clear that every option has been explored, a team can make hard decisions with confidence.
  • Hold each other accountable. When teams have agreed on a course, the members are invested in making sure everyone does his/her part.
  • Pay attention to results. When team members keep one another on track, they are generally able to focus on and meet the objectives they have set.

A significant piece of ministry involves working with committees, boards, and/or task groups. In your work, how many of these groups fulfill the five functions of a team? How might attention to these functions not just make the groups you work with more functional, but also affect a culture change in your faith community? What would it take for your leaders to embrace these functions?

Creative Commons image “2012 Warrior Games” by The U.S. Army is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

(Re)Building trust

It’s tough to get traction for forward movement when there’s no trust in people or process. Instead of focusing on what’s ahead, you’re busy looking over your shoulder to make sure there’s no one with a knife within stabbing distance.

So, unless a compromised relationship is abusive – in which case wariness if not complete separation is called for – it’s generally worth the effort to try to rebuild trust. Here are some thoughts on how to go about it:

If your trust has been broken:

  • Listen to yourself. Your limbic system has kicked in for a reason. Maybe the situation is harmless and a word or deed triggered some old trauma. Or maybe the red flags are waving to protect you from present danger.
  • Be kind to yourself. You do not deserve to have your trust violated.
  • Take a deep breath. It sounds so simple, but a deep, cleansing breath can interrupt a limbic loop. (Limbic loops keep us locked in survival mode, keeping us from learning more about our situation or finding a creative solution.)
  • Ask for perspective. Talk with people whose counsel you value. Ask them to help you understand the situation more broadly and discern how to move forward.
  • Be honest. When you’re feeling more brave – or can fake it! – tell the trust violator about the impact of her/his choices. The response will let you know what the immediate possibilities are for saving the relationship.

If you have broken someone else’s trust:

  • Own up to the breach. Acknowledge – first to yourself and then to others – that you have messed up, and ask for forgiveness. Otherwise the process of rebuilding trust stops before it starts.
  • Exchange stories. Share a bit about the reasons behind what you said or did, not to make excuses, but to pave the way for understanding. Invite the person whose trust you compromised to tell about how your words or actions have affected him/her.
  • Change the rules. Decide together what needs to change in your relationship for there to be trust again.
  • Overcommunicate. Make extra effort to be transparent. Nothing undermines rebuilding trust like guessing games.
  • Give space. The person(s) who feel violated may not be ready to jump back in to relationship. Pressure will only slow down the process.
  • Ask for feedback. Check in with the other person about how you’re doing and how s/he is feeling. What course corrections still need to be made?
  • Be worthy of trust. Enough said.

(Note that I did not include prayer in the steps above because conversation with God – whatever that looks like for you – should be woven throughout the process.)

Rebuilding trust, at its root, requires vulnerability on both sides. The violator must be willing to admit fault and make changes, and the violatee must be willing to try again in a relationship that has brought pain. There is no cheap grace. Be brave, be patient, and be assured that the Holy Spirit will go with you.

Creative Commons image “take my hand” by Jasleen Kaur is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

It’s a matter of trust

You share a closely-guarded piece of your heart with a friend, only to have her discuss and dissect it with others.

Your significant other tells you he has to stay at work late for a meeting, but someone tips you off that he was somewhere else…with someone else.

Your governing body holds a secret meeting, after which you are blindsided by the “request” for your resignation.

Trust. It is what crust is to pizza. Rails to your bed. Axles to your car. It is not only the thing on which relationships rest, it’s what holds them together. I can disagree with you, I can even dislike you. But if I trust you, I can stay engaged with you. And if you prove yourself consistently worthy of my trust, I can overlook a multitude of mistakes.

Trust is not just the bedrock of individual relationships. It’s the glue in the pastor-parish partnership and the connective tissue in congregational life as a whole. Trust between ministers and members allows them to say hard but necessary things to one another. Trust in processes keeps the church functioning. Trust in the pastor, in God, and in one another paves the way for a congregation to name a vision and pursue it, even when the plan hits a pothole. When there’s no trust, none of these things happens, and the energy churches could be spending on mission is wasted on secrecy, gossip, and agendas.

As important as trust is, it can be annihilated by a single word or the commission or omission of one action. But re-building trust is possible. In next week’s post, I’ll suggest some ways to go about it.

Creative Commons image “Trust” by Lars Plougmann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.