The Team Building Leader

Team building may be described as behavior that encourages members to develop close, cooperative working relationships with one another.  As has been stated in the discussion of the leader’s supportiveness, the way the leader relates to individuals in the group will have a significant effect upon the way members relate to one another.  Thus the cultivation of close one-to-one relationships by the leader with members of the team is an important step in the team-building process.  The outcome of good team-building is the creation and maintenance of cohesive work groups in the church, so that more is accomplished and at the same time people feel better about their participation in the life of the church. 

Some leaders erroneously assume that in order to exercise strong leadership and validate their role, they must provide a good solution for every concern which arises, and then “sell” the solution to the group.  Actually, a leader who develops the skill to draw solutions from the group will be a stronger leader.  Not only do the resources within the members go well beyond those of any single member (including the leader); in addition, the more people invest themselves in generating solutions, the more committed they will be to carry them out.  In effect, the leader who skillfully enables the group to solve group-related problems wins twice: better solutions and more motivated workers.  Leader and group are stronger than when the leader does everything. 

1.  The Leader’s Role in Team-Building 

a. Belief in Teamwork.  Before a leader can build and use cohesive teams, s/he must be persuaded that a team is in fact more productive than individuals acting separately.  Much research has been done to compare results of individuals working on a problem with those of a group working on the same problem.  Team scores are consistently higher than the mean individual score, and often better than any one person’s.  Knowing this, a leader does well to rely on the resources in a group. 

b. Attention to Individuals.  Members who feel cared about by the leader will transfer some of their trust and good will into the group.  One-to-one contact between the leader and group members lays excellent groundwork for team-building in the group.  Verbalization of genuinely-felt affirmative observations to a person both in private and in public settings will tend to free others to do likewise in the team setting. 

c. Attention to Interpersonal Interactions.  The leader can facilitate peer interaction among team members to reinforce the sense of being a team.  If there is genuine conflict, the leader can help surface it and state it in a problem-solving rather than a blaming tone.  Positive statements shared  between members can be reinforced; and witty barbs that really mask good feelings can be restated affirmatively to see if a compliment was intended.  With practice, a group can develop mutually-reinforcing interactive approaches rather than guarded banter. 

d. Attention to both Task and Maintenance.  Task functions are those which move the group along to getting a specific job done.  These include initiating, seeking and giving information, clarifying, elaborating, summarizing, testing for consensus.  Maintenance functions focus upon the personal and interpersonal dynamics in the group, to facilitate cohesiveness and a positive climate.  They include encouraging, keeping communication channels open, identifying and expressing group feelings, setting and applying norms or group rules.  Neglecting either kind of functions will reduce team cohesion.

e. Sharing Power.  The leader need not give up power or influence in order to empower the team.  Yet paradoxically, the more the leader can share the power to make group decisions with the members themselves, the more s/he is trusted, respected, and supported by the members.  Thus the really strong leader (who does not exercise coercive control of others) is the one who can free the group to use its own resources and solve its own problems.  By surrendering control, the leader gains both personal influence and group cohesion.

2.  Effects on Church Life of Improved Team-Building

a. Mutual Caring and Ministering.  In a leader-dominated group, everything tends to revolve around and be processed through the leader.  In contrast, when the group begins to experience itself as a team, then the members begin to give direct expression of caring and sharing with one another.  When mutual caring begins to develop among members in the team, there is less demand upon the pastor or other church leader to have to be “all things to all people.” 

b. Members Take Initiative.  Persons who have a sense of being part of a team in the church organization will have a stake in how well the team is doing.  This sense of “ownership” by the members will lead them to take initiative to ensure that the team establishes a good performance record.  Rather than seeing themsel¬ves as the critics of the church, they experience themselves as the church and own responsibility for its work. 

c. Motivation Grows from Common Commitments.  One perennial problem in church organizations is how to motivate persons to do the church’s work.  When people have invested themselves in defining the task, in generating optimum ways to accomplish it, and have a stake in the success of its outcome, they are much more ready to invest time, energy and money to its fulfillment.  So team-building carries with it a fortunate side-effect of upgrading the commitment levels of team members. 

d. Less Burdens for the Leader.  Responsibility for the cohesion of the church can weigh heavily on one or a few leaders if the feeling is present that everything is riding upon the leader’s efforts alone.  But with members sharing in the concerns and picking up responsibility for the group’s and the church’s success, the leader feels supportive undergirding in his/her /role. 

Questions for Reflection and Discussion 

  1. When do I feel obliged to bring pre-formed solutions for church concerns to the group, and “sell” them?  When do I present the problem and let the group generate solutions?
  2. To what extent do our church groups pay attention to both task and maintenance (productivity and satisfaction) needs of the members?  How well do we balance the two?  How might each be improved?
  3. To what extent do I and other leaders pay attention to the development of sound one-to-one relationships with group members?  How could these be strengthened?
  4. How does your church organization provide for and invest in team building for church leadership groups?  How would you like to see this improved?
  5. How is an emphasis on team building an expression of Christian faith?