Chapter Eight: Leaders and Teams
By Peter Corney
(This is a free chapter from the new book A Passion for Leadership, Insights from Arrow Australia Leadership Team, edited by Peter Corney and Evonne Paddison. Coauthors include: Karl Faase, Stephen Hale, Evonne Paddison, Ian Harper, Sandy Jones, Graham Johnston and Stephen Abbott. It is published here under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, like the rest of this site. If you find this article useful, I encourage to click here to purchase the book online from Arrow Australia.)
‘He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two…’
(Jesus) Mark 6:7
‘I ask you…help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers …’
The NT pattern of ministry is teams! Monoministry is nowhere to be found in the NT. Jesus called the twelve to follow Him. When he sent the disciples out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom he sent them out two by two (Mk.6:7). When the need arose to organise the distribution of assistance to the widows among the early church a team of people was appointed. This team freed up the apostles to concentrate on their work (Acts 6:1-7). This is a great example of ministry teams being developed with complementary gifts and tasks (Note verse 7!). When the early church saw the opportunity to work with the Gentiles at Antioch they appointed Barnabas who in turn recruited Paul who had the skills and background needed. While thoroughly trained in the Jewish Scriptures Paul was a Roman citizen and spoke fluent Greek. (Acts 11: 19-26).
The NT model of the church as a body makes it crystal clear that the gifts and abilities required for ministry are not all going to be located in one person (1Cor.12:1-31, Rom.12:4-8, Ephes. 4:11-13). In the church at Antioch we see a leadership team at work (Acts 13:1-3). It was out of their prayers, worship and discussion that the mission to the West was born. When Paul founded churches he appointed teams of leaders (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5). He always traveled with co-workers (Acts 16:6, Phil. 4: 2-3). The NT pattern of ministry from Jesus to Paul seems clear, they worked in teams.
Any one who has worked in a healthy team knows their value. Teams create energy and momentum; you can get more done. They are creative; you can generate multiple ideas, options and solutions to problems and challenges. You’re not alone; the task and the burden are shared. Well led teams are safer and healthier places in which to work than working in isolation. They create community. Teams allow the recruiting of complementary gifts and abilities. They are a great place in which to train people. In the local congregation they also model the shared ministry pattern of the NT, the truth that the gifts of ministry are dispersed throughout the whole body of Christ and need to be released and deployed for effective congregational ministry to take place. They are also more fun!
Before you begin to recruit a team certain fundamental structures need to be put in place.
1. A set of policy statements need to be developed that include a theological statement that sets out your primary theological commitments. This statement needs to address issues including matters of sexuality and a staff code of conduct.
2. A standard contract of employment needs to be drawn up by someone with professional expertise in this area. In addition to an initial trial period, make sure the contract enables you to let the person go at the end of the first 12 months. If it is not working out you will generally know by then. A couple of months before the end of the twelve month period a review should take place regarding the future. If you are satisfied then the contract can be extended by two or three year periods.
3. Remuneration scales and a salary review process need to be determined.
4. Job descriptions need to be developed.
5. A supervision structure and a review process determined.
6. A professional development plan needs to be considered for further training and skills development.
7. An induction process planned to introduce the person to the team, the task, the office and the resources. It’s a good idea to allocate a buddy for new team members to call on in the early stages. This is helpful when they need to know where things are and how they work.
Recruiting people is one of the most important things a leader does. Choosing the wrong people is one of the costliest mistakes you can make. People fail in jobs mainly because of personality traits and values that don’t fit the job or the team and the organisation’s culture. A good friend who has years of experience in the recruitment field tells me that most organisations hire people for what they know and fire them for who they are. Therefore the recruitment and interview process is extremely important.
When building the team choose people who:
- share your theological and missional commitments
- demonstrate a commitment to Christ, have a servant heart and high moral standards
- are culturally relevant and appropriate for both the team and the context of ministry
- fit your ethos
- are spiritually, emotionally and psychologically healthy
- have demonstrated competency in the skills required for the role
- complement the team.
Do not put too much weight on written CVs as they are frequently inflated and sometimes quite misleading. Remember technical or other formal qualifications have little value in predicting whether the person will be an effective member of your team. Always work back and check the references thoroughly.
You should always have an interviewing team of yourself and at least two other people. Work out your interviewing questions carefully beforehand and frame questions that reveal how a person has, or may deal with certain situations and people. Where possible if you can recruit good people from within do so. This has the great advantage of knowing exactly what you are getting, the person already understanding the ethos of the organisation and knowing many of the people. These people begin with a flying start.
Teams can be made up of a variety of combinations:
- paid staff, both full time and part-time
- it can include bivocational workers who also hold down another job part-time which may fund their time given voluntarily to work in ministry. I know of chemists, consultants, tree fellers, lawyers, and builders who work in ministry teams in this way
- full or part time volunteers
- early retirees
- theological college or youth work interns, GAP year students, etc
- combinations of all of the above
A self check for leaders of teams:
1. How well do you know yourself?
Self awareness is critical for becoming a more effective leader. It is vital for leaders to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Instruments such as the DISC Leaders profile are very useful tools to help leaders become aware of their own preferred style and to adapt to the different personalities they will be leading. For example, if you are a big picture person who is impatient with detail you may find your opposite on the team difficult to work with. The DISC Leaders profile helps you to understand the need for complementary styles and how to adapt your style to work constructively with different people. It is also important to find ways to get honest feedback from someone you trust on your team.
A leader who is insecure or afraid of conflict can cause problems for teams. Here are some questions to ask your self that may reveal your need to work on these two areas:
- Are you comfortable with people challenging your ideas and decisions?
- Do you respond defensively or aggressively to other strong people or those more gifted than you in certain areas?
- Do you welcome other people participating strongly in the decision making process?
- Are you very uncomfortable or angry when people appear to be challenging your authority or role?
- Do you tend to shut down, back away or want to withdraw when conflict looms?
- Do you take steps to avoid conflict situations?
- Do you always look for a compromise?
- How willing are you to face and work through conflict?
Insecure leaders often respond to challenges and difficult problems in one of two ways; either by becoming authoritarian and overly directive or alternatively being indecisive and prevaricating. Both of which usually create more conflict!
2. How are your meeting leadership skills?
Remember The Four Ps: Poor Preparation leads to Poor Performance! A leader has to chair a lot of team meetings. If your skills in this area are poor you will frustrate your team, waste a lot of everyone’s time and not get a much done. The most common complaint in organisations is that meetings are poorly run, indecisive and waste time and energy. Here are some simple clues for being more effective:
- always prepare an agenda
- determine and announce a time frame and then start and finish on time
- manage the discussion so everyone gets a go; draw out the quiet ones by sometimes going around the circle and asking every one who has not spoken for a comment
- bring discussion on topics to a conclusion and make a decision on a specific action
- decide who will action the decision and by when; when there are minutes, record this
- like most things, preparation is a key to effectiveness.
3. Can you change your role?
As a team leader your role will change. You will have more responsibility, more people to manage and more decisions to make. The team has probably grown because the ministry is growing. Complexity increases and the time to make decisions decreases! You will work less directly with people and more through the team and other people. To achieve the organisation’s goals, you must spend more time in planning and strategy, and creating and managing a structure for others to work in. Unless you learn to manage and prioritise your time, structure your week and organise your diary in more detail you will not cope and you will frustrate and hold back the team.
The chart below illustrates how an increase in staff and size of organization requires a major role change by the team leader. A plumber who starts out running a business with one apprentice can no longer run it the same way when there is a team of 15 plumbers working for the business. He or she now rarely touches a pipe or an S bend! The plumber must now organise the work of others and has a whole new set of responsibilities and tasks that if left undone will lead to the business becoming chaotic and eventually folding.
As the team grows the leader needs to spend more time working on ministry rather than in ministry. Working in ministry in a local church setting includes:
- preparing for worship services
- pastoral care
- visiting the sick
- personal counseling
- preparing sermons
- chairing committees.
Working on ministry means supervising, managing and organising the staff team. It includes:
- vision casting
- creating structures that enable other people to exercise their gifts and become involved in ministry
- recruiting and training leaders
- motivating and communicating with key lay leaders and those through whom the ministry is actually being done and expanded.
What team members want from their team leader and the team experience
1. Someone who clearly leads and involves the team
Team members want to be involved in the process of planning, problem solving, creative thinking and decision making in a consultative way so everyone can participate. They need to feel they can contribute their ideas and opinions to the team process. Contemporary leaders need to be authoritative but not authoritarian. If team members can not contribute they will become passive, and creative energy, one of the great advantages of a team, is lost.
2. Someone who knows how to get a team working synergistically
A good leader can enable team members to combine their individual talents and different strengths in a complementary, rather than competitive way. Once again the DISC leadership profile is a very helpful instrument for understanding how to do this. Edward De Bono’s Six Hats exercise is also a fun way to teach this insight to a team.
3. Regular well run meetings that start and finish at the designated time
Teams want their leader to manage the discussion so everyone is able to participate, decisions are arrived at and tasks delegated to people for action. In every team meeting there is a tension between the tasks to be done and the individual needs of the members. These vary all the way from a team member’s health or family concerns to a strong desire to get a pet project up. It could be a need to be acknowledged or heard on a particular point. It could be that a particular team member’s area of work is regularly overlooked or taken for granted. The leader has to balance these with the group’s tasks where individual needs cannot dominate and deflect the group from achieving their tasks. On the other hand the leader needs to be aware of people’s needs and not drive the process so hard that the tasks are achieved but at the cost of people feeling ignored or steamrolled. The leader must exercise creative balance between the tasks and individual needs when leading a meeting.
4. Forward planning
Members of a team not only need to know the big picture of the forward vision but also the more detailed plan for the year ahead. Team members will have different areas of responsibility and it is crucial that key dates and events for each area of ministry are coordinated. This is best done around October for the coming year at an annual planning day. This avoids unnecessary clashes and competition over people and physical resources. It also reinforces the sense of intentionality and direction for the team and encourages everyone to plan ahead.
5. Good communication
Many tensions arise in teams through poor communication. Poor communication is almost always unintentional but nevertheless annoying and sometimes very damaging. As the leader, you need to set the climate by regularly communicating your ideas, hopes and future plans as well as your feelings about how things are going. Remember though that whenever you communicate your feelings they will affect the emotional tone and morale of the team, so be careful how you communicate negative or anxious feelings. The team leader is like a thermometer who sets the emotional temperature! If anyone in charge of an area of ministry is planning a major change of direction or use of space or resources these need to be flagged at the regular staff meeting for discussion as this usually affects others.
6. Access to the leader
Team members need to feel that you are accessible but you need to set up a realistic expectation of accessibility. One approach is the open or closed door policy. If your door is open you are able to be interrupted, if it’s closed you are not. You also need to communicate that if team members have a serious problem they can talk to you without an appointment. Otherwise meetings should be by appointment. In addition, every team member should have a regular supervision meeting with their supervisor. This should be at least monthly and more often for new staff or inexperienced people. The team leader should not supervise more than four people. Supervision should involve an element of pastoral care.
All team members should have a formal evaluation twice a year, one at the beginning and the other towards the end of the year. This will involve a review of the job description, goals, hours, remuneration, in-service training and general performance.
People want to enjoy working and being together. Effective and happy teams build a sense of community. The experience has got to be fun as well as being challenging and stimulating. There should be a time for sharing personally at regular team meetings. The length needs to be specified and controlled so it does not absorb too much of the meeting time. Occasional retreats away together which include fun and recreation as well as work are important. Affirming and celebrating team member’s achievements such as a successful children’s holiday program just completed as well as birthdays and other special events are very valuable in building community and a culture of encouragement. Remember eating together is a great community builder. Attending a training course or conference together and then debriefing on learning can be very effective.
9. Team meeting evaluation.
Occasionally the leader should give some time for the group to evaluate the way the team is working together and the team meetings. It is important for the leader to listen to this feedback.
Good and bad leaders.
My wife, who is a Christian Religious Education teacher in a state primary school, was doing a lesson on leaders in the Bible and she asked her class of 7 and 8 year olds what they thought was a good leader and a bad leader. Their contributions were very insightful.
A bad leader is someone who:
- shouts at others
- thinks they are better or cleverer than others
- orders you about
- whispers about other people
- makes fun of you or gets angry when you can’t do something
- tells you to do bad things
- always goes first because they are the leader.
On the other hand, a good leader is someone who:
- always asks you to do things
- says please and thank you and is respectful
- cares for everyone on the team
- lets everyone take a turn at leading
- encourages you
- treats everyone the same
- can be trusted.
Out of the mouth of babes!
When people are asked what the most important quality they want in their leaders is, the most frequent answer is integrity. Integrity is the consistency of word and life, profession and practice. Above all team members want their leaders to act with integrity, to be consistent, and to be someone they can trust.
1. Disc Classic 2.0, (Inscape Publishing, 2004).DISC Classic 2.0 Inscape Publishing Inc. 2004
2. E de Bono, Six Thinking Hats (Boston Little, Brown, 1985).