Talking About Staff Team Health

What words would you use to describe the ideal staff team? I frequently pose this question to church leaders and the two words most frequently offered are collaborative and accountable.  We want our staff teams to be cooperative, to demonstrate an ease and naturalness in working together that capitalizes on the strength and ingenuity of team members.  At the same time we want the staff to accomplish worthy work that is both effective and efficient. We value a team that fosters both individual and group accountability. Most staff teams function somewhere along a spectrum that favors either collaboration or accountability.
The healthiest staff teams find a way to foster both attributes.

Teams that embrace collaboration over accountability tend to produce cultures of hyper-collaboration that are not healthy. Every member of the staff team feels personally responsible for every aspect of staff life and work. On the surface, these teams appear to have something remarkable going on. Staff members are always available to support and assist one another and the congregation. But when you look beneath the surface something more troublesome is happening. There are no clear boundaries around roles and responsibilities and no clear feedback on performance. Without role boundaries staff members aren’t free to say, “That’s not my area of responsibility or giftedness and I wouldn’t be the most effective person to lend support, but let me point you to the person who could help.” Staff members don’t end up working in their areas of passion and skill. Talented and responsible staff members end up burned out in a culture of hyper-collaboration. They feel personally responsible for the success or failure of everything that the staff team undertakes, and are seldom honored for individual excellence. At the same time, underperformance is seldom addressed so that slackers and competence thrive and flourish.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the team that values accountability over collaboration. We often use the term “silo” to describe how these teams function. These teams consist of highly skilled individuals, each working with excellence in their own area of expertise. They engage one another to coordinate when necessary.  However, these staff teams are really working groups as opposed to teams. There is no real synergy in their work beyond what they accomplish as individual performers. Staff members do not reach out beyond their own work areas to think generatively or work cooperatively. Team members feel free to say, “That’s not my job” and are comfortable leaving tasks undone and colleagues unsupported.

Staff leaders can generally recognize when their team is out of balance on the collaborative/accountability spectrum.  However, recognizing the problem doesn’t do much good if you don’t know what to do to promote better balance.   I have found that the best approach to consulting with a team that is out of balance is providing them with language to talk about their health. A team that can articulate what is not right, and what health would look like, is well on its way toward fixing the problem.  To that end, I have developed 30 markers of staff team culture that describe overall health.  These descriptors unpack the assumptions we leave unstated when we use terms like collaboration and accountability.

  1. As a staff, we have a compelling vision for the future of the congregation and our place in that future.
  2. We have a clearly defined and well communicated statement of purpose as a staff team.
  3. The size of our staff team is appropriate for the size and growth aspirations of our congregation.
  4. The configuration of our staff team is appropriate for our congregation; we have the right people in appropriately defined roles.
  5. Our work is managed against goals and objectives.
  6. We recognize and celebrate our accomplishments as a team.
  7. When priorities are revised, the need for change is discussed and made clear to the team.
  8. Individual roles, relationships and accountabilities are clear to everyone on the team.
  9. Team members are technically qualified to perform their jobs.
  10. Each member of the team has clear and effective supervision.
  11. Each member of the team is held accountable for his or her individual performance.
  12. Individual performance is recognized and appreciated.
  13. Our approach to problem-solving results in effective, high-quality solutions to issues.
  14. Staff meetings are productive.
  15. Policies and procedures that we rely upon are helpful in the accomplishment of tasks.
  16. We are able to respond to a crisis in the congregation quickly and flexibly.
  17. There is room in our decision making process for discernment of God’s Spirit.
  18. Our work as a staff team is grounded in God’s Spirit.
  19. We coordinate our work with a spirit of collaboration.
  20. Staff members appreciate and capitalize on each other’s differences, strengths, and unique capabilities.
  21. Communication within our team is open and above board.
  22. Staff members defend/support one another when criticism arises from within the congregation.
  23. We are able to resolve our conflicts and disagreements openly and honestly.
  24. The staff team has fun together.
  25. Staff members use humor freely and appropriately.
  26. We communicate effectively with the congregation, its governing board and committees.
  27. We are aware of and attentive to the needs and desires of the governing board and committees as we make decisions and plans.
  28. The governing board and committees are aware of and attentive to our needs and desires as they make decisions and plans.
  29. The staff team is appreciated and supported by the governing board.
  30. The staff team is appreciated and supported by the congregation.


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