Church Leaders: Is Your Team Thriving?


This week, I had the opportunity to interview Warren Bird, Director of Research at Leadership Network and Co-Author of newly released Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership with Ryan T. Hartwig. Read on for their insight on effective team building.

What was your inspiration for writing Teams That Thrive? 

Too many churches don’t thrive in the area of team leadership. Instead they struggle or they accept being mediocre-to-good. We believe many would rather excel as a senior leadership team – which they can if they can see “best practice” models of what it can look like, and guidance on how to get there.

Our unique angle was to blend our practical experience and survey expertise. As a professor and researcher, Ryan observes, studies, and teaches about teams in various contexts, bringing a rich theoretical base and knowledge of research on senior leadership teams. As a leading student of church leadership practices and trends, Warren has addressed the issues of senior leadership teams in hundreds of interviews and has been part of a senior leadership team in four different churches of varying size.

The result is a book that not only tells church leaders what exemplar churches do to help their teams thrive and why, but goes the extra step to show practical steps of how teams can help their teams grow to a greater level of health and effectiveness. 

What kind of research did you do as a part of preparing for Teams That Thrive?

We collected questionnaire data from 1,026 senior leadership team members at 253 churches. The leadership team members of 145 churches completed all aspects of two assessments, offering us an outstanding dataset to work with. From there, we visited many top leadership teams and conducted dozens of interviews with members of church senior leadership teams. 

What are some of the meeting principles you talk about that top teams are using? And what do you mean by top teams?

We found that the best teams do a lot of things different than the rest. When it comes to meeting practices, top teams (compared to under-performing teams):

      • Spent more time making important decisions for the church as a collective group
      • Spent less emphasis merely exchanging information among one another or merely advising the senior pastor on decisions
      • Met outside of regular meetings, continuously working together informally
      • Developed meeting agendas collaboratively rather than just relying on one person to develop the agenda
      • Utilized meeting agendas that drove the meeting and were distributed prior to the meeting

What are the most significant challenges church leaders are facing with team building?

One challenge is that few pastors who lead teams have been trained in team building. In fact, only 18% of the team leaders in our research study have received any special training in how to lead teams. That lack of understanding of team dynamics and effective team building strategies often results in well-intentioned but ineffective efforts. In the book, we explain the pitfalls of many common team-building efforts and offer several strategies that can be used to help a team grow. We speak to new churches and established churches, smaller churches and larger churches, high-structure churches to more organically led churches. 

What do you want church leaders to take away from reading Teams That Thrive?

Cultivating and working with a team that thrives is possible, realistic and doable. The hard work of developing the disciplines that result in effective collaborative church leadership is worth it – for the team itself, for the team's members individually, for the rest of the church staff, for other teams in the church, and for the congregation as a whole. In Teams That Thrive, we tried to provide a roadmap that will enable thousands of church leadership teams to thrive, which will, in turn, result in the thriving of thousands of Christ-centered congregations. 

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