A few years ago, I consulted with a church about their website. Walking into the staff meeting, I could feel the tension—which seemed odd, considering we were "just" talking about a church's website. The small staff was sitting around the table, and their nonverbal queues made it pretty clear they didn't want to spend the time talking about their website. I tried to press forward and work with their team on what they felt was needed and how they could make improvements, but it was strenuous to get the discussion to take place. Finally, I gave up.
I addressed the elephant in the room, and as I asked more questions about the dynamics of the team and their apprehension to this discussion, I realized this had nothing to do with a church website (no surprise, really). The staff had an unhealthy dynamic. They didn't work as a team, and it showed. Instead of talking about the church website, we spent the remainder of our time together discussing their team's culture.
Here's the thing: I don't think that church staff was out of the ordinary. Over the years, many churches I've interacted with have had some unhealthy elements. Every church leader deals with many stressful scenarios, and a lot of church staff feel isolated in their ministry work—whether they're a sole staff member or part of a staff of dozens. Building a healthy team culture in your church takes intentionality. Creating a healthy culture among your church staff is constant, too; you can't set it and forget it. Here are six ways to begin working toward a healthy team culture for your church's staff and leadership.
1. Define your team culture
Before you can work toward a healthy culture, you first need to decide how that culture ought to look and operate. Spend time (with your team!) deciding what the group wants in its culture: is your team's culture professional, or is it more relaxed? What are the values you wish to embrace? What's the shared vision your staff team will work toward, and how does that support the church's mission, vision, and values? People can get behind something they believe in, so work with your staff to decide what defines the team and its culture.
2. Create clear expectations
Job descriptions are great, but there is tons of crossover from one leader to the next in ministry. It's vital for your team's success that there are clear expectations. Who's responsible for what? Who reports to whom? What areas is each person responsible for, and what needs to change? Ask your team what's unclear right now. Then provide clarity. Add it to those job descriptions, and make sure those job roles are updated consistently.
3. Develop consistent rhythms
Look, I don't love meetings. But even though I'm meeting-averse, I've realized their importance. While not everything needs to be a meeting, there is value in carving out time and space to discuss important topics. Patrick Lencioni promotes the idea of daily check-in meetings in his book Death by Meeting. The first time I read this, I said, "that sounds terrible!" But I soon realized a great way to make this idea work in ministry settings is daily prayer times with the staff. Start each workday with a 10-15 minute prayer time, and give your team the space to pray for one another and the needs of your church community.
Other healthy rhythms to help build a great team culture can include:
Regular staff meetings.
Off-site planning meetings.
Casual lunches with each team member.
Build rhythms for more than meetings, too. Develop formal and informal rhythms for your team. Build relational time together. Times outside the office are vital for deepening relational empathy among the entire team.
4. Set a standard for constructive criticism
Often, employees are wary of providing any hint of negative comments because they fear how the other person will respond. But constructive criticism is an essential element of any healthy relationship. Build time and standards for how constructive criticism looks among your team. Celebrate the good things that happen in ministry! Reflect on events (positive and negative) after they occur to make improvements for the next time and set a standard for directly addressing interpersonal issues among the staff.
5. Tear down silos
Ministry silos—or the feeling (real or perceived) that a person feels isolated from what is happening outside their area of ministry—naturally occurs in any church setting. It's easy for staff to get sucked into their work and have no idea what other ministries are doing. While not everyone needs to be involved in every decision or discussion, constantly tearing down ministry silos creates a healthier and more collaborative team culture. As staff work together on like-minded projects, they find more ways to support other ministries. And as people actively involve one another in their ministry, the workplace becomes a dynamic and healthy space—oh, and ministry improves, too!
6. Invest in the team
Make it part of everyone's job to invest in one another. Find ways to celebrate and encourage each member of your team. Provide the resources they need to do their job well, and then go above and beyond to let team members know they're appreciated. You don't need to spend a ton of money acknowledging your team, but you do have to be intentional about it. Build systems of appreciation and acknowledgment into your regular rhythms and conversations, and you'll see the relational dynamics turn the tide pretty quickly. Food goes a long way, too!