8 Ways to Develop a Great Senior Leadership Team


Develop a Great Senior Leadership Team.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to share insights about encouraging teamwork and collaboration in the church at a Large Church Executive Pastors Forum, hosted by Dr. David Fletcher of Xpastor.org.

Here, I share with you some of the comments I prepared to share with them, based on my two-and-a-half year study of one church’s transition to a senior leadership team.

Of course, many churches have slapped the team term on their leadership groups, yet most of those teams are not fully operating as teams because they have not applied the necessary discipline and change to create a favorable environment for the leadership team to succeed.

Developing a Healthy, Effective Senior Leadership Team:

If you desire a healthy, high-performing senior leadership team, you’ll want to:

  1. Define the essential character of a true senior leadership team.  Here’s a working definition I offer to help you envision: A Senior Leadership Team is an interdependent group of senior organizational leaders who collaboratively shape organizational vision, share critical responsibilities, and determine organizational strategy.
  2. Consider team interaction norms and how they will make war against change efforts, and then determine how to want to address them.
  3. Carefully consider the role and authority of the Senior Pastor as established by the church’s polity and how the Senior Pastor’s authority has been created and exercised in previous interactions.
  4. Give the team real, meaty, consequential, and challenging work.  The team needs to tackle thorny issues and make decisions that affect the entire church.
  5. Populate the team with members with conviction, courage, and expertise to push back on the most powerful team members/leaders.
  6. Create an urgent need to change. Don’t just focus on what’s going well; instead, insist on critical evaluation.
  7. Dramatically change dysfunctional patterns.  Establish a new way of doing what you are doing, launch it, and get on with a new normal.
  8. Invite God into what you are doing.  If God is truly always with us, why wouldn’t we actively and constantly call on Him?

In essence, to truly establish a leadership team, you need to do more than just name a group as such.  You must actually function as a team, and change whatever dysfunctional norms that are preventing you from doing so.  For a great resource on Senior Leadership Teams, check out: Senior leadership teams: What it takes to make them great by Ruth Wageman, Debra Nunes, James Burress and Richard Hackman (2008).

Reflection:  Ask your team these questions to spur conversation and thought about how you can structure your Senior Leadership Team for success.

  1. How would you define our team?
  2. What are our norms of making decisions, developing strategy, establishing vision, etc., and how do those norms fight against developing a strong team?
  3. What do we believe and practice about the role of our Senior Pastor, and how do those beliefs and practices promote or hinder teamwork?
  4. What work is our team doing?  If that work is not consequential, clear, and challenging, how can we make it so?
  5. Is our team full of people with courage, conviction, and expertise who speak their minds and push back on dominant people and ideas?  If not, how can we recruit those people for our team (while changing the associated dysfunctional dynamics)?
  6. How are we inviting constructive criticism and avoiding unproductive back-patting regarding our pastor(s), team, and church, and creating an urgent need to change?
  7. How are we inviting God into our teamwork?


Photo Credit: Marriott Library


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