The Right Team Culture

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By Allyson Evans
Allyson Evans is the NextGen leader at Life.Church, where her ministry serves children and students from birth through high school. She has been on staff for 16 years and has been a part of the church’s expansion from two locations to 26 locations in eight states.

When I interviewed to join the Life.Church staff almost 16 years ago, I was surprised that one of the initial steps in the process was to complete some personal assessments. I was assured the assessments weren’t a tool to determine whether I was hirable but to help me understand more about myself. It was a little intimidating, but very enlightening.

I quickly discovered that self-awareness is a very important part of Life.Church culture. It is also a critical component of development. In fact, we believe that personal growth is born out of self-awareness.

We even help candidates for our staff gain self-awareness. We talk with them about their development, helping them identify areas in which they would like to grow. Understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, personality disposition, and gift set is an essential part of personal development, so even before someone joins our staff that part of our culture is made clear to them.

What is culture?

Culture refers to the way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists within a group—no matter if it’s a business, a family, or a church. You may think your church doesn’t have a culture. Or maybe you know you do, but you’re just not sure what it is. The truth is, every organization has a culture. The question is whether or not that culture is healthy and supports development.  

We all agree we want a healthy way of thinking and behaving and working, but healthy cultures don’t happen by accident. They must be created.

The building blocks of any culture are values. The first step to determining whether your staff culture supports development is discovering your organization values. Some of our values are:

·      Generosity. We truly believe that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive.

·      The church. The local church is the hope of the world, and we know we can accomplish infinitely more together than apart.

·      Sacrifice. We give up things we love for things we love even more.

We have also established a set of axioms that guide our thinking processes. A few that really stand out to me are:

·      Everything rises and falls on leadership.

·      Innovation comes best through constraint.

·      Consistent behavior over time yields results.

·      Vision leaks, culture drifts.

·      Failure is not an option; it’s a necessity.

Additionally, some of the behavioral values that shape our culture are humility, teachability, resilience, flexibility, work ethic, and sense of humor.  

Our values are so much a part of our development that a portion of our review process each year is focused on them. We believe where performance is measured, performance improves.

A culture based on values that support and emphasize development is very foundational to who we are. Like your church, our primary passion is to see people grow closer to Christ. So our focus on development is at the very core of our mission statement, which is to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

It only makes sense that our culture would reflect that passion. We desire to see our staff, families, attenders, and folks in the community be better moms, dads, employees, and stewards. We want them to have better relationships with God and with each other. Development is at the center of all of that.

Building a healthy culture

When people ask me what I do to help my team develop, they often are looking for specific learning tools, workshops, book discussions, or seminars that I facilitate with staff. And that’s a great thing to discover. But I’m suggesting the best way to develop a team isn’t to keep adding more but to look at the foundation.

If our values are the building blocks of culture, you must build a firm foundation of trust for them to stand on. It is within the context of trust that helpful feedback can be given and received. 

Trust looks like a group of people who want the best for one another and want all members of the team to win. There are no silos, no meetings after the initial meeting, and no expecting the worst. There is grace, honesty, and openness.  

I have a formula that I use to describe how to create an environment for growth and development: Trust + Self-Awareness + Feedback + Learning Opportunities = Development. Trust, self-awareness, and feedback all are part of the culture, and the learning opportunities are the practical steps toward growth.

To illustrate this, I'll share a story from my own journey.

I joined the staff in my early 30s. Our culture meant that (as I mentioned) from the word go I was gaining awareness of my strengths and weaknesses. One of my strengths is communication; however, I wasn’t exercising that strength. So part of my development was to do speaking drills.

A group of us would come together with a few leadership team members, and they would give us speaking prompts and a time to hit. For instance, “You are addressing the church on a normal weekend, and you need to talk about an upcoming worship night, talk about the launch of a new location, and inspire people to serve at the church. You have 180 seconds… go!” It was intense.

My first time, I was talking so fast that no one could understand me. My content didn’t flow well. I didn’t smile, and I missed a whole item that I was supposed to cover. Yikes! Imagine if, after the timer hit three minutes, all the people in the room had said, “Good job,” and moved on to the next person. I wouldn’t have learned anything at all, and I certainly wouldn’t have gotten any better at maximizing my time.

Instead, armed with self-awareness of my strength in communication, trusted relationships with the people in the room, a healthy culture of feedback, and this great (albeit intense) learning opportunity, I was able to get better. My peers and leaders didn’t just point out what I did wrong. They encouraged what went well, gave me tips to transition from one point to the next, and recorded my mock stage time so I could see the difference that smiling makes.

In that environment, I was able to grow much more quickly than if I had been in an unhealthy culture that lacked trust, didn’t place importance on self-awareness or feedback, and didn’t provide a safe space to take risks and learn from mistakes.

As leaders in the church, we have what I believe is the most important job in the world: to lead people to their Savior. And because our success is dependent on the health of our culture, I encourage you to take the pulse of your organization. Ask if your culture reflects your values. Ask if those values and the typical behaviors of your staff match up. Ask if your culture supports growth and development. Ask if trust is foundational and if constructive feedback is welcome. Make these things a priority so that your staff will be better tomorrow than they are today.

LeadershipRyan Frank