Staff Stress & Communication: One Multisite Church’s Story of Simplifying for a Healthier Team (with Illustrations)

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Our staff loves each other. We’re a healthy team that balances humility and willfulness. Just like diets and marriage, maintaining good team health requires attention to drift. “Drift” isn’t a mystical cloud that materializes. Yet it can easily begin when we’re distracted from our goals and values by anything… even good things.

Several years ago we experienced some drift. Our church was growing like crazy, but functionally we were responding to important growth needs at the expense of certain operational needs. When I say we, I begin with me.


An indicator of an organization’s health is how it handles the tensions of communication expectations and delivery. Day-to-day stresses reveal our actual values.


Multisite growth is exciting and challenging. The Communications Team was feeling the heat and it began to creep into staff interactions. We were being inundated by requests that were often last-minute or lacking coherence. My flawed assumption was that everyone should see the issues and adjust since we were communicating how difficult the situation was becoming. How could they miss it?  

It was time to shift my viewpoint and ask a better question.

How can we avoid it together?  

Tell a Story  

As communicators we lean on the power of story to communicate urgency, but we can neglect to utilize it in our work context. It’s easier to complain or defend our position. Instead, why not tell the story as a team? We combed through all the data that showed the scope of work… the annual number of requests, the average lead-time, and the project load according to campus and ministry areas.  

We had begun to refer to our current communications request process as the unending vending machine. So why not use this as our metaphor through the story? And so, our little communications Dorito was born.   

 

Here’s a small portion of our story panels with the operational truth behind each part of the story:

 

Offer Something Tangible

We told the story of our current landscape. Then we painted a picture of how advanced planning on a multisite scale could operate. This would take energy on everyone’s part. So we had to offer more than simple good will to sweeten the deal. Our team would synthesize all the information for the ministry calendar and deliver a comprehensive plan including the delivery schedule of all products for everyone. (What?) Think of this as writing a budget for your family instead of living paycheck to paycheck… with teenagers… who have debit cards.

Do the Work Together

We’re blessed to work with discerning leadership. Our directional team had already begun identifying the source of the problem and considering planning solutions. They invited our efforts to a partnership for real results. They enhanced and championed the plan and provided the kind of support every team dreams for during a big change. They asked us to present “the vending machine” to all campus and ministry team leaders in one big, fun get-together.

Every person who attended that meeting lit up with possibility and threw in valuable suggestions. The team was in! Then this energized coalition of leaders took the vision to their ministries and campuses and we’ve operated successfully this way for over two years.  

When I talk with multisite teams who haven’t implemented a framework for advanced planning, the common answer is, “We’re thinking about it.” That’s usually code for, “When we find the time.” Make the time. Your situation is unique and your approach to planning may vary, but it doesn’t change the truth.  

Healthy teams plan together.

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About Author

Judy Stallwitz

Judy Stallwitz is the Director of Staff Development at Hillside Christian Church, where she served as the Communications Director for eight years prior to this new role. Judy attended Texas A&M University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Leadership at Denver Theological Seminary. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to support the spiritual health and professional development of HIllside's staff, interns, and residents.

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