The way you structure your staff may be keeping you stuck
Is your staff structure a lid? It’s worth digging into. We hear this all the time from churches we’re serving:
“I knew we needed the ministry health assessment. I knew we needed to plan for the future. But we didn’t even realize our real problem was our staff and structure.”
In this week’s episode, I interview Amy on the most common structure challenges she sees getting churches stuck and some practical ways you can pivot to get healthy.
I believe this episode is crucial for church leaders. You have to have the right kinds of people in leadership to be able to move forward with your vision.
In this conversation, we discussed:
Which comes first: people or strategy?
The kinds of people you need in leadership
Who gets to make decisions
How to create accountability in your leadership team
Join the Conversation
We’ll be talking about this more on Facebook and Twitter this week. Listen to the episode and then join in.
Some things we are hoping to discuss:
- What are some challenges you have faced in structuring your staff?
- How have you navigated conversations with leaders whose performance is lacking?
- Do you tend to prioritize people or strategy when structuring your staff?
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Tony: 00:00 Before we start today’s conversation, let me tell you about our episode sponsor Plain Joe Studios and how they can help your church. You know, basically you’re telling a story. The one about Jesus and your church and Plain Joe works with you to get that story right in the most important and visible places. This includes your logo, your website. They help with facility space, theming and signage. They’ll assist with your communications strategy and the staff development for your communications team. They’re really helping you tell your story and all of these areas, so check them out online at Plain Joe Studios Dot Com.
Tony: 00:51 Welcome to the unstuck church podcast. I’m Tony Morgan. I’m here today with Amy. You understand, and each week we share a conversation our teams having about getting churches unstuck. Today, this is going to be a great topic. We’re actually flipping things around. Again, I’m going to interview Amy because one of the areas we find churches are very interested in
Tony: 01:13 addressing stuckness, if you will, is around staffing and structure and Amy, you among all the folks on our ministry. Consulting teams spend quite a bit of time working in this area with churches. Am I right? I mean this is something that you’re familiar with, right?
Amy: 01:30 Yeah. I do this quite a bit. Probably 50 percent of my time is dedicated to this staffing and structure part of our process. So I work on people stuff quite a bit.
Tony: 01:39 And so with that in mind, let’s set the foundation for the conversation first. What are some of the biggest challenges that you commonly encounter when you’re on the ground with a church? Taking a look at their staffing and structure?
Amy: 01:54 Sure. I think the first thing that I see commonly is that churches are at a point in their structure where it’s really been built around the people they have versus the things they’re trying to accomplish. So our perspective is that we like to go to strategy first, like where is God calling us to go and then what’s the structure that’s going to support it? Because really at the end of the day, structure is just a strategy, right? And then who are the people that can lead in that. And I find most churches where they have arrived at this point of stuckness, they’re more so doing that in reverse order. In other words, who are the people we have? How can we organize them? And now what can we get done? So that’s part of the stuckness is just that they haven’t built it around the core strategies.
Tony: 02:40 Yeah. And you know, it’s I think it was actually Jim Collins that said first two, then what? So this is a little bit contrary to that guidance. Can you express though why it’s important for churches to look first at their strategy? Then figure out how the people aligned to that strategy.
Amy: 02:59 I think it always comes back to you need your vision first. You need to have clarity around where’s God calling your church to go in the next three to five years. And then of course you’d have to ask the question, what are we going to need to do? What are the core strategies that are going to get us there? And so that’s why I think you have to have that vision first and the strategy coming out of it. And then again, people, your most important asset, you’ve got to get them organized in a way that actually get that work done. Otherwise your structure becomes a lid to what you actually want to get done if you go in the reverse order.
Tony: 03:30 All right, so that’s one. What’s another challenge that you commonly encounter?
Amy: 03:34 Yeah, this is a huge one. And I know we’ve talked about in another podcast, but a lot of churches don’t have leaders. People with the leadership gift in leadership positions, they have a lot of doers and specialists on their teams. People who are more individual contributors or maybe are operating at a level that they’re able to delegate some things but really not conduct a core area of the church. And I mean we need specialists on our staff team, so we need some. When you think about the areas of operations or video or music, but I just find we have too many of those specialists actually in the leadership seats. And I would say, boy, the biggest leadership position most churches are missing when I come on site is a leader over the weekend. And if you think about it, when we think about family ministries or discipleship path, I mean we innately put leaders over those areas because we understand someone’s got to lead the charge and be above the fray, if I can put it that way, to make sure that we’ve got good systems in place, but for some reason we don’t do that in the weekend area.
Amy: 04:38 We take a specialist, someone who’s great at leading worship, or highly creative, but they’re on the platform and so most of their time is spent doing something within the ministry and I challenge churches regularly. Who is that person, that leader who can be off the platform? Because when you’re on the platform, you can’t see what you’re doing. Right? Someone who’s off the platform, figuring out the weekend systems, the weekend people overseeing, if I can call it the weekend product, because that needs to be led in often. And you probably see this too, Tony, the senior pastor is sort of in that seat and I get it. Especially when you’re a smaller growing church. I mean, that’s an area that the senior pastor has a lot of passion around. That’s where they spend a lot of their time, but that senior pastor that’s not where he should spend or she should spend their time. They need to, as we’ve talked about before, teach really well, cast vision really well, be engaged with the leadership team and just like they need a right hand person for their discipleship path or their family ministries. They need a right hand person for their weekend services.
Tony: 05:40 Yeah, and I think you’re spot on number one, that for whatever reason, it’s actually around the weekend services that we see the biggest leadership gap, but you’re right. I mean what we commonly see is we will find the most talented musician or vocalist and we’ll put them in a leadership position, but that does carry over to other ministry. Sometimes we see churches take the person that’s best with kids and put them in the leadership position or someone who’s most passionate about helping someone out, helping people outside the walls of the church, and we’ll put them in charge of local outreach. And the point you’re making here is it’s great and we need many people that have passion and giftedness in all these ministries, but when it comes to leadership position, we just need to make sure that they have the leadership gift.
Amy: 06:29 And by the way, that’s why they made it on the team in the first place is they’re really good at what they do. That’s where as the church grows, you need people on your team whose specialty really is leadership. So that’s the second kind of challenge I commonly encounter. And the third one, I find that church leaders, senior pastors, executive pastors, they know they need to make some changes, but they need an outside perspective to confirm it. And here’s why I think that is, people changes in the church are the hardest changes. I think when you’re dealing with staff and leaders, because there’s a fear that comes with making changes because there’s this ripple effect, because many of church leaders are attached to, you know, the congregation, they’re visible, but what we were just talking about, for example, if you’ve got a visible leader in your guest services area and again in guest services are going to be highly connected with a lot of the people at the church, but maybe that person doesn’t have the leadership gifting.
Amy: 07:29 The role in a sense has outgrown what you need in that seat. But this person, if we’re honest, is just too close to the tasks, but they’re not equipping their not being that Ephesians four leader that is giving the ministry away and building up leaders of leaders, church leaders need help to confirm that that’s the truth because it takes a lot of courage to move into those situations. So again, they need to know, they know they need to make changes, but they need someone outside of their team to confirm that before they take such a big step.
Tony: 08:03 Alright,
Tony: 08:03 yeah. So here’s the deal. Those are some common challenges. They are areas where we identify churches getting stuck and because of that many years ago, actually Amy, you and I and we got together with some other people. We began to design a process to look at staffing and structure for churches and it’s actually one of the core components of what we do with just about every church that we serve. So over the last 12 months, close to 100 churches we’ve been on the ground with almost every one of those churches have gone through the staffing and structure review. We call it to help churches get unstuck. And based on some of those common challenges you just mentioned, there are also some common actions that churches end up taking as a result of the staffing and structure review process. Can you walk us through a handful of those?
Amy: 08:59 Yeah, sure. And you know, in our process, the first one answers the question, where are we now? And the second step in our process answers the question, where are we going? So this phase, this third step is really how are we going to organize the people now in order to do that? So with every church, although they all have some unique challenges and actions they need to take, almost every church ends up with a redesigned structure that really brings alignment to those core strategies. And sometimes that’s in a major way and sometimes it’s just a couple dial turns. But we build a structure around their core growth engines. The priorities of the church. Again, go back to strategy structure people. And especially at that senior leadership team level, there’s usually some changes there because I find there’s two extremes at that senior leadership team level.
Amy: 09:46 Either the church has redefined this team so many times, like they keep switching it up, adding, changing people get demoted, promoted, and then the organization gets unsettled or the team has come to be where they’ve just never pruned that team or adapted the team. And so they’ve ended up with a group of individuals who just gathered kind of on a weekly or biweekly basis to represent their areas. And instead of being the strategic team that’s looking at longterm decisions, vision, alignment, it’s more of kind of a check in catch up meeting where the agenda is all over the place and just maybe this weekend, last week were discussed. So at the top of the organization, if I can say it that way, that that redesign really gets it to a senior leadership team where we make sure we’ve got high level kind of church thinkers on the team and we look at different gifts.
Amy: 10:37 We’ve talked a lot about different strengths mix on this podcast. We look at the diversity and hopefully they’re going to end up with a team where we’ve got leaders of leaders on the team and they are a healthy group that can, as Patrick Lencioni says, we can mine for conflict and get to the best answers for the church. Another headline I guess in that structure piece is if it’s a multisite church, we often encounter a lot of churches that are multi stuck. So a lot of times we redesigned that team in a way that untangles their structure and clears up their lanes. So that they can get moving again. Actually structure is a big part of stuckness for multisite churches.
Tony: 11:16 Let me clarify too. When we’re talking senior leadership team, we’re not talking about your board or your elders or whatever your lay leadership governance sets up. As far as that team structure here, we’re talking about the lead team. That’s really driving day to day ministry and the strategy that precedes that and my guess is in smaller churches that’s going to be a combination of the pastor, maybe one or two other staff people, but probably some lay leaders as well on that senior leadership team. Of course the larger the church gets, it’s typically going to be all staff leaders at that point, but it’s that again, they’re driving the ministry strategy and the day to day execution of that strategy, so that’s one common action. Then it’s around redesigning the structure, particularly when it comes to the senior leadership team. What’s another common action Amy?
Amy: 12:15 Yeah. Another common action is that we bring clarity to next steps for team members and so what I mean by that is again, senior pastors, executive pastors often have this gut feeling that something’s off, but they can’t quite pinpoint what it is. So out of the staffing and structure review, what I love about it is there’s just so much more clarity and if I can call it a diagnostic understanding of what needs to happen next with key staff people. And by the way, some of it’s really positive. I just love as leaders discover the potential of different people on their teams these up and coming leaders and they have clarity, man, what are we going to do for steps to develop them to get them ready for a future in leadership? But sometimes when there’s performance issues, I know I had this one, I was leading a team.
Amy: 13:03 It was hard to figure out what the real issue was and when you really can’t name the issue, it’s hard to really move in and get people performing the way that they need to. But this process, it really helps them hone in on what the issue is. So sometimes it’s coaching and that helps turn things around and other times when it’s like a character issue on the team, this process has given leaders the courage and really the confirmation to make the hard calls. Again, people don’t like to make those take those steps just because we’re human, but when they get the motivation to see that they could, if we intervene, we use that word intervention a lot and have the right conversation around the right issue. At least there’s opportunity for people to thrive again and get back on a good performance track. So just clarity to those next steps with all kinds of team members.
Tony: 13:53 Yeah, and I, I have found Amy, that the clarity piece is most essential for churches when it comes to the culture gaps that sometimes exist with specific people on the team. In other words, there’s a framework of accountability for good character. There’s a framework of accountability for competency and actually performance though sometimes we see that even slip a little bit within church teams, but where I find churches oftentimes are challenged and there’s not a good framework for accountability is around the culture piece and where somebody made be morally sound, they’re performing well, but they just don’t fit into the culture because some of those cultures shaping behaviors that the team is looking for aren’t present in that person and to this point the church hasn’t called it out. They haven’t provided coaching around it and they haven’t provided accountability around that. Do you see that as well?
Amy: 14:49 Absolutely. And some times they haven’t really named their culture yet either and so that admission, when we discovered that there aren’t defined culture shaping behaviors that have been known by the organization, that’s an action that comes out in some of the churches that haven’t done that.
Tony: 15:04 Alright. Any other common action step?
Amy: 15:05 Yeah, just one more. It’s really a churches walk away with clarity around their next steps organizationally as it relates to the health of their staffing systems. What I mean by that is they’re often things, and by the way, no church ever gets this perfect. I can work with the healthiest team and some things are still going to be off because it’s the people side of life, but there are often things that are causing dysfunction on the team. Most churches have great team members and it’s the relationships that are often holding things together, you know, so it allows the dysfunction to exist. But in reality I find there’s often a high level of frustration at some level within the organization. So we’re able to identify what are those top couple of things, the church and get better at. So a couple of examples.
Amy: 15:50 One would be, and this is actually a big one, lack of clarity around who gets to make what decisions. And as an organization grows and shifts, and I know again, I experienced this, we don’t know who makes decisions anymore. Therefore on one extreme we’re not going to make decisions. Or on the other extreme everyone’s running around saying, why didn’t I know about this? Why wasn’t I asked? Why wasn’t I involved? And so that’s one that often bubbles to the top, another one is actually a lack of clarity around their wins, where it causes frustrations. People don’t know what a win looks like when I used to do a lot of one on ones is a part of this process I would ask people, what does it look like for you to be successful in your role? What do your wis look like? And the most common answer to that question was a pause and then a smile and they’d say, that’s a really good question
Amy: 16:42 So they know they’re supposed to be doing good things and they’ve got some general ideas, but they really don’t know, man. What’s going to say that I’m successful in my role? It may be the last one I put in there is just, again, these things that cause dysfunction within a staff team is when nonperformance is not addressed. So where people aren’t ever moved out there, just moved around or someone in this culture area you just mentioned, they’ve been getting away with it for two years, you know, so all of a sudden everyone’s like, is that just okay that we act that way? And they make up a lot of stories, but when performance isn’t addressed and that comes out as a core issue, that’s a game changer when we really start to put muscle to how do we manage those and they’re not many, right? It’s usually just a few of those things that have been left unpruned or an unintended to for awhile that, um, that hurt the organization. So that’s a third one. Just next steps on what are the top things we can do to create more health within our team?
Tony: 17:40 Yeah. Amy, I know you don’t like it when I put you on the spot for these podcasts like this where we reverse roles, but for months I’ve been saying Amy, we have to talk about this topic and the reason why. It’s the feedback that we’re hearing from the churches that we’re serving, our core process. When a church calls us and says, we’re stuck our core process, we go in and initially do a health assessment to try to get some clarity about what the primary issues are. Then we go through a planning process to really drive towards where, where do we believe God’s calling us in the future? It’s this third step though, the staffing and structure piece. As we’ve engaged with churches, what the constant feedback has been. We knew we were stuck. We thought we needed the health assessment and the planning for the future, but it wasn’t until we went through the staffing and structure review process that we realized that was where the core of our challenge was, so I’m glad that you finally acquiesced and agreed to talk about this with me. Any final thoughts though, before we wrap this? One Up,
Amy: 18:47 Well, we’ve talked a lot about you being a driver and me being on the people side and so it’s appropriate that I just remind churches that people really are the most important asset to any organization and I just think it’s important to get this stuff right and that outside perspective theme, I guess it’d be a closing thought. You know, if you’re a growing church and especially churches that have stepped into a multisite world in a sense, you’re going places that you’ve never been and structure is not something intuitively that we, that we know how to do and so bringing those best practices in has been really helpful with churches and for all of us, I guess we don’t know what we don’t know and when church leaders suspect that a structure that has got them where they are today and they kind of know it’s not going to get them into the future, that outside perspective is great to step back in and just ask questions, where are you going and get some recommendations on how to organize the people. So
Tony: 19:42 Very good. Very well. Thanks again for today’s conversation and thank you, our listeners for tuning in to today’s podcast. Be sure to subscribe on Itunes, Google play, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss any future episodes and we love to hear your thoughts and comments. You can join the conversation on social media using Hashtag #unstuckchurch.