March 2014
Building Strong Teams

Teams Built on Trust

This article is also available in Spanish here. Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

Late last year, the community I serve faced fully into the reality many communities across our church will encounter in years to come. The funding was simply not there to continue to have a full time priest on staff. In part, we are struggling financially because we are a faith community that includes members who are elderly and on fixed incomes as well as recently immigrated Latinos, many of whom are raising families on less than $200.00 week. The congregation-level ministry model in the Episcopal Church depends on a strong clergy person who is able to lead, direct, manage, and administer almost all aspects of community life.

In a fragile community like ours a new, less ‘clergy-centric’ model of ministry presents enormous challenges. Paradoxically, our ministries are vibrant—we have a thriving school-success program that qualified us to become a United Way agency. Our English and Spanish speaking members have been bold and courageous, testing all kinds of new ways to worship and serve together and give witness to a new kind of unity. We just had a very successful stewardship campaign—the best we’ve had in four years and one we got done in record time so the will to live is strong. There is life and light here and no one is prepared to ‘go gently into the night.’ The best way forward we can see involves developing a strong leadership team.

To start moving in that direction, the vestry and I spent time developing a clear and accurate picture of all the activities and ministries of our community. With a detailed “to do list”, the group then spent time prioritizing our work. We wanted to make sure not to overextend ourselves and we knew we would need to exercise more intentional stewardship of all our resources than ever before.

While it was helpful to get a handle on our ministries, there was a much more difficult element we needed to engage. Our capacity to move into the future depends on us functioning optimally as a team and we are like most other communities—we have fractures, divisions, old hurts and new, that we’ve mostly worked around but not through. As a result, there is an unarticulated but very real anxiety about the possibility of conflict amongst the team members and about our capacity to make and execute faithful decisions with health and wholeness. What could we do to discuss more openly and honestly the ways in which our relationships with each other could be strengthened and built up.

We found a helpful resource in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, a book by Patrick Lencioni. The book considers five self-defeating behavior patterns that a team must overcome to be healthy. They are behavior clusters that ‘nest’ one in the other and reinforce each other behaviors. They are:

  1. An absence of trust, particularly as it relates to being open and transparent about mistakes and weaknesses.
  2. A fear of conflict, that makes it next to impossible for a team to vigorously debate ideas and hold different perspectives and points of view in creative tension.
  3. A lack of commitment that comes from little or no buy in and ownership so even when a group makes a decision, team members are at best, minimally committed to do whatever it takes to execute the decision.
  4. Avoidance of accountability is the next ‘extension’ of the self-defeating patterns because everyone involved is hesitant to call other team members on issues and concerns when individuals are aware that they themselves are not giving their all.
  5. Inattention to results is the fifth component and is the result of a concern on the part of the individuals in a team to protect themselves and their individual needs at the expense of the goals of a team.
(From The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick M. Lencioni, April 2002, Jossey-Bass.)

The book includes a self-assessment tool teams can use and valuable activities and exercises that can help develop new patterns of behavior and relationship that ensure stronger performance and results.

Our leadership team recognized we had lots of developmental opportunities on the basis of this book and our own process of self assessment. Because the patterns build on each other, we have started to work on the first behavior cluster of trust. Each member of the team identified one behavior they were willing to practice to be more open about their own mistakes and weaknesses. For example, we all committed that at the beginning of our meetings, individuals will voluntarily present a situation or incident where they consider they did not achieve the results they expected or in some way consider they fell short of what was needed. The rest of the group will brainstorm ways to help that person either resolve the situation or do things differently if they encounter the same problem in the future.

Our team is aware that we must and will continue to be very intentional about trying new ways to work with each other. We like that the book includes straightforward exercises and activities a group can use to overcome its vulnerabilities. It has invited us to be far more mindful of how we relate to each other and be braver about going below superficial interactions to achieve a higher level of trust. We know we’re a work in progress and still fragile. Openness, honesty and mutual accountability have given us new hope that as a healthy lay and clergy team we will find our way forward.

Read Part 2 here.

Rosa Lindahl is lead consultant for ECF's Vital Teams and founding member of the New River Regional Ministry in Fort Lauderdale, FL, a project for which she was awarded an ECF Fellowship in 2011. This regional approach to ministry merged a well-resourced downtown congregation, a Latino storefront ministry, and a primarily English-speaking congregation with financial challenges. Today, the New River Regional Ministry leverages the diverse resources of three distinct faith communities. Prior to becoming an Episcopal priest in 2006, Rosa worked for 15 years in international organizational development and human resource management, primarily with Federal Express. Rosa is a native of Colombia, has a passion for Latino ministry, and lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


This article is part of the March 2014 Vestry Papers issue on Building Strong Teams