5 Disciplines of Teams that Thrive


Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird studied leadership teams in more than 2,500 churches to discover the distinctive features of thriving teams. They found that the key factors in successful teamwork are a shared purpose, leveraging of differences among team members, exercising of leadership through inspiration rather than control, clear decision-making processes, and a culture of ongoing collaboration.

Studying more than 2,500 church leadership teams over two years, we discovered several distinctive features of thriving leadership teams.

1. Focus on purpose, the invisible leader of your team.

Great teams pursue a shared purpose that prioritizes making decisions together rather than advising one member who then makes key decisions. Mediocre teams spend most of their time advising the lead pastor, sharing information, and coordinating operations, but they rarely go beyond that point. Exceptional leadership teams work together to do the most important strategic work in the church — making critical decisions regularly and continually.

2. Leverage differences in team membership.

Great teams pursue diversity in personality, background, and perspective rather than democracy or uniformity. Mediocre teams have too many people with the same gifts, styles, and backgrounds, or seek to include too many persons. Exceptional leadership teams are small, diverse, and consist of persons with complementary skills who concentrate their work on the leadership team.

3. Rely on inspiration more than control to lead.

Outstanding teams prioritize leadership through relationship-based inspiration rather than role-based giving of directives. Leaders of mediocre teams prioritize control and directive leadership and neglect the development of positive working relationships. Leaders of exceptional teams focus on transformational leadership and the building of trust that together inspire and free the leadership team to perform with excellence while maintaining solid relationships.

4. Intentionally structure your decision-making process.

While mediocre leadership teams make decisions in an unstructured, haphazard manner, exceptional leadership teams utilized a careful step-by-step process while seeking God’s perspective and leading when making decisions.

5. Build a culture of continuous collaboration.

Exceptional teams meet with intentionality, utilize collaboratively developed agendas, and work together continuously to make the most of meetings. In contrast mediocre teams tend to limit their collaboration to scheduled team meetings and, even when they meet, fail to recognize the benefits of effective meetings.

Important variables

We found five variables that were the most important. We identified significant positive relationships between higher team performance and the following four variables:

  • The time a team spent making critical decisions
  • The degree to which a team sought God’s perspective
  • A team’s utilization of careful decision-making processes
  • The percentage of time that team members adopted a church-wide perspective (rather than a positional-based perspective) during meetings

In addition, we discovered a strong negative relationship between team performance and team members’ stress concerning a fifth variable — the team’s dysfunctional communication process.

This material is excerpted from Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership (InterVarsity Press, 2015) by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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About Author

Dr. Ryan T. Hartwig is Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of Vanguard University. Dr. Previously, he served as the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Communication at Colorado Christian University. He was a coauthor of his most recent book, The Resilience Factor: A Step-by-Step Guide to Catalyze an Unbreakable Team, available online at Cokesbury and Amazon.

Dr. Warren Bird is Senior Vice President of Research and Equipping at the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, former Research Director at Leadership Network, and the author or co-author of over 30 books.

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