It’s simple to say, but vital: teams can only exist if they’re unified. A team without unity is like a body where no two cells stick together. All the cells might be alive, but a trillion single celled organisms will never be able to do half of what one organism made of a trillion cells could do.
So, to help you take your church and the volunteer teams to the next level, we’ve put together a few tips.
#1 Remember birthdays and important dates
One technique I’ve found especially useful for maintaining team unity is to send a text and an e-card to every team member on their birthday, and I sign the card as from the whole team.
From a team member’s perspective, it’s a significant gesture. People often get lots of congratulatory texts and tweets and notes left on their Facebook wall. My text is just another one of those, though it’s still meaningful because it shows I care. But the addition of a card (even an e-card) from the team will be a memorable gesture. I’ve had several people tell me that they never before got a card from their previous church on their birthday, and being remembered by the team as a whole strikes people as having a huge group remember them all at once.
From a leader’s perspective, I can tell you the e-cards aren’t that difficult. I use free e-cards online, so there’s no cost. Most of those sites let you schedule the send date in advance, so I just get a list of all the birthdays for the month and schedule them. It’s very easy, but all the power is in the fact that someone bothered to make the gesture, and it’s definitely worth the few minutes.
#2 Schedule a few periodic fun, frivolous events
I once heard a saying that children spell love T-I-M-E. The truth is, we never really outgrow that, even if the focus of that time gets more diverse. Some people have different love languages and one cares more about the time spent making a heart-felt gift whereas another cares more about the time spent performing acts of service. Guys tend to care more about the activities done during the time and women tend to care more about the conversations shared in that time. But, it all comes down to time.
That’s where fun team outings and non-work related events come into play. When you take time out for the whole team to get together and enjoy nothing more than each other’s company, the team gets stronger. You form bonds that wouldn’t occur if the only contact was in the stress of work or serving others. You allow people to develop into more than just a reliable co-worker and to become a friend.
#3 You, as the leader, need to grow
The leader’s growth determines the team’s growth. The leader’s peace and calm determines how peaceful (and thus unified) the team can be as well.
So, don’t forget to take some time to develop your own spiritual life. If you’re not healthy, you can’t lead others into health and security. You could try, but you will always lead people to be more like yourself, no matter how hard you try.
#4 Healthy teams have clear roles
Most instances of disunity that I’ve seen (or been tempted to cause) have come from conflicts over a person’s role on the team. It could be that two people are doing the exact same job, so they try to push the other one out. It could be that one person is responsible for the first half of a job and another is responsible for the second half, and if the person responsible for the success of the second half is unable to succeed due to the error of the first person, then they will feel blamed for someone else’s error and conflict will ensue.
Clearly defining who is responsible for what, and how any overlap is to be handled is key to team unity. You can demarcate things by verbally explaining, or just by people working it out together as they go along, but you as the leader must make sure the roles get clearly defined.
#5 Wins are frequent
One of the most valuable sources of team unity is a sense of accomplishing something together. That’s why survivors of tragedies are so tight—they accomplished the miracle of survival together. It’s why spending time with people and not even doing anything “relationship-y” can lead to close friendships—because even when “nothing is going on,” there are minor events happening all the time and getting past the simple things is even enough to form a bond.
To create better team unity, you should use this principle to your advantage. Find places where your team can succeed. Naturally, the best place for that is to succeed in whatever your team formed to do. But, if your task is large and wins take time, don’t be afraid to interject smaller goals as you go, just to get those wins under your belt. You want them to be meaningful wins, while still something you can accomplish without detouring from your primary purpose. A great source for wins like that is to do a fundraiser or resource collection for charity or church outreach events.
#6 Effective teams place individual rights below the team’s best
I don’t know about you, but for me, rights are often sacred objects I don’t let anyone touch. If I’m on a crowded street and a person bumps me, I let it slide. But, if you bump my rights, I’ll fight you.
However, that’s not God’s view of rights. God’s design is that He will give us rights, so that we might freely lay them down and voluntarily become slaves to our passion to see the lost saved, just as Jesus freely laid down His rights as God and submitted Himself to others’ needs and even to other people’s authority so that He might save as many as possible.
A successful team must cultivate an environment where that level of submission is normal, where I voluntarily give up my rights so that the team might accomplish a greater purpose.
As a leader, it makes you walk a fine line between encouraging others to give up their rights on the one hand and obligating them on the other. But, it’s a line worth walking, because God walks it.
#7 Recognize everyone plays a unique and special role
Just like the church, a team is a body and no part is more important than the others, for it takes every part to make a body.
As a team leader, it’s your job to make sure the parts all receive honor, in the same way it’s your job as a person to make sure the weaker parts of your own body receive special protection from the stronger parts.
Always be on the look out for those team members who are struggling to serve at the skill level of the other members, and find ways to encourage them and build them up. Look for the things they add that no one else has, and publicly honor them.
I’ve recently come to realize that no team in a church can be said to be truly healthy, unless it has members that it has to carry. Just as churches exist for hurting people, healthy church teams exist so that those who are struggling might have a support structure to keep them in place as the church nurses them back to spiritual health. So, we must always honor those who are in this situation, lest they feel useless and drift away from the health of the team.
#8 Maintain a strong bench
This is where a team leader’s skills are really tested. It’s easy to train up highly skilled workers when they’re serving every week, maybe several times per week. Practice makes perfect and the leader needs no skill to make that true.
The real test is what happens when all your regulars are out sick or on vacation or on a mission trip. Is your team strong enough to thrive when all your regulars are gone?
You can do a few things to make that happen:
- Do some cross team training. It could be that you train a greeter in how to serve in the nursery, or a camera guy how to run lights, but you need to encourage people to know as many skills as possible. That way, if your nursery team takes sick, but the greeter team is strong, you have several greeters who have been trained how to work in the nursery and have gotten the background checks done. Then it’s just a matter of asking the lead greeter to loan you a few people.
- Keep people rotating. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of putting the same person on the same position every week, but resist. Get in the habit of rotating three or four people through the same position and letting the others take every other week off if you can. That gives you more depth if someone goes out of town.
- Keep an eye on who’s faithful. You can’t always train a person fully. Sometimes you get a call at 8:55 that someone’s car broke down and they won’t make it for the 9:00 service. When that happens, your best bet is to find a super faithful volunteer, either from your team or from another team, and ask them to do their best. It won’t be perfect, but a faithful person’s best attempt, no matter how uneducated and unpracticed, is often surprisingly good.