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Removing the “I” From Team:

How To Tear Down Silos That Separate Your Team

By Glenn Reynolds

Every football team is composed of three different units: the offense, the defense, and special teams. To win a championship, these units must work well separately and together.

I watched a game where a special teams member did not fight for extra yardage on a punt return. Instead, he ran out of bounds to avoid being hit. A few plays later, the quarterback was shellacked trying to eke out a few more yards on third down to get into field goal range. The commentator mentioned how often this scenario happens: A special teams player does not value how difficult it is for the offense to move the ball even a few yards under certain game conditions. In no uncertain terms, the commentator (a former offensive lineman) explained how the special teams unit put the win in jeopardy with that one play.

A football team may have three separate units, but it must function as one team to win championships. Going a step further, we can expand the team from the players on the field to include the coaches who call the plays and the front office that negotiates salaries, makes draft picks, hires and fires coaches, and builds the roster.

How many times have we watched a team implode to the point where the players call a “players’ only” meeting, managers are not talking to general managers, and quarterbacks refuse to comment on the coaches’ play calling?

Once a silo mentality is in place, a team tends to compartmentalize into its own subgroups, further hindering the ability of the team to win. Instead of fighting for the team, the offense bickers with the defense, the front office fights the coaching staff, and the parts of the team look out for themselves instead of the team as a whole.

This does not just happen to sports teams — it happens in the academic and business world as well. The faculty can be at odds with the administration; the advancement team is working against the maintenance team; marketing is pushing the supply chain to the end of their limits; and, management is distrustful of the people on the line. This type of mentality creates silos.

Farmers use silos to store grain. The silo, usually above ground and cylindrical in shape, keeps the grain in and the elements out. The military stores missiles in underground silos. The principle is the same. The missile stays in and everything else stays out.

In the church, people can easily create silos. Men’s ministry, women’s ministry, youth ministry, and children’s ministry can function in their own silos. There can be an incredible amount of activity and even accomplishment in the silo, but there is no coordination between these ministries. The same can be true of the board and staff — each can operate in its own silo, not respecting or understanding the work of the other.

Silos can even exist in the worship service. How many times has a pastor needed to referee between the audio team who wants to get the house balanced just right and the singers who constantly need more voice in the monitor. This one is fraught with trouble because audio volunteers tend to be engineers and musicians tend toward the creative side — making communication even more difficult.

The result of silos is an “us against them” mentality on your team. The team winds up fighting each other for space in the worship folder, time with the lead pastor, and money in the budget. As leader, how do you tear down silos and get your team to work together?

Develop a Common Vision

A common vision is a single focus that the entire leadership team shares. When a silo mentality pervades the team, leaders need to develop an overarching and common vision that brings everyone on the leadership team together around a common purpose.

Many resources are available to help the leader and team develop a common vision for the future of the church. Two of the bests are: Masterplanning, by Bobb Biehl, and Advanced Strategic Planning, by Aubrey Malphurs. The key is for the entire leadership team to have input and buy into the process of developing the common vision for the organization.

Vision answers the why questions: Why is it important for ushers and greeters to be well trained? Why does the media team need to better connect with the worship team? Why do the pastoral staff and the deacon board need to understand their roles and purposes? The answer: We are all working toward a common vision, rather than a vision of each department working independently toward its own goals and vision.

Establish Clear Objectives

The vision determines the direction for the team to travel, but clear objectives describe the way forward toward that destination. Clear objectives, or goals, give the team the context of action. These are the building blocks that clarify how to move forward toward the vision.

These objectives need to be both qualitative and shared by the team. For example, at Bethel, part of our vision is to reshape the future by passing the baton of faith to a new generation. To do that, we established several clear objectives that the entire team understands. These objectives must be measurable.

Some of these goals included renovating our children’s center, launching a new Wednesday night children’s program, and recruiting 25 percent more workers for children’s ministry.

If the vision answers the “why” questions, then the objectives answer the “what” questions. What are we going to do to move forward? What are our next steps as a team?

Cultivate Respect for Different Roles

When a silo mentality is in place, the members of the team usually lack respect for the roles and responsibilities of other team members. Because of this, team members make decisions that create conflict among the team. One church I worked with lacked a respect for the roles of different departments. As a result, the adult ministries department scheduled events and lengthened services with no regard to the consequences to the children’s ministry.

Insist that your team develop and review event-planning guides together. Create opportunities for team members to share experiences at retreats and other out-of-office events. Develop cross-departmental teams allowing the team to cultivate respect for each other’s role. It answers the questions of who we are and what we need from each other.

Demand Constant Communication

As the team leader, you must demand constant communication among team members. While all of us bemoan the endless meetings that produce little result, meetings, memorandums, event planning guides, and digital applications like Dropbox, Basecamp, or Huddle can help your team in their ongoing communication with each other.

Speak a Shared Language

If you can give language to something, then you can steward it. Even beginning to describe the silos in your ministry allows you to begin talking about the issues using a common language. The language of the vision enables the team to mentor and monitor each other. For example, one of the things we talk about at Bethel is reaching people under 40 while keeping people over 60. That common language helps us make decisions as we plan our services and ministries.

Too often each department has a language of its own. To bring the team together, the leader needs to teach the team a common language.

Make Symbolic Moves

Here is an example of a move we made within our organization to remove a silo and symbolize unity. The offices of Bethel College were located on the same property as Bethel Temple, but in a different building from the main church offices. That separation symbolized a silo that had infiltrated our organization. To combat the silo, we moved the offices of the college into the main church office building. That move symbolized the idea that we are all part of one organization.

It takes time and energy, but when the leader enables the team to tear down silos and begin working together for a common vision, the church moves from an incredible amount of disparate activity to a common thrust forward in mission and purpose.

GLENN REYNOLDS is lead pastor of Bethel Temple (Assemblies of God), Hampton, Virginia. He is a doctor of ministry candidate at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, where his degree concentration is redemptive leadership and organizational development.

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