by Warren Bird and Ryan T. Hartwig
InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill. 272 pages
REVIEWED BY RACHEL SHEPHERD
Anyone who has worked on a team probably knows the basics of what works well, either because they lived it or because they wish they did. “Teams That Thrive” is not groundbreaking for people with common sense and experience, but it is full of helpful reminders, practical tips and language that can help people communicate about their work together.
The five disciplines referenced in the subtitle are: focusing on purpose, using differences to grow, leading by inspiration rather than control, structuring the decision-making process and building a culture of continuous collaboration. Purpose is “the invisible leader of your team,” and the authors’ deep and broad research showed that 75 percent of teams had “significant disagreement” about their shared purpose. They advise teams to spend intentional time articulating a 5C Purpose, one that is clear, compelling, challenging, calling-oriented, and consistently held. This kind of foundational work is at the heart of the book; it is less about how to run a good meeting and get work done (though that is addressed) and more about creating a culture.
In addition to that deep, long-term ideation, “Teams That Thrive” includes bits of simple, hands-on advice that can be implemented at your next meeting with no planning. “Two-minute tips” appear every few pages with quick ideas such as adjustments to the agenda, questions to ask around the table and ways to affirm each person’s leadership. The chapters are full of game-changing points so helpful they seem obvious — though I’d never thought of them! For instance, voting should be a last resort because it “draws a line in the sand, causing some people to be identified as losing.” The book also has tables, charts, and bullet points to make the information accessible for various types of learners. It’s a dynamic book with many working parts.
One of those working parts is a variety of voices. Any given page probably has at least one quote from a real-life team member or an example from a real church. This keeps the book from being limited to the authors’ experiences and provides an important sense of breadth. However, very few women’s voices are included, and a bit of googling shows that most of the examples are white men. Diversity can certainly be found in experience, background and personality, but in a book that specifically advises having diverse input, it is unfortunate to see a lack of demographic diversity.
“Teams That Thrive” is not based on Reformed thought by any stretch of the imagination. Some of the ideas in this book simply do not apply to Presbyterian churches or Presbyterian people. As with most resources, we will have to choose what makes sense with our polity and theology in our context. As long as we keep this in mind, it’s helpful to see what works for healthy churches from any tradition.
As a new pastor just beginning this work, I found “Teams That Thrive” inspiring, energizing and empowering. I imagine a more experienced person would appreciate it as well. No book can make someone a good leader, but anyone who works with people will find something in this good resource.
RACHEL SHEPHERD is interim associate pastor for young adult ministry and contemporary worship at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.