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 incompetence 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.  


A staff team can assess their own health by inviting each member of the team to evaluate the team experience. On a scale of 1-5, how does each statement reflect your experience of the team? (1= not at all like us, 5= completely like us). Once the individual reflection is complete, the team can meet to share their scores and look for areas of agreement and disagreement. The team can explore aspects of health and those areas that need improvement. Of course, this type of conversation is only possible if the team is healthy enough to engage in honest and forthcoming dialogue.  A team that isn’t functional enough to talk genuinely about its health needs the assistance of an outside facilitator or consultant. 


Comments welcome on the   Alban Roundtable blog  


This article originally appeared in The Ledger, a professional journal of the National Association of Church Business Administration. Reprinted by permission. © 2011 NACBA. www.nacba.net (800) 898-8085   



AL419_SM Inside the Large Congregation    
by Susan Beaumont 

Beaumont is invested in helping large congregations “rightsize” their leadership systems to better serve their ministry context. This book articulates why size matters and how it matters in the world of large congregations. It is written for anyone who wants to better understand the leadership and organizational dynamics of the large church—anyone seeking to understand the challenges of leading from inside the large congregation 

AL341_SM When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations   
by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont 

In When Moses Meets Aaron, Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont help clergy responsible for several-member staff teams learn to be both Moses and Aaron—both a visionary and a detail-oriented leader—in order for their large congregations to thrive. They immerse the best of corporate human resource tools in a congregational context, providing a comprehensive manual for supervising, motivating, and coordinating staff teams.

AL279_SM When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century   
by Jill M. Hudson 

Approaching the postmodern era as a tremendous opportunity, Hudson identifies 12 characteristics by which we can measure effective ministry for the early 21st century. Based on those 12 criteria, Hudson has created evaluation tools to help congregations improve their ministry, help members and staff grow in effectiveness, deepen a sense of partnership, and add new richness to the dialogue about a congregation’s future.

AL368_SM Reaching Out in a Networked World: Expressing Your Congregation’s Heart and Soul  
by Lynn M. Baab 

A congregation communicates its heart and soul through words, photos, actions, programs, architecture, decor, the arts, and countless other aspects of congregational life. In Reaching Out in a Networked World, communications expert and pastor Lynne Baab examines technologies such as websites, blogs, online communities, and desktop publishing. She demonstrates how a congregation can evaluate these tools and appropriately use them to communicate its heart and soul, to convey its identity and values both within and outside the congregation. When congregations are intentional about communicating who they are and what they value, people in the wider community can get a clear and coherent picture of the congregation and its mission.  



Insight, tools, and a more effective approach to staff supervision in your congregation.   

Last Chance! Registration closes March 2, 2012!  Beaumont,Susan 120x   

Leader: Susan Beaumont, Alban Senior Consultant   

March 6-8, 2012, Marywood Center for Spirituality, Jacksonville, FL   

  Information and Registration    



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