Is Your Team Health and Culture Holding You Back?

March 28, 2019

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker

It’s a provocative statement, often shared in leadership circles and business workshops. Culture overrides strategy. Culture is more powerful than strategy. Strategy, no matter how brilliant or well-devised, can’t overcome an unhealthy, fractured or unintentional culture.

Two questions come to mind:

  • Is this phrase true?

  • If so, what does this mean for churches today?

Is culture more important than strategy?

Once asked which was more important, faith or works, C.S. Lewis responded, “...it seems to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.” His point being, faith apart from works is meaningless and works apart from faith is dead. You need both.

When it comes to teams and organizations, including churches, culture and strategy are both essential. It’s not enough to focus on having a brilliant strategy.

The greatest ideas and the most cutting edge solutions will only fall flat if the people in your team and organization aren’t part of a healthy culture.

“What does a healthy culture look like,” you might ask. First, you have to acknowledge you already have a culture. No church is without one. Culture is simply the consistent ways the people on your team or in your organization believe, think, speak and act. Culture includes the physical environment, the style of meetings, the priorities, how decisions get made and things both seen and unspoken.

You already have a culture – the question is, did you choose it or is it simply happening?

My guess is, if you didn’t choose it and you are not intentionally shaping your culture, then it is not as healthy as it could be.

Can I show you a math problem? (This relates, I promise. We don’t normally just do math for fun over here.)

Let’s say you have a brilliant strategy, a new way to approach small groups in your church, that on a scale of 1-10 is an 8.

Then let’s look at your team culture and health. Let’s say you have a team that is overworked, buried in email, and struggling to resolve some interpersonal issues that have been simmering for months internally. On a scale of 1-10, your team health is at a 4.

Then we take a brilliant strategy (8) and an unhealthy team (4) and multiply them. You get 32. That’s your impact.

Now, let’s go back and change some factors. Let’s say you have a pretty average strategy for small groups. Maybe it’s the same thing you’ve been doing for years, with some minor tweaks. On a scale of 1-10 it’s a 6.

Your team, though, has figured out how to work through conflict in healthy ways, solid boundaries are in place so that no one is giving up family dinners multiple times a week, and communication is very personal and not overly reliant on late-night inbox binges. On a scale of 1-10, your team health is at an 8.

We take an average strategy (6) and a healthy team (8) and multiply them. You get 48. That’s a bigger impact!

Can you start to see how the real strength for a team isn’t squarely in the strategy category? It’s not even in how much work each person on the team is willing to do, though I fully acknowledge how important having devoted and sacrificial people who work at churches can be. Any ministry, idea, message or program can only go as far as the health of a team is able to carry it. What makes a team effective and strong over time is the health of your people and the strength of your culture. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to intentionally invest in and develop a healthy culture.

In fact, your team will only be as healthy as the top leader’s commitment to creating a healthy culture.

What does this mean for churches today?

Over the last 20 years, many church leaders have learned to adapt and integrate many best practices from the marketplace or business world. They’re creating more efficient processes, stewarding financial resources better and implementing strategic plans.

What can get lost in all of these valuable improvements is the health of your people and culture. Powerful church management systems can only take you so far. Beautiful design and motion graphics can only take you so far. Powerful speaking can only take you so far. A great lobby space will only take you so far.

How do you resolve conflict as a team? What are the gifts and strengths of your individual staff members and key volunteers? How have you defined boundaries and given your people permission to prioritize their marriages, families and mental and physical health? Who are you developing as next-generation leaders? Is there anyone on your team who feels undervalued, underdeveloped or overworked?

Just to give one specific example: in one study on the subject of pastors and conflict, a full 60% of pastors said they completely avoid conflict because it is too messy and difficult. Play that out over the course of a year or two and what do you think that culture will look like? My guess is you’ll get a lot of passive-aggressive behavior, high turnover, lack of commitment and buy-in and decreased passion for the work. Give a team like that the most cutting edge practices and strategies and what will you get? More of the same frustration, resignations and complacency.

In our 16 years of work with hundreds of churches varying in size and denomination, we have always taken a very personal approach. Sure, we are helping people launch new websites, create new logos and brand experiences, build social media campaigns and think strategically about their audience and marketing. But through all of it, we have instinctively pulled back to ask questions such as “What is your vision? What would you consider success? Who are you trying to reach? What do you want them to feel and know?”

It’s never been about the tools.

We love websites and design projects and social media strategy. But those are all tools that help churches carry out their mission of helping people know and draw closer to Jesus. It’s all about relationships. And we’ve always included relationships and the hearts of people in our work.

In recent months, it has become clear to us that churches want and need more direct and specific help cultivating healthy teams and cultures. Just in recent weeks, we have heard an executive pastor talk about the critical importance of emotional intelligence. A few members of our team have spent extensive time walking a full church staff through an emotional and intentional process to reconcile hurt and misunderstandings that were getting in the way of the work and the mission of the church. I think each person on our team would agree that the health of the church staff will determine the health of the church as a whole.

Could it be that your team health and culture is holding you back from what God wants to do in your church and community?

Today, we’re excited to share how we are moving forward to more clearly and directly offer services that help teams develop a healthy and thriving culture. We are still a full-service communications agency, working with churches to launch new websites, brands, social media efforts and more. But now we are making Team Health and Culture one of the foundations of what it means to be a full-service communications agency.

This is something we’ve lived out at Fishhook since the very beginning and we feel called to bring a focus on health and culture to church teams.

Our team promises to listen hard, observe and assess. We will make recommendations and provide ongoing support to help your church team grow. All of this is done with the goal of getting your team to a better place so they can carry out your mission to spread the word about Jesus.

Know that we're here for you and with you. If you need someone to bounce ideas off of or to help you process where your team is today, message us. We'd love to hear from you. 

If you'd like to learn more about our expanding Team Health & Culture services, you can visit our services page

Author
Adam Bouse

Communications Strategist