5 Dysfunctions of a Church: Trust

Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team is a readable and useful guide to building effective teams in any organizational setting. I am going to share a series of observations from the book over the next several days. My aim is to provide some food for thought for congregational leaders, as well as reflect on the challenges confronting the United Methodist Church as a whole.

Dysfunction One: Absence of Trust

The key to this dysfunction is that members of the team do not feel safe being open and honest with each other. They hold back and engage in all kinds of false-front behaviors designed to conceal the truth about their situation and themselves.

Getting clear about what we mean my the term trust is essential, Lencioni writes, so here is how he describes it:

In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers’ intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

Reading this, I can think right away of church settings where such trust is non-existent. Both within congregations and across the wider denomination I am can recall conversations where I have been advised not to be either open or honest. I’ve been told not bring up certain topics in certain settings because the people involved would use information to hurt me or others. This is church.

Here is how Lencioni describes teams that have an absence of trust. They

  • Conceal their weaknesses and mistakes from one another
  • Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside their own ares of responsibility
  • Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others without attempting to clarify them
  • Fail to recognize and tap into one another’s skills and experiences
  • Waste time and energy managing their behaviors for effect
  • Hold grudges
  • Dread meetings and find reasons to avoid spending time together

I have never worked as part of a church with a big enough staff to have a paid leadership team. My appointments have been in very small churches. Team development as never been something I’ve invested in. And yet, looking at this list, I can see the need. I can see ways that things might improve.

This is a counsel to me as a pastor. I also cannot read it without thinking of the Call to Action process. One of the least mentioned aspects of the report’s findings is the issue of trust.

The Apex Operational Assessment identified lack of trust as one of four key themes in its discussion of the way culture and values hinder the effectiveness of the church. The report’s summary of interviews with people throughout the church structure includes this:

Trust was often mentioned as a leadership issue – particularly in the context of power and authority. People are not trusted with power so they are not given authority – they are not accountable so they are not trusted with power and authority. Often mentioned was the observation that leaders themselves frequently do not demonstrate trust behaviors.

Here is Lencioni’s advice to leaders on teams that suffer from an absence of trust

The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first. This requires a leader risk losing face in front of the team, so that subordinates will take the same risk themselves. What is more, team leaders must create an environment that doe snot punish vulnerability. Even well-intentioned teams can subtly discourage trust by chastising one another for admissions of weakness or failure. Finally, displays of vulnerability on the part of a team leader must be genuine; they cannot be staged. One of the best ways to lose the trust of a team is to feign vulnerability in order to manipulate the emotions of others.

And so the question arises: What can the leadership of the church (bishops, district superintendents, board and agency heads) do to show the kind of vulnerability that nurtures and models trust?

3 thoughts on “5 Dysfunctions of a Church: Trust

  1. This is super-insightful, and i love how you’re applying concepts of a functional team to what is intended to be a lived-in-Community of leaders, each in their own capacity!

    1. Thank you for reading, Lizzie.

      My daughter plans to go to Kenya this summer and loves Harry Potter. I bet the two of you have a lot in common. (Not that that has anything to do with what you wrote. Just something that occurred to me as I looked at your blog.)

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