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Five mistakes to avoid when building a team

A row of people stand looking out to sea and holding hands
Richard Ellwood


Church Resource Development Lead


How to put together a great team 

Building a team can be one of the biggest challenges in leadership — whether in work, in a church or with volunteers. It can require hard work and patience, and be time intensive. When a team doesn’t work together well, it can lead to relational frustrations, targets not being met, meetings being stalled and a sense of despondency from a team that has originally been called to an exciting mission. Often, getting something done can seem easier by just doing it yourself!

However, when a team functions together well, the rewards are significant. Imagine a team that everyone is excited and motivated to be a part of, where people readily make sacrifices to care for one another and collectively meet their goal, where success is a constant and where everyone has fun – that sounds like a great team to be on!

At Christians Against Poverty (CAP), we firmly believe in the importance of teamwork. In fact, CAP runs on teamwork, whether that’s the teams that deliver our frontline services in local churches, or the head office teams working behind the scenes. We also love partnering with local churches up and down the UK. We know that if we don’t have team’ running through all we do as an organisation, we won’t thrive.

As someone who has led teams in a church context over many years, I’ve learnt, often the hard way, how to build a fruitful team. Whether you lead in your workplace, in a CAP service or in your church, here are five mistakes not to make when trying to build a great team.

Mistake 1: Don’t assume too much

It’s easy to assume that people know what you know, think what you think and want what you want! Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. When building a great team, it is really important not to assume your team members will immediately catch the whole vision and remember all the objectives you’re trying to achieve. Regularly communicating the why’ to the team can really help people renew their commitment and stay focused, making the team more likely to succeed.

We can also make assumptions about how other people communicate and assume that everyone communicates in the same way as us. Maybe you prefer email but your team members prefer WhatsApp. Some will prefer phone calls, instant messaging, in-person meetings or online video calls. When the team leader shows awareness of the communication preferences of their team and doesn’t just assume their own preferences are right’, it shows value for the team members.

Mistake 2: Don’t make things boring

Nobody wants to attend a meeting or event they know is going to be boring. So keep things fun, interesting and stimulating — make your meeting a pleasure to be at and your team a joy to be a part of! Perhaps kick your meeting off with a terrible dad’ joke or a fun icebreaker? Serve some goodies up at the meeting or even share a meal? If people want to be present, they will want to give their best which again will lead to greater fruitfulness.

Mistake 3: Don’t act like you’re the expert

Have you ever had a boss or team leader who makes it abundantly clear they know far more than you do, have much more valued experience than you, and that you are generally privileged to be in their team? It’s a sure-fire way to put people off giving their best, can hinder team members taking initiative and responsibility, and even reduce the extent that people buy-in’ to your team’s vision and goals. Ideally, a team leader should aim to encourage an atmosphere where everyone feels they have something to bring. This is hard when leaders set themselves up as the expert.

Mistake 4: Show that you care

We are all more likely to follow people who clearly care about us. As one author puts it: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. Members of your team are more likely to forgive mistakes if they see that you care about them and not just that you need things from them. 

If you run money coaching, you could cook team members dinner at the end of your course to express your appreciation. If you’re a Debt Centre Manager working with Befrienders and Debt Coaches, you could regularly vocalise their strengths and how much you appreciate what they bring to the team. If you’re a Life Skills Manager, you could ask the other coaches for their ideas for shaping the course and put some of them into practice. Showing that you care and value your team members will go a long way and ensure you’re more likely to get the best from them.

Mistake 5: Don’t say one thing and do the opposite

Whether it’s regularly changing practical plans or making a proposal but not going through with it, once you start to lose credibility with people, you begin to lose them. They start to distrust you or not fully believe what you say. Trust is like money accrued in a bank account – team leaders need to build up trust with those on their team if they’re to get the best results from the team. But unfortunately, like money, trust is often hard to accrue and easy to lose! Honesty and consistency are essential values for a team leader if they are to maintain credibility and keep their teams strong and healthy.

Building a team is nearly always challenging but the rewards can be great. Why not re-read these five mistakes and evaluate yourself and your team? What are you getting right? Where could you improve? Are there changes you need to make in your style of leadership? Avoiding these mistakes could set your team on the way to being a thriving, exciting and fruitful team – a dream team! 

About the writer: Richard Ellwood

After leading a flourishing church in Brussels, Belgium for many years, Rich now lives with his wife and four children in Oxfordshire where he serves in a number of leadership roles for a group of churches, Salt and Light. He combines this with working in the CAP Church Engagement Team.

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