Dori ThextonI attended a seminar called “Building Healthy Staff Teams” in the fall of 2011, sponsored by the Alban Institute. Susan Beaumont, an Alban senior consultant, spent two days covering a vast amount of information on teams. She began with some definitions of teams and explored other types of work groups that are not necessarily teams, but still serve valuable functions.

Understanding what is and is not a team, along with other ways of staff working together, is important to our congregations as we move into the future. It’s important because of the many changes congregations of all sizes are undergoing…

  • hiring for newly created positions
  • reconfiguring job descriptions
  • shifting models of accountability
  • utilizing volunteers for more tasks that used to be held by paid staff
  • expanding expectations for committees and task groups in the congregation to plan and organize ongoing activities

Beaumont says that ‘Teams’ are comprised of 5-7 members with complementary skills, committed to working together towards a common purpose and performance goals; motivated by a strong sense of mission and purpose; holding themselves accountable for the team’s results. In a recent online Alban column, she identifies 30 markers of a staff team culture that describe overall health.

You could use a rating scale of 1-5 to assess your own team health.

In my work with the district staff colleagues of the MidAmerica region, I was pleased to see that we are doing pretty well as a team, according to these markers. When we discussed this at a staff meeting, we also shared some examples of congregational staff teams we knew of where effective team work has been a component of their growth and vitality.

Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton, WI is one example. In my experiences with their professional staff team, each person has a clear sense of his or her own role and responsibilities and, at the same time, they frequently lift up their collaborative efforts as leading to some piece of successful work. They are consistently focused on their vision for their future and on their presence in Appleton and the surrounding communities, along with the support for the five neighboring congregations they have helped create.

In addition to teams of staff and/or other executive-type of leaders, many congregational committees can benefit from understanding how to function as a team. Any committee or working group might develop a clear sense of their own mission and purpose as part of the whole congregation. They could focus their efforts on utilizing their complementary skills to accomplish their goals, supporting each other’s efforts and holding themselves accountable.

These are just a few ideas on building teams to help your congregation live out its mission and purpose – it would be great to hear more examples and models that have helped in your setting.

-- Dori Davenport Thexton