One of my greatest joys in life is participating in a high functioning team. My first experience with this was sports.

I played volleyball in college. If you’ve ever been a part of high level volleyball, you know the intricacies of a high performing team. The same is true with any team sport.  

I’ve carried this love of teamwork to leadership. A high performing ministry team, whether that includes staff or volunteers, is a beautiful thing. 

I’ve learned some valuable lessons over the years on how to build this kind of team, and I’ve learned some hard lessons on behaviors and attitudes that limit performance.  

Here are seven ways you might be holding your team back from high performance.


Lack of Trust

One of the reasons my college volleyball team was a high performing team was because we trusted each other. We spent countless hours in the gym together. But, even more important were the late night conversations on the bus. I really knew those guys and they knew me. The relational bonds led to high performance on the court. 

Great teams are built on trust. Trust in each other’s motives, abilities and integrity. Trust isn’t automatic. It only comes through relationship. We trust people that we know.  

As leaders, we must focus not just on vision, alignment and results. We must also constantly be building relationships with the people that we lead and serve alongside. If they trust us, they will follow. If we trust them, we will be more willing to delegate and empower.  

How are you doing in this area?  Is there time in your schedule for building relationships? 

Not Investing In Your Team

Your team is built on people.  These people are your greatest assets. 

Chances are, most of your church’s budget is allocated toward staff salaries. Or, maybe you’re the only staff. The same principle is true if your church is built on volunteers. With this in mind, how are you investing in these people?  

High performing teams are highly skilled teams. One of the most important things you can do is develop skills in your people.

You have specific ministry skills. Are you passing them on? Are there books, conferences, mentors, trainings or leadership coaches you could connect your people with? 

Here’s a tip: Focus less on investing in areas of weakness and more on areas of strength. For example, the youth pastor at your church is probably a decent teacher and not a great organizer…just guessing.

Consider investing in their teaching rather than their organization. Why? Because they are only ever going to be a C+ at organization, but they might be capable of A+ teaching. Support weaknesses and invest in strengths. 

A high performing team is a highly skilled team. Invest in your team’s skills 


Not Responding to Feedback

One of the ways you can cripple high performance in your team is not listening to feedback.  I’m talking about ideas generated from other team members and I’m talking about negative feedback delivered from them to you.  

Many of the most effective initiatives in my church over the last few years were not mine. They came from someone else, who didn’t have a voice at the decision-making table.  It’s the job of the leader to listen and represent the people under his or her care. 

Secondly, if you are the leader of a team and you don’t listen to negative feedback when it is delivered, two things will happen.

And, these two things will kill high performance. The first thing is that people will stop giving negative feedback. What’s the point?  And then, opportunities for growth will be lost. 

Secondly, if you don’t listen to feedback, no one is going to listen to feedback. Whether you lead the entire church, the children’s ministry or the hospitality team, your leadership sets the tone for the teams you lead. It’s critical that we as leaders demonstrate and model humility so that we can develop a culture of learning and growth.  

How are you inviting feedback from your people?    

Not Giving Feedback

Speaking of feedback, here’s a mistake that I made for years and sometimes still struggle to avoid—providing clear feedback to the people I lead.  

By nature, I’m a people pleaser. I like it when everyone is happy and getting along. I don’t enjoy conflict. But, what I’ve learned the hard way is that high performing leaders require and actually crave feedback that will help them grow. 

The bottom line is that high performing teams require feedback. In sports it’s easy. We lost the game. We need to improve. It can be more challenging and definitely needs to be more nuanced in ministry. 

How can you help deliver actionable feedback to your team in a way that promotes growth and improvement?  


Poor Hiring

Since we’re talking about mistakes I’ve made, let me share another trap I’ve fallen into that has hurt my team’s performance—hiring too quickly. And by this I mean both staff and volunteers. 

Often when we have an open position, we fixate on the work that is not getting done. Or, the work we are covering because of the missing staff member or volunteer. This often tempts us to hire as quickly as possible.

Something that I’ve learned the hard way is that I would rather be tired than sorry. What I mean is that I would rather work a little extra or not get to everything for a season than hire the wrong person for the role. The wrong person on a team can have catastrophic consequences.  

One of the ways our church has attempted to protect ourselves from hiring too quickly is by adding a “culture” interview to our process. We’ve taken the time to define our desired culture and now we screen for these cultural components as a final stage in hiring interviews. 

What processes do you have in place to ensure that prospective staff or volunteers fit your team culture


Avoiding Conflict 

Another way that leaders hold their teams back from high performance is avoiding conflict.  Conflict simmering beneath the surface will kill a team. Perhaps you’ve been there. I sure have.  

It’s the job of a leader to identify and engage conflict. For example, when an idea is being discussed in a team meeting, and you sense that one of your team members does not agree with the idea but is hesitating to share his or her opinion, you, as the leader, must draw that person into the discussion.

If you don’t, your team might miss a blind spot, or the person who disagrees may carry that unexpressed disagreement around with them for weeks or longer, which is unhealthy for the team.  

Secondly, interpersonal conflict is inevitable on teams.  It’s inevitable that people will step on each other’s toes and offend each other. As a leader, it’s your job to help people to engage interpersonal conflict in healthy ways.

Sometimes we observe the tension and other times someone will bring up a conflict they are experiencing with someone else. Whenever this happens I try to respond with one or two questions:

  • Have you talked with them about that?  
  • What’s your plan to address the issue?  

Don’t fix the problem yourself. Instead, encourage people to resolve the conflict together. 

Usually, getting the two people in a room works it out.  Occasionally it will require more. All I know is that unaddressed and unresolved conflict will kill a team.  You must deal with it.  


Not Setting Goals and Expectations

If you want to hold back a team from high performance, be unclear about expectations and goals. It’s like the Super Bowl without a scoreboard. What’s the point?!?  Worse yet, it’s a football game where the point value awarded for a touchdown changes throughout the game. 

As a leader, your role here is clarity. What are the wins? Do your staff and volunteers know if they are successful? 

One of the ways we try to create clarity with goals and expectations is by including them in the job description of our employees and volunteers. Put them on paper and make them crystal clear. The vast majority of people want to succeed and will if the expectations are clear.  


Wrap Up

Being part of high-performing teams has been one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. As leaders, we can provide this exhilarating experience if we focus in the right areas and make sure we aren’t holding our teams back.