Surviving as a Team Leader

“Teams are a lot of work.” I sighed heavily with this guilty thought. I’ve promoted the value of teams for years, within and beyond my own church. But I was feeling more frustration than love at the moment.

I was in my office, trying to complete a project. I’d been trying all week. But it wasn’t going well. I kept getting interrupted with appointments, and emails and phone calls that needed a response. And most of those interruptions were from people on teams I work with on some aspect of our church’s equipping ministry.

I was reminded of other work those teams created. In addition to responding to their reports and questions (as evidenced by all these interruptions), it took a good amount of time and effort to form those teams. They weren’t doing the tasks the same way I would, and that required thoughtful response.

As I mentally pictured those teams, I couldn’t help but see the other side of the coin, too. Those team members bring to the table gifts I don’t have and think of things I don’t and, therefore, we create better outcomes together. We’ve gotten to know each other well and we have fun together. For some, service on this team opens doors to other opportunities for using their strongest gifts. And virtually all of them have thanked me for letting them make a significant contribution to our church’s ministry.

Well, that burst my pity party balloon. The interruptions no longer felt like interruptions; they were the normal work of doing ministry together. I did eventually get my project done, too; ironically, it was recruiting people for a new team to plan our ministry fair with me!

The reality remains: leading a team is hard work. But it not only brings rewards, it’s also the God-pleasing way to do ministry in the body of Christ. Paul reminds us, ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!'” (I Cor. 12:21a). When church leaders work as Lone Rangers, they cut off others in the body of Christ from using their gifts and from the joy of serving.

Like most church staff and volunteer leaders, I had no training or experience in leading teams. But we can learn this skill and art as we go. What I’ve learned:

  1. Recruit carefully. Invite people who have the skills needed for the team’s task. Go beyond your own circle of acquaintances by asking others for suggestions. When recruiting our ministry fair team, I looked for a good organizer, for someone who’d enjoy decorating the gym, and for a patient record-keeper for tracking the participation of our various ministries.
  2. Be clear on the goal. Paint a picture of the desired result and keep it in front of the team. “We want to create a fun event that draws people in and helps them connect with ministries that match their gifts and interests.”
  3. Practice accountability. Agree on who will do what by when, and document it. Expect that deadlines will be met and lovingly follow up when (not if) they aren’t.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Time is precious so keep meetings to a minimum but know how you’ll keep in touch. Have regular check-in’s or updates. If team members are tech-savvy, use tools like Google docs (for document sharing) or Skype. Regularly remind team members of your purpose and goal, and of the importance and impact of their work.
  5. When (not if) you have problems, address them. Nothing goes exactly as planned, and where 2 or 3 are gathered, there will be conflict. Speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). It’s the hardest thing to do, and you won’t do it perfectly, but the effort builds a team that works together and trusts each other. Lead the way by giving a simple and direct apology when (not if) you mess up.
  6. Build relationships, have fun together, say thank you, and celebrate!

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