Learning from Five Dysfunctions of a Team

I first heard Patrick Lencioni at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit a few years ago. He spoke then on the content of his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Well, I’ve finally read the book.

The heart of the book is illustrated in the diagram below.


I see much in the book that my own church could profit from. We’re a diverse group, not only in our backgrounds, personalities, and interests, but also in the way we relate to the church. I’m appointed by the bishop. We have one staff person who is full time and a member/participant in another church, 3 people who are part-time paid staff, active in our congregation, and one person (new to the staff) who is unpaid (though she was at one time – years ago – paid staff), but has longer tenure in the church than any of us. She’s the only one to join the staff from within.

My main gifts are in teaching and preaching – not leadership. While teaching and preaching are essential to the health of a church, so is leadership. That’s why I continue to work on my leadership abilities.

In this post, however, I’d like to comment on Annual Conference issues. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, you know the Texas Annual Conference is going through a transformation process. Big changes are afoot. Reading Lencioni makes me wonder if we’re not starting at the wrong end of the spectrum.

If Lencioni’s theory is correct, the starting point for developing a healthy team is building trust. The end goal is to focus on team results. We’re doing the latter elements – increasing accountability, setting goals, etc. But do we have trust?

Lencioni’s book is based on his “fable” about the leadership team of a tech company. The story shows their new CEO leading them up the pyramid – in theory and in action. Surely a company leadership team – composed of fewer than 10 people – is more like the staff of an individual church or the conference cabinet than it is like the conference as a whole. Can we take his theory any apply it to such a large organization? If so, what adaptations do we have to make?

For as long as I’ve been a part of the institution, the UMC has been a top-down hierarchy based organization. The folks at the top have the power, and the folks at the bottom are expected to do what they’re told. At least three factors are eroding this command and control structure.

1. Our culture as a whole has moved away from command and control structures. While still powerful, strong forces for freedom and autonomy have contended against these structures at least since the 1960s. While some of these new forces have been co-opted – i.e., have themselves taken up command and control strategies, the impetus for freedom and individual innovation remains.

2. Over the past few generations pastors have been required to have more and more education simply to enter the ministry. For some time now, it has been a requirement to have at least a graduate degree in divinity. It has not worked well to tell pastors (a) You need to spend a decade studying and tens of thousands of dollars, and (b) Even though you’re so highly educated, we still don’t respect you enough to let you get by without detailed orders from above. (Or, in plainer language, “We don’t trust you to be able to use the education we commanded you to get.” Surely they’re not saying, “Even though we required you to get this expensive education, it’s really not relevant to what you need to do?”)

3. The influx of more mature second career pastors with greater life experience has brought in people who are used to working in freer environments, or who have greater confidence in their own skills and wisdom.

If the traditional command and control structure is being eroded, what is the alternative? Here is where we can learn from Lencioni. The starting point is building trust. we have to do this on many levels. Pastors and congregations, pastors and DSs, churches and cabinets, need to learn to trust each other.

This trust is not just a happy smiley thing. Once real trust begins, then we can move to the next level – healthy conflict. I don’t know about other churches, but UMs are terrified of conflict. We think conflict is unChristian. We talk about wanting people to be “team players,” and by “team player” we mean someone who doesn’t rock the boat but simply (and happily) does what he or she is told to do. There are fewer and fewer people willing to operate that way (could this be why we have trouble getting and keeping younger pastors?).

Why doesn’t the Annual Conference learn from a model like Lencioni’s? My guess is that the main hindrance people would point to is the constraint of time. Some folks think (perhaps rightly) that the great Texas Conference is teetering on the precipice of calamitous decline. Desperate times call for desperate measures. While there are some that think that way, I think there is a another constraint we’re less willing to talk about. I’m referring to episcopal terms.

Building the trust and healthy conflict (so that we can reach greater commitment, accountability and results) in an organization as large as the TAC is a huge task. I doubt it can be done quickly. But BishopHuie is appointed as our episcopal leader for only 4 years at a time. Will she be back for another quadrennium? If she is, will she maintain her focus (some bishops do, some don’t)? If sheisn’t (or even if she is), what will the next bishop do? Will the transitions be affirmed – or jettisoned as too expensive or too painful? Perhaps some think that if we push hard enough we can make it to the point of no return before any changes at the top are made. (Yes, I realize that this is shaping up as an argument for longer episcopal tenure.)

This entry was posted in church growth, Leadership, Texas Annual Conference, United Methodism. Bookmark the permalink.

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