9 Lessons from “Teams that Thrive”

Our staff at Revolution Church recently worked through Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership, and it completely changed how we operate as a church. Granted it wasn’t just this one book, but a combination of the timing in our church and this book.

Here are 9 lessons leaders can learn from Teams That Thrive:

1. Andy Stanley said, “If you don’t know why it’s working, when it’s working, you won’t know how to fix it when it breaks.” While not a learning from the authors, it is still crucial for churches and their teams. Many churches don’t know what is and isn’t working. They have ideas, feelings, thoughts, premonitions, gut feelings. But what is actually working? Do you have data for that? Do you know why something did or did not I aII work?

2. The best teams make decisions as a group. The best teams both make decisions and “own” the implementation. Many teams operate as a place for the lead pastor to share ideas and get “buy in” because no one wants to contradict him and then move forward. Or decisions are made that are passed down by some hidden board, and then no one owns it. A team should be a place of robust discussion that covers every possible scenario, and then everyone owns the final product.

3. For good or bad, leadership teams shape the culture, direct the mission, establish the vision and model the values of your church. Put another way: Great leadership teams lead great churches, and mediocre leadership teams lead mediocre churches. This is just a simple truth. The healthier the church, the greater the teams. There is no shortcut to this and no way around it.

4. When we asked team members what made their team great, the responses almost always pointed to their communication practices. Churches are notoriously bad at communication. Silos exist, people do their own thing. The reason is simple: a lot has to get done, and communicating takes time. It can slow things down, or you might be told not to do something.

5. Many successful lead pastors make poor team leaders. They are gifted to preach, cast vision and think strategically, but they are poorly equipped to lead teams. For our church, I lead the elder team and oversee the whole staff team, but I don’t lead our lead team meetings. Our executive pastor leads most of the meetings that I am in. Why? He’s better at it.

6. Focus on purpose, the invisible leader of your team. This was easily one of the biggest a-ha moments in the book. What is the purpose of the team? Why is this team meeting? If you can’t answer these questions, you are wasting time.

7. Top teams were smaller than underperforming teams. The lead team I’m on right now is the smallest team I’ve ever been on. I think back to the other teams I was on, and they had 7 – 10 people on them. Not everyone got heard, stuff was missed and we wasted a lot of time. Smaller simply is better.

8. Top teams do more decision making and leadership coordinating. While this is the purpose of the team at the top, it determines who should be on it. Most churches draw a circle at the top of the org chart and put the people in that circle on the leadership team. To lead a church, you need to be able to see the whole field, not just your area. You need to be able to make strong decisions, and not everyone is good at that. You need to be able to handle details, and again, not everyone is good at that. This goes along with #5 and who should lead which teams, which meetings, etc. It isn’t always the lead pastor.

9. Your leadership team is the primary determinant of the health, effectiveness and impact of your church. This is a leadership truth that every leader knows but does not want to admit when faced with an unhealthy church or a church that is not meeting its fullest potential.

Our church has gone through quite the transition in the last year because of this book and others. While at times it has been slow, it has been hard and painful for our team (and me as I’ve had to let go of quite a bit), it has made a stronger, healthier team and allowed leaders to lead.

I can’t recommend this book enough if you are a pastor or lead something. This is the best book on teams in a church setting.