How do you turn around an unhealthy team culture?  Maybe you’ve been in this situation with a staff or a volunteer team.  Morale is down.  Trust is low.  And, it’s your job to fix it. 

You got promoted and discovered some problems.  You took a new job at a new church and after only two weeks on the job, you realized there were some challenges.  What do you do in a situation like this?  I hope the answer is to turn the culture around.  Build a healthy culture.  But how?    

Having been in this type of situation a few times before, I have some ideas that might be helpful.  Here are 5 strategies for turning around an unhealthy team culture at church.  

Understand

Have you ever fixed the wrong thing?  You thought the brakes on your car were going out, so you had a mechanic replace the brake pads only to find out later it was a wheel bearing?  Sometimes you think you know what the problem is but you’re wrong or only half right.  

The most important thing you can do when dealing with an unhealthy team culture is accurately understand the problems.  If you don’t get the perspective and understanding you need, you might pursue solutions that don’t address the real problems or even accentuate the real problems.  

How do you get the understanding you need?  By listening.  Take the time to really hear from the people you are responsible for leading.  Gain their trust and ask them for their perspective. 

If you demonstrate that you are trustworthy and that you care, over time, they will reveal what the real problems are.  And, you’ll very likely find your allies in rebuilding a healthy team culture. 

Responsibility 

Once you understand what the problems really are, then you can begin to act.  And what is that first action step?  Take responsibility for any part you have played in contributing to the unhealthy culture. 

If you are unwilling to do this, you can forget about building a healthy culture.  It won’t happen without vulnerability and humility from leadership.  You set the tone as a leader and if you demonstrate that it‘s safe and acceptable to be honest and take responsibility, it is far more likely that others will as well.  

If you’re having trouble identifying your culpability, just ask:  “How have I contributed to the challenges we are facing?”  

If you have taken the time to listen and show yourself trustworthy, you should be able to get the information you are looking for.  

Rebuild Trust

Often, when staff or team culture is unhealthy, broken trust is a key factor.  Teammates don’t trust each other, and they don’t trust leadership.  

To bring health to your team, you’ll have to rebuild trust. How do you do that?  First, do what you say you will do.  Make this a top priority and over time trust will be rebuilt. 

We’re talking about integrity—doing what you said you would do.  When you act with integrity trust will be built.  All that is needed here is repetition and time.  

Secondly, act on what you learned.  If you take the time to listen and gain perspective on what the challenges really are and how you have contributed to them, act on your learnings.  Make helpful changes.  Lead differently and require different behavior from teammates. 

On unhealthy teams, change is promised but never delivered.  If you want to build a healthy team culture, deliver on your promises.  

 

Focus on Relationships

There was a time in my career that I was asked to step in and lead an unhealthy team.  Trust was at zero, both within the team and toward leadership.  During that time, I realized early on that my focus needed to be relationships. 

All I did was encourage relationship building within the team.  My personal focus, as someone who represented leadership, was to build trust with each team member.  

Over the course of months, I began to see signs of health as trust was rebuilt through relationships.  If you find yourself attempting to rebuild a healthy team culture, consider setting aside new initiatives and projects and focusing almost exclusively on relationships.  

Make the Tough Decision

I put this last because it needs to be the last option.  With that said, there are times when the unhealthy culture of a team or staff is the result of a specific person or perhaps a handful of persons.  I’m talking about people with toxic influence. 

There are times when all the effort of listening, rebuilding trust, and leading with integrity is going nowhere because of someone’s toxic behavior.  

When this happens, there is only one solution. Directly confront the behavior and require immediate change.  Something like, “That can never happen again, or you will lose your job.”  And, if the person is incapable or unwilling to act in a healthy manner, they must be removed from the team. 

This is the hard decision that sometimes must be made.  If you are unwilling to make this tough decision, the culture will always be unhealthy. 

 

Wrap Up 

If you are attempting to rebuild a healthy team culture, may God give you wisdom, courage, and endurance.  It is not easy work, but the effort is worth the pain.  Stay strong.   

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