6 Tips for Developing a Stronger Team

Leading a team can be extremely rewarding or frustrating (sometimes a bit of both). From personality conflicts, communication misfires, and different (and often very strong) opinions, getting a group of people to head in the same direction on a consistent basis isn’t easy…even in a church context.

When I first got into project management, I was clueless on how to really lead my team. I was so focused on tasks and due dates that I initially alienated certain team members who felt my approach was a bit harsh (spoiler alert: they were right).

Thankfully, as they realized I was trying to improve they offered me the benefit of the doubt.

Here are six tips based on what I’ve learned along the way:

Tip #1 – Get to know your team

Each individual on your team has a different personality, skillset, working style, communication style, family dynamics, and other unique characteristics. You could approach two people with the exact same request, body language, and speaking style and one will respond with enthusiasm while the other wonders why you were so abrupt.

If you’ll take the time to understand each individual, you’ll be better equipped to communicate with and get the best work from each. When your team members know you care about them as much more than just worker bees, they’ll respect you more and will be more willing to go the extra mile when needed. You’ll cultivate a family, we’re-in-this-together, environment when you know each person as more than just by title or talents.

Tip #2 – Admit you’re not an expert in everything

Value the talents of those on your team – especially talents you don’t possess. I’m terrible at graphic design and layouts, so when I contract out those tasks I make sure to tell them how much I appreciate their talent. You don’t have to be an expert in everything, but if you try to pretend you are your team will see right through that and you’ll lose credibility.

Tip #3 – Establish an “open debate in private, support in public” culture

Since you don’t know everything and hopefully hired people who are good at stuff you aren’t, listen to them! Ask for input, run ideas by your team, and get their honest reaction.

Don’t berate or punish someone if they tell you they don’t think your idea is a good one and why. Yes, it’ll sting a bit but wouldn’t you rather hear that from your team than from the entire congregation when your idea flops?

Debate and feedback should always be offered with respect and kindness. However, it can still be lively and passionate.

Don’t be afraid of disagreement behind closed doors within the team. Talk through the pros/cons, various options, and decision-making criteria. Then, once you’ve made a decision, expect each team member to support it as soon as they leave the room.

Tip #4 – Apologize and model humility

I hate to break it to you, but you’re going to make mistakes.

I’ve made plenty and have had to eat my share of humble pie. When I’ve messed up, what’s kept me from losing all credibility has been my actions afterwards.

As soon as I realize (or am told about) my mistake, I apologize…profusely. I ask for clarification and listen intently so I can understand where I went wrong. Then I make whatever immediate changes are necessary and thank those involved for being gracious with me.

As a leader, you need to model humility. If you don’t own up to your mistakes, you can hardly expect your team to when they mess up. Show them how to handle those moments and set the standard for your team.

Tip #5 – Address problems quickly

When you have a team member who’s being belligerent, rude, or disrespectful (to you or other team members), you need to deal with that immediately. It’s best to not confront the individual in front of the team, but make a point to talk with him/her ASAP.

Start by asking questions such as, “How’re you doing today? Is everything okay?” or “I got the impression you were a bit frustrated in this morning’s meeting. What’s bothering you?”.

The reason I recommend starting off with questions is it’s less likely to put someone on the defensive.

The next key is to listen carefully to the response.

  • Is there something going on at home that’s spilling over into work?
  • Does he disagree with a decision you made?

Find out what’s really going on and then continue the conversation. You’ll still need to address the issue of being rude or disrespectful and set expectations for future behavior. However, knowing the context of why a team member reacted a certain way can be helpful.

The rest of the team doesn’t have to know if you confront the issue or not, but they’ll catch on quickly if this person continues to get away with poor behavior. It’s demoralizing to the team when they have to deal with this person plus it sets a bad example. Confrontation isn’t fun but it’s a vital responsibility that leaders must take seriously.

Tip #6 – Have fun together

Every church has intense seasons where it’s all hands on deck usually with extra hours at the office.

You’re also coming into contact with people at very difficult moments in their lives:

  • Facing the consequences of sin
  • Trying to repair a marriage
  • Dealing with the death of a loved one
  • Fighting an awful diagnosis
  • …and more.

This all takes a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll on church staff.

That’s why it’s important to carve out time to relax and have some lighter moments together. Go out to lunch, take your team and their families out to a movie and dessert, give everyone an extra day off after a big event.

Your team members want to be known, understood, appreciated, trusted, and valued. They’re looking for your approval.

Get to know each member of the team, respect the talents God gave them, be honest about your struggles, and encourage honest debate.

Whether you lead a team of 2 or 20, these tips can help you develop a stronger relationship as a team, prevent or reduce conflict within the team, and accomplish more together.

What team development tips would you add to this list? Share what’s worked for you in the comments.

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