Should Your Church Staff Operate More Like A Family Or A Team?


In 2009, Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, provided a presentation to hundreds of his employees using a metaphor that would help reshape the culture of the company that is now the largest video-on-demand internet subscription service in the world:

“We are a team, not a family.”

During his presentation, Hastings stated that Netflix will be a company of leaders who “hire, develop, and cut smartly so we have stars in every position.” Comparing “pro sports teams” to “kids' recreational teams,” Hastings added that giving employees an “A for effort” when they continue to demonstrate “B-level performance” could no longer be a company value. In conclusion, Hastings conveyed that values like loyalty may be a good stabilizer to have as a company, but was not an accelerant for long-term growth.

It is clear that for companies like Netflix, the goal of accomplishing great work is of far greater value than to do so with familiar faces around.

Many churches embrace the metaphor of “family” when describing their workplace culture, and often rightly so, since Paul reminds us that “In Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). But in some churches that seek to emphasize the family aspect on their staff, there may be a tension between hiring staff that are a great fit relationally and hiring staff that will ultimately prove to be the most effective.

As Dutch author and management consultant Fons Trompenaars stated in his best-selling book, Riding The Waves of Culture, family-led organizations can be high in “subjective context,” focusing less on “what they do” and more on “who they do it with.”

For churches led by pastors who prefer a more paternal or maternal style of relationship with those on their staff, and where employees are treated more like “sons and daughters” than members of a team, the following question may be one of the most important questions the church can ask before making its next hire:

Is this a role we are selecting someone for or creating for someone?

In other words, have you identified your needed hire and are you seeking to hire the most qualified,potential-exhibiting candidate for that role, or are you creating a role because of someone you want to hire?

It is true that there is nothing quite like the comfort of working alongside someone when you have already had the opportunity to observe his or her level of commitment to and love for ministry – especially when there was no reward or recognition involved for them. As leadership author and our Executive Search Consultant Team Leader at Vanderbloemen Search Group Tim Stevens shares in his upcoming book, Fairness Is Overrated, “When you hire a faithful and proven volunteer… you have significantly reduced your chances of being surprised.”

However, one of the biggest mistakes churches can make is creating a new job for someone for whom they have grown a liking, instead of first defining the needed role and creating a pool of similarly talented people where candidates – including the person you think you want to hire for the role – can then apply to. Whereas high performance teams seek to provide new opportunities based upon specialization, families sometimes tend to do so through benevolence.

Sometimes the person you already wanted to hire is indeed the most qualified candidate for the role or exhibits the most potential for your team. But it makes a huge difference if you first evaluate them objectively alongside other talented candidates before making the hire.

It is also important to note that when a church’s hiring process is void of qualified competition for the role, they may soon foster a culture of bitterness among other staff members who did have to apply for and earn their role, or among members in your church who believe their service to God is worthy of some form of financial recompense from you. Every church must take the time to evaluate the kind of vocabulary that defines its culture, and that ultimately undergirds their internal and external hiring processes.

As Dr. Samuel Chand states in his book, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code, ‘the words we use and way we use them, define organizational culture…our choice of words creates a bond among those who understand the meanings and context, but it is also builds walls that keep out those who don’t understand.”

Remember: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with “your child” making the team, but do all you can to make sure they experience what it feels like to try out first. That way, everybody wins!

What are other ways churches can develop a healthy balance between a “family” and “team” staff culture?


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