Going Fast vs. Going Far: Launching Change in Your Ministry

Jake Mulder | Oct 14, 2013

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."[[This quote is commonly attributed to be an African Proverb.]]

These words of advice were spoken to me early in my youth ministry career by a wise supervisor who had been observing my leadership for several months. I was young, and had been hired to lead the youth ministry at my home church. Having grown up there, I was pretty confident that I had all of the answers.

So I started to make changes.


I figured the job of the leader was to get ahead of everyone, show them the way, and then let them catch up.

My supervisor had witnessed this approach many times before, and knew it didn’t usually end well. Wisely, she repeated these words to me: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

To be honest, what she was suggesting terrified me. Since I had (well, thought I had) all the answers, what if others slowed me down? Worse yet, what if they didn’t let me make the changes I wanted? This advice was confusing. I had a difficult and important decision to make.

In the years since those early days of leadership, I’ve come to realize that while working with a team isn’t easy, it’s usually the only way to lead toward changes that will last.

That’s why, in the Sticky Faith Launch Kit, one of the first things we encourage leaders like you to do is build a team.[[See Kara Powell and Brad M. Griffin, Sticky Faith Launch Kit (Fuller Youth Institute, 2013),14.]] You might find this task easy to start. At first, things will probably go well. But eventually you’ll experience some of the challenges of working with a team. You’ll start to wonder things like:

  • Why does it feel like we’re not going anywhere?
  • How do we get past individual agendas?
  • Why is there so much conflict?
  • How can I get others to care about this as much as I do?

Introducing The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

It is because of questions like these that I’m so glad Patrick Lencioni wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Lencioni is the founder and president of the management-consulting firm The Table Group,[[See www.thetablegroup.com.]] which specializes in organizational health and team development. Based on his work with all kinds of teams, Lencioni covers the most common dysfunctions teams experience and how to overcome them.

Each of the five dysfunctions builds on one another, and visually represented looks like this:[[See Patrick Lencioni, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002), 188.]]

How to Address the Dysfunctions in Your Team:

In order to address the presence of these dysfunctions in your team, it’s helpful to look at each one and ask: What’s the effect on our team? How can we overcome it? and What is my role as a leader?[[What follows is a summarized version of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, pages 195-220.]]

1. Absence of trust

Imagine that you’re leading a planning meeting with a group of people you don’t know very well, except for one person who has a history of publicly making others look bad. As the leader, you ask for feedback on an important question…and the group is completely silent.

What’s the effect? When team members don’t trust each other, they’re not willing to be open or vulnerable about their mistakes or weaknesses, rendering teamwork virtually impossible. Teams that lack trust tend to dread meetings, do not take risks, have low morale, and experience high turnover.

How can we overcome it? Team members must be willing to make themselves vulnerable to one another, and believe their vulnerabilities will not be used against them. There is no easy way to achieve this, other than positive shared experience over time. Some helpful tools to build trust include:

  • Personal Histories Exercise: Have team members answer basic questions about themselves.
  • Team Effectiveness Exercise: Ask each team member to identify the single most important contribution each of their peers makes to the team, as well as something each can improve upon or eliminate.
  • Personality and Behavioral Preference Profiles: There are several tools that can help team members better understand and empathize with one another, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
  • Experiential Team Exercises: Such as a team ropes course or other experience-based initiative.

What is my role as the leader? It is of utmost importance that you are willing to demonstrate vulnerability first. Be willing to admit weakness or failure, and encourage others who do the same.

2. Fear of conflict

You’re leading a volunteer meeting that includes several people who have a history of not following through on their commitments or responsibilities. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or make them uncomfortable, so rather than addressing the issue directly, you let it slide, hoping that they’ll just do better in the future.

What’s the effect? Without productive conflict, teams cannot grow. It is important to note that ideological conflict (which is focused on concepts and ideas) is different than mean-spirited, personality-focused attacks.

How can we overcome it? The first step is to acknowledge that conflict is productive, and that the team may tend to avoid it. Tools to make conflict more common and productive include:

  • Mining: Assign a member of the team to be a “miner of conflict.” This person is responsible to call out sensitive issues and force team members to work through them.
  • Real-Time Permission: During a debate, when people are uncomfortable with the level of conflict, remind them that what they are doing is important. After the discussion or meeting is over, take a moment to remind each other that the conflict is good for the team.

What is my role as the leader? It is natural for leaders (especially pastors) to want to protect team members from harm. However, you must allow your team to engage in productive conflict, even though it can be messy at times.

3. Lack of commitment

The same volunteers you failed to confront in the meeting above leave feeling confident that they can show up or follow through if and when they want. Even though you shared your general expectations, they never had to formally agree or share their feelings.

What’s the effect? Those who have not aired their feelings and opinions in healthy conflict are unlikely to fully buy in or commit to the solution. Team members may pay lip service to a decision, but aren’t truly on board.

How can we overcome it? Focus on maximizing clarity and achieving buy-in by applying these tools:

  • Cascading Messaging: At the end of a meeting, review the key decisions that were made and agree on what needs to be communicated to others. If people are not on the same page, it will likely come out in this process.
  • Deadlines: One of the best ways to ensure commitment is setting clear deadlines and sticking to them. When final decisions must be made, it often forces ambiguity or disagreement to come to the surface.

What is my role as the leader? Be comfortable with making a decision that turns out to be wrong, and push the group for closure around lingering issues. Adhere to schedules and deadlines the team has set.

4. Avoidance of accountability

In your last planning meeting, you assigned responsibilities to each team member. Half of the people completed them, while the other half did nothing. Not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable, you shrug it off and encourage everyone to do better next time.

What’s the effect? Without sticking to a clear plan of action, leaders often hesitate to point out the behaviors of others that might hurt the team.

How can we overcome it? Great teams must be willing to engage in difficult conversations, demonstrating respect for each other and the work of the team. Employing the following tools can enhance accountability:

  • Publication of goals and standards: Clarify publicly what the team needs to achieve, who needs to do it, and by when.
  • Regular progress reviews: Occasionally take time in meetings for team members to communicate with one another about how they feel their teammates are doing according to the goals and standards. One-on-one reviews outside of meetings might also be helpful.

What is my role as the leader? Encourage and allow the team itself to serve as the primary accountability system. While you may think that playing the primary accountability role yourself may be helpful in the beginning, in the long run it will encourage others to hold back from doing it themselves.

5. Inattention to results

In your planning meetings last year, you decided that your most important goal was to form more intergenerational relationships between the students and adults in your church. At the end of the year, you made no progress on this goal…but the number of students attending your programs increased. Other members on your team and your supervisor congratulate you for having done a great job by growing the ministry.

What’s the effect? Inattention to results is the ultimate dysfunction of a team, where members end up focusing on something other than the goals the group has set. This might include team status, individual status, or something else.

How can we overcome it? A team can focus its attention on results in the following ways:

  • Public declaration of results: Teams that vow to “do their best” tend to prepare themselves for failure, while those that publicly commit to specific results tend to work with more of a desire to achieve.
  • Results-based rewards: While church volunteer teams may not be able to rely on financial compensation in the same way as businesses, there are nevertheless rewards that can be shared when results are achieved. Stories of young people who demonstrate Sticky Faith might be especially motivating.

What is my role as the leader? Likely more than any other dysfunction, the leader needs to keep a focus on results. Team members must know that you value the results and will keep them in front of the team.

Avoiding a Dysfunctional Team

While these common dysfunctions and the processes to overcome them might appear simple, it often turns out to be anything other than easy. Remember, our goal is not to make changes as quickly as possible, but to make changes in a deep and sustainable way. This requires the work of a functional and healthy team.

Action Steps

Whether your Sticky Faith team was just formed or has been meeting for months, take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions. Depending on your answers, go back and work through the tools, as appropriate, in each section above:

  1. How much do the members of our team trust one another?
  2. How well does our team engage in productive conflict?
  3. How well does our team commit to decisions and plans that have been made?
  4. How much does our team hold each other accountable to the goals and standards we have set?
  5. How well do we pay attention to the collective results of the team?

For more ideas and tools to help you build and lead your team, get your copy of the Sticky Faith Launch Kit today!

Jake Mulder

Jake Mulder is the Senior Director of Strategy at the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) and Fuller's Executive Director of Leadership Formation Division. As Senior Director of Strategy at FYI, he oversees business administration, coordinates new research, develops resources and trainings, and helps the team think strategically. Jake holds a BA in Business Administration in Finance from Western Michigan University, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and is currently pursuing a PhD at Fuller. Passionate about helping individuals and organizations achieve their full potential, he is the coauthor of Growing Young. Prior to joining the FYI team, Jake worked in a variety of ministry and professional roles, including as a Financial Analyst, Youth Pastor in the Reformed Church of America, Ministry Director with Youth for Christ, and missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in Europe and Asia. Jake and his family live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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