The Advantage: 5 Essential Team Behaviors

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

A healthy leadership team must have these five characteristics. The triangle to the left states them positively. As you can see, it all starts with trust.

Stated negatively, that is, as five dysfunctions to be avoided, the chart looks like this —

Do any of these labels fit your elders meetings? Elder and staff meetings? Staff meetings? These are, in fact, utterly typical of most churches because most church leaders hate conflict — even healthy conflict. Therefore, it’s perceived that artificial harmony is not just tolerable but desirable.

For example, suppose you have a budget meeting and everyone gets exactly what he asks for. No one questions a single line item. Everyone just tosses their requests on the table, and everyone else says okay without question.

Is this a great meeting? A sign of the power of the Spirit and Christian love? Not likely. Sorry, but the reality is that several people thought the youth minister’s budget was too high and they couldn’t see why he didn’t provide any detail at all for his 5-digit budget request. Someone else thought that the plans for the summer events were just terribly underfunded, and she remembered that that line item has been underfunded ever year for the last 5 years, and yet the leader of the program was afraid to ask for what she really needed.

As a result, the group left the room celebrating an agreement they didn’t really buy into. They knew in their hearts that they’d not really vetted the requests. And so those unhappy with the teen minister’s budget left angry at the huge request — and angry at themselves for not having the guts to ask why. When the summer events coordinator goes $5,000 over budget in a few months, the rest of the team will be unhappy with her — and themselves — and some will say “no” just to protest the process.

The result is unexpressed, suppressed anger that festers, sometimes year after year, that leads to a lack of commitment to the budget and even rebellion against the budget in small but important ways.

That’s church (not just church, but church for sure). We hate conflict, and so we suppress conflict until it boils over into anger and even church splits.

Why would the budget team refuse to ask perfectly appropriate questions? Well, they’re afraid that the other people on the team will get their feelings hurt. The teen minister might even get angry (because he’s very defensive). The summer events coordinator might break down in tears (because she’s very insecure). You see, the team members don’t trust each other.

The teen minister is either manipulating the system or else truly insecure and afraid a bunch of team members who don’t understand youth ministry will impose unfair constraints on him. Therefore, he builds up a defensive shield — a hair-trigger temper — so no one will question his request.

The events coordinator knows she’s under-budgeting, but she can’t stand criticism. Therefore, she just keeps on proposing the same budget as last year, for fear that any increase at all will produce harsh criticism. And she’s just not constitutionally capable of dealing with the harshness she’s seen other budget increase proposals suffer!

The result? A bad budget that won’t work, resentment among the team members, and — in the case of the teen minister — wasted money. You see, he really did ask for too much, planning to bargain down from a high figure. But no one complained, and so now he has money to burn.

What’s the solution? Well, it’s hard, especially in church. But the first step is to become vulnerable by learning to trust the rest of your team. (And if they are in fact not trustworthy, retraining them. Failing that, removing them.)

No church should have elders or staff members who are untrustworthy. There is nothing more destructive to team building, and we in the Churches of Christ are pretty insistent on plural elderships — that is, elder teams. Hence, elders who are bad team players have to learn better or step down.

And, of course, the same is true for a preacher. If the preacher cannot be trustworthy or cannot bring himself to trust the rest of the team (even though they are trustworthy), he’s in the wrong profession. He has to be on the team, and that means that being a team player is absolutely essential — even if he’s the best speaker on the planet.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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2 Responses to The Advantage: 5 Essential Team Behaviors

  1. Jerry says:

    Sad, but true!

  2. Here we find one of the flaws in a truly egalitarian organizational leadership. Like a ship with six rudders, we find ourselves unable to effectively steer any specific course, only a general direction, and we find that the counteracting rudders act as a brake on the ship’s progress. We have, IMO, mistaken the function of plurality in leadership, by skipping a fundamental assumption about our leaders. That assumption is that those people can, and do, hear God on a real time basis. Thus the plurality of leaders is intended to provide confirmation as to what God would have us do, rather than compromise about what we would have us do. This group must have but one real Leader, and He cannot be absent. When church leaders vote, this suggests that there is no consensus on what God would have us do. We should retreat to prayer rather than to the ballot to resolve this problem. On the other hand, if a matter is of so little eternal consequence that a vote one way or the other is equally valid, why is this inconsequntial decision even being made by the shepherds?

    The answer, in most cases, is that these decisions are about money, which we find to be terribly important. Jesus himself saw the group purse as so important that he intrusted it to a thief.

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