January 29, 2021

How to Develop a High Impact Church Staff – Episode 130 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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We encounter this a lot as we serve churches of many different sizes and denominations across the country: Sometimes churches get stuck because of how they are doing team

They can be clear on mission, clear on vision and clear on how they believe God has called them to operate, and yet… 

Something is broken. 

That brokenness is in the team itself and it often falls into one of two extremes:

Either the team is high-performing, but there’s interpersonal and leadership dysfunction.

Or the team is relationally healthy, but there’s a significant execution gap.

I think part of it comes down to the personal wiring of the senior leader. I, for example, am more driven and action-oriented. If I’m not healthy, the organization I build will lean towards the achievement side at the expense of relationships. 

Other leaders are naturally more nurturing toward teammates. It’s more about relationship, and that can make it harder to give strong feedback and hold people accountable.

It’s not that everybody lives on one end of the spectrum or the other—many of us fall somewhere in the middle—but we all do tend to lean in one direction or the other. 

That’s part of why it’s a challenge to build a high performing AND healthy team, especially in the whirlwind and busyness of ministry. It’s a challenge for us to give appropriate focus to both sides of the equation. 

Starting last year, we at The Unstuck Group committed significant focus to helping churches grow in the team area of church leadership, and this series starting today is part of that focus. 

Lance Witt, our director of the Unstuck Teams process, joins Amy and me for the next four episodes. You may be familiar with Lance through his books, like Replenish and High Impact Teams, or from his work at Saddleback Church during The Purpose Driven Life years. 

I’m praying that the conversations in this series give you some coaching on specific next steps in your life and your leadership, and that your team begins to experience more health and more productivity—all with the ultimate goal of helping your church lead more people to Jesus. 

In this first episode of the series, Lance, Amy and I discuss…

  • Why it seems to be such a struggle to find church staff teams that are both healthy AND high-performing
  • Signs a team is—or is starting to become—dysfunctional
  • “Terminal niceness,” lack of accountability and other issues that create a culture of underperformance
  • The people in church staff culture Lance compares to “gym rats”—had to throw that one in here 🙂
  • Why a healthy team is not necessarily a “happy” team, and what it REALLY looks like when we encounter a church staff that is strong in both health and performance

Leader Conversation Guide

Want to take this conversation back to a staff or senior leadership team meeting? 

Our Show Notes subscribers get a PDF download that recaps the episode content and includes a discussion guide you can print out and use at an upcoming meeting.

Opt-in here and get the Leader Conversation Guide for this episode, as well as access to the archive.

Share Your Thoughts and Questions on Social Media

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

Join Us for a FREE Webinar

How Your Church Staff Can Build a Culture of Action & Get More Done

45 minute webinar + 15 minutes [live Q&A]

Don’t let culture and performance issues get your church stuck in 2020. 

On Monday, February 24 at 1pm ESTI will host Lance Witt, our director of Unstuck Teams, Crull Chambless, executive pastor at Harvest Church in Billings, MT, and Bobby Kirchner, executive pastor at Big Valley Grace Community Church in Modesto, CA, for a practical conversation on how your church staff can build a culture of action and get more done.

Spend an hour with us, and you can expect to gain more clarity and practical next steps to help you:

  • Build a culture of action and accountability
  • Give feedback and evaluate performance effectively
  • Navigate necessary organizational restructuring, especially in seasons of rapid growth and/or with added campuses

Register for the webinar here

Links & Resources from the Episode

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Sean: 00:02 Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Health and performance — Many of the church teams that we encounter, they end on one side of this equation or the other, but when they’re able to create synergy between the two, we’ve seen ministry soar to a whole new level. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy are joined by Lance Witt, author and director of Unstuck Teams, for a conversation on how your team can strike the right balance between health and high performance. Before you listen, you have to get the show notes. You can get them every week in one email along with our leader conversation guide, the weekly resources we mentioned, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. You may also want to learn about the Unstuck Teams process mentioned in this episode as well as our upcoming webinar on creating healthy and high performing teams. Visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/teams and theunstuckgroup.com/webinar for more info. Now let’s join Tony, Amy and Lance for today’s conversation.

Amy: 01:11 This week we’re launching a new podcast series on teams and specifically building teams that are both healthy and high-performing. And joining me and Tony throughout this series is Lance Witt. Lance is our director of the Unstuck Teams process and Tony, our listeners may be familiar with Lance through his books like “Replenish” and “High Impact Teams” or maybe they’ve just heard them on one of our podcasts or webinars in the past. But Lance, welcome to the podcast.

Lance: 01:37 Thank you, Amy and Tony. It is great to be with you, and I’m excited to dive into this topic.

Amy: 01:42 Me too. You know, Tony, we’ve both experienced that it can be a struggle for churches to have teams that are both healthy and high performing. And why do you think that is?

Tony: 01:53 Yeah, Amy, that’s a great question. I think part of it just comes to our personal wiring. Some of us, and I’ve alluded to, I probably fall in this camp. I’m more driven, action oriented. It’s about achievement. Are we accomplishing our mission as a church? Some of us, our nature is more loving. We’re more nurturing toward our teammates. It’s more about relationship and not that anybody lives on either end of the spectrum somewhere, we’re in the middle, but we lean one direction or another. And I think that’s part of why it’s a challenge, to both be high performing and healthy when it comes to teams. Some of it just is the busyness, too, in our lives, and especially for ministry. Ministry doesn’t stop. There’s always something coming. Sundays are always coming. People are always needing ministry. And so because of that, I just think it’s a challenge for us then to give appropriate focus to both sides of the equation. And then honestly, every area of my life where I need to get health, I have found that I have to be more intentional about the steps that I’m taking. And so whether that’s physical, emotional, relational, what I’m trying to accomplish in my job, I need to be more intentional about taking next steps. And hopefully some of the conversation in this series is going to give some coaching on what some of those specific next steps might need to look like in your life, your leadership, so that your team is both high performing and experiencing health as well.

Amy: 03:36 Well, Lance, let’s just dive in. What are some of the signs that you’ve seen when a team is dysfunctional or is on the pathway to becoming dysfunctional?

Lance: 03:47 Well, I’m sure like a lot of our listeners, I’ve been on teams where that dysfunction has been evidence and sometimes it’s more obvious and overt. It shows up in things like, you just feel the stress, you know. In the staff environment there’s tension, a conflict is palpable. People are walking around frustrated. Sometimes there ends up being higher turnover because of the amount of dysfunction in the culture. Sometimes it shows up in things like office politics. Sometimes it shows up in something that I call terminal niceness. You know, there’s just no accountability, we create sort of this culture of underperformance and sometimes we have team environments, especially in churches where we’re unwilling to deal with issues head on, and so sometimes it’s very obvious and visible, but then there’s other times, I think, where the dysfunction is a little more subtle, but nonetheless real. And it shows up in things like a leader who’s insecure and then that manifests itself may be in ego or defensiveness or maybe someone sort of powering up or leading out of position. I think lack of awareness by leaders in churches is one of the biggest causes of dysfunction. It also sometimes shows up in sort of a low grade lack of trust that when you’re around the staff, you kind of sense it. But for whatever reason it shows up, I just think it’s important for us as leaders to realize that the stakes are incredibly high, and the cost to us is enormous. You know, we squander opportunity, there’s wasted time and resources and talent and the end result is we don’t really get after our mission. And it’s not much fun being on a team like that. So, I think this is a very important issue for us to address.

Amy: 05:45 Well, Tony obviously we want teams to be healthy, right? Care for their soul, be healthy as they’re doing ministry, but what are some of the dangers of having a team that’s primarily strong on this health side but weak on performance?

Tony: 05:58 Yeah, it’s interesting. I think there’s an illusion that if the team’s healthy, then the team is going to be happier. And ironically, we’ve worked with churches for a number of years, and it’s interesting and we saw an example of this even recently. The churches that are only focused on health and not the performance side, you would think everybody would love being a part of the team and everybody would be happy. But even in this recent example, we’ve found that the team would probably say on the health side of the equation, we’re doing the right things, but we’re not giving any attention to what we’re really trying to accomplish. And it’s interesting in that situation, morale was actually an issue. The people on the team, not only were they struggling with being on the team, but they certainly weren’t going to recommend that any friends join the team as well. And so it was a reminder to me that both sides of the equation are important. We can’t just focus on the health or we just can’t focus on the performance. We have to deal with both. And if we don’t bring some accountability, especially to the performance side, or if we don’t bring accountability to people that are operating outside of our culture, shaping behaviors that we’ve agreed to, it will lead to poor morale. It could lead to a toxic culture I would say in the best case scenario. In the worst case scenario, the challenges, the good people on your team, they’re probably going to find another team. And so when you don’t address both sides of the challenges, you’re more likely to keep the people that are leading to the toxic culture and you’re going to push away the good people. So for us, we need to make sure this is critical. Not only for the team’s health, but the bigger thing here is less gets done. And I don’t know about you, but gosh, I just have an urgency about the mission God’s called us to as a church. And if our team is healthy, if our team is high performing, our team’s going to be having a greater kingdom impact as well.

Lance: 08:13 Do you know, Tony that’s such a good point. And I find myself constantly reminding teams like health is not an end in itself, right? It makes me think of those guys that are gym rats who spend all their time just building their muscles, you know, drinking their protein shakes, getting healthy. But all you can do is just look at their muscles. They’re not really productive. They don’t really do anything. And you know, I think the last thing we want in church teams are budget gym rats, who are really strong relationally, who really get along but don’t make any kingdom impact. And so health isn’t an end in itself. It’s got to lead to something. And what it should lead to is a high performing team.

Tony: 08:54 You lost me at muscles, Lance. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Lance: 08:58 Oh, come on your buff.

Amy: 09:03 Lance, I’m going to flip the other side over to you. So what are some of the dangers of having a team that’s primarily strong on performance, on getting things done, but then weak when it comes to their health?

Lance: 09:14 Great question. And the first thing that comes to my mind is you create this culture that feels transactional and utilitarian. And I think people walk around on the team with this sense that really at the end of the day, what this organization values in me is only what I can produce. And that results in a kind of a low sense of community, not much friendship, not much personal care for the individual as a person. And again, I don’t think it’s anybody’s intention, but the result is that the people side of the equation can get lost, and it can begin to feel like, man, all we care about around here are metrics, goals, strategies, growth, numbers up into the right. And longterm, I think that doesn’t get us where we want to go. And I think in some really hard driving kinds of team cultures, what ends up happening is we unintentionally create this culture of fear. Again, because the people side gets lost. And so there might be some short-term gain, but I think longterm, we really lose the battle when we don’t have anything on the health side of the equation.

Tony: 10:30 Lance, just a followup to that. I wonder if some of this has to do with the psyche of the senior pastor. If this focus on just performance and what we’re trying to trying to accomplish is actually an indicator of some level of insecurity that senior pastors have. Do, do you sense that might be the case?

Lance: 10:54 Oh yeah. And I think it somewhat goes back to what you alluded to earlier, which is there’s a bit of a wiring issue here. And so again, I think for pastors who find their entire identity and value and significance in how big their church is, how fast it’s growing, you know, kind of all the external markers of success. I think that’s an indicator sometimes of a pastor who hasn’t done some of the hard internal work around his identity and where he finds a significance and what’s really driving, sometimes, this unhealthy push where it’s all about results only. And so, I think really no matter which side of the equation you land on, there’s some hard internal work that every leader has to do to become aware of sort of the shadow side of their gifting and how that can play out in a negative way in the team environment.

Amy: 11:50 Yeah. What I hear both of you saying is that leading of the senior pastor is going to tip one way or the other. And so for those that I’ve met that are on that performance side, I don’t know if you’ve seen this Lance, they kind of have this, maybe default, of you guys are responsible for your health. I’m not responsible for that. And on the flip side, those wired to the more health side, they have a fear of driving metrics and driving numbers or driving results because they feel it compromises. Do you agree?

Tony: 12:18 Yeah. You kinda hear this feedback, you’re trying to run the church like a business. And when you have that focus on results, and goodness, it can’t just be on results, but a part of it has to be on results. I mean, it’s a stewardship issue. Why in the world would we allow a ministry not to be reaching people for Jesus? Why would we not be intentional about the gospel going out and for us impacting people’s lives? There has to be some focus on the results. Otherwise, we’re not being good stewards of the mission that God’s called us to. Some of that’s gonna feel like we’re operating like a business because businesses are focused on results. But it really does. There has to be some focus there, but it can’t be the entire focus.

Lance: 13:15 Well, I think the magic is in pursuing both at the same time, right? I think that’s where the synergy is and where we really get people who are healthy, relationally connected, personally cared for, but also we’re really clear about the mission. We’re clear about our priorities and we’re getting after that stuff.

Tony: 13:34 I do have to laugh though, Lance. I think you’ve shared before sometimes when pastors start talking to you about the possibility of you coming to work with their team, their reaction is, well, I tried to keep guys like you away from my team. Is that what I’ve heard you say?

Lance: 13:51 Yeah, I actually had one pastor absolutely articulate that I was doing a teaching on Sabbath, and he said the last thing I need is my underperforming staff members to have more time off where they’re not producing. And so my response was, “Hey, how about if we actually deal with the underperforming staff members rather than ignore a biblical command about a healthy rhythm of life?” Yeah, I do get that occasionally, but that was a fun conversation.

Amy: 14:24 Well, I think the good news is, Lance, you do see staff teams and pastors where they are doing a good job of balancing health and high performance. So, tell me what that looks like. What do you see when you encounter a team that’s doing a good job of fighting for both sides?

Lance: 14:40 Well, I think this goes back first, Amy, to kind of what Tony was talking about earlier. And it’s about intentionality. I’d say the first thing is they’re intentional about getting after both, about creating a great team environment. And I would just say, based on my experience, it’s kind of like your marriage. You never drift into a great, deep intimate marriage and you never drift into a healthy and high performing team. You got to get after it. So I was thinking about this, cause I know Tony’s a big baseball fan.

Amy: 15:11 Oh, you heard that?

Lance: 15:12 Yeah. You know, I know that to be true. And to me it’s a little bit like spring training. No Major League Baseball team just shows up for opening day and hopes they’re going to have a winning season. No, they go through the grueling regimen of spring training where they practice, they run drills, they work on systems, they actually galvanize as a team and then they’re ready. So there’s all this focus on the preparation and on the getting ready to get the job done. And I think we have to focus some of our energy on building a great team. But when you talk about teams that evidence both, here are some markers that I think really are indicators of a healthy and high performing team. I think there are things like there’s authentic care for one another. I’m not just interested in you, in your position, but I care about your marriage, about your kids, about your health. There’s just that authentic care. I think there’s spiritual vibrancy like it’s natural for us to pray together. We talk about what God’s up to. We tell stories of life change. We open the word together. But on the performance side, I think, well gosh, there’s alignment. We’re actually all after the same mission with different roles, different responsibilities, but we’re after it. And then there’s clear vision and clear priorities and people are clear about the win for their job. And there’s accountability around performance. We’re having real time coaching conversations. It just kills me that sometimes in a church, the only coaching conversation comes in that once a year, dreaded annual review. And it’s painful for everybody. But I think in healthy and high performing teams, we’re having regular conversations because there’s a hunger for all of us to get better. And if I’m healthy, I want that coaching. So for me, those are some of the markers that I would see in a team that evidences is both sides of the equation.

Amy: 17:14 Hey Tony, I’m guessing there may be a pastor or two listening to this conversation, and they’ve identified which side of the health or high performance equation that maybe they’re a little bit weaker in. What can they do to begin creating a greater balance within their staff, within their team?

Tony: 17:29 Yeah, so as I alluded to earlier, I have found in every area of my life when I needed to take a step forward and get different results, I have to embrace different disciplines. I have to be more intentional about that, and I would suggest that the same thing would be true here, whichever direction you lean. If you lean towards performance and results, there’s probably some work that needs to be done on the health side of the equation in your team. If you’re the person that leans more towards health, then there’s probably some work that needs to be done on the performance side of the equation for your team. In both cases though, you’re going to have to do things differently to get different results. And the good news here is we do offer a process to work with you, to work with your team, to address both sides. And our Unstuck Team’s process, basically, is broken down into four phases to help you through this. First, there’s an assessment phase to confirm where you are healthy, to get an understanding of your current reality. Then we go through a structure process with you and your team to make sure you have the right people in the right roles, and that part of the process is especially critical with your senior leaders. We want to make sure we have the right leaders around you as senior pastors, so that you are able to move forward effectively in your ministry. The third step is to optimize. And here we have some focus time with your senior leadership team to equip you and that team with the tools and the best practices for managing effectively toward both health and strong results. And then finally, we call it the empowerment phase. Here, we’re building a plan for follow through to make sure the culture you are creating values both health and high performance. So, in other words, again, you’re going to have to embrace new disciplines to get different results. And if you feel like you need some help, we have a process to help you take those steps.

Lance: 19:40 Yeah. Tony, I think when I’m listening to you talk, I think there’s this moment for a pastor, a senior leader, an executive pastor, where you sort of put a stake in the ground and say, “We’re really gonna commit to pursuing both of these.” Because I think you can’t really accomplish your vision and your mission without it. And I think that’s where the synergy really begins to happen when you do that. But I think a pastor has to go, no, this really is worth the investment of our time. The single usually biggest line item in a church budget is personnel. It just makes sense to do everything we can to invest in them to make sure that we’re getting, you know, the results and the health that we’re looking for.

Amy: 20:27 Well, this is just the first of four podcasts on this topic. So listen in the weeks to come. But Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up this first podcast?

Tony: 20:36 Yeah, Amy, we don’t talk about this a lot. In fact, we probably should talk about it more, but built into every one of our engagements, including this Unstuck Teams process, is focused one-on-one coaching, both for senior and executive pastors. You know, we work with the entire team on strategies and structures, but we also come alongside the pastors one-on-one to increase their leadership horse power and in the case of Unstuck Teams, that’s also going to help you both address your personal performance and your personal health goals as well. So if that’s you, if you’re questioning your ability to lead your team into the future, if you’re facing burnout, as an example, and you’re tempted to walk away from ministry, I really hope you’ll reach out to us and take advantage of this Unstuck Teams process. Not only will it help your team, but more importantly, it’s going to help you as a leader.

Sean: 21:38 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Unstuck Teams webinar on February 24th at 1:00 PM Eastern. To learn more and sign up, go to theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. If you’d like to explain more about how the Unstuck Teams process could benefit your church, visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/teams. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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