Our Guest Blogger today is Jan Gartner.

The World Cup has been the big talk lately, but I’m never on the leading edge of sports conversations so I’m still thinking about the Basketball playersNBA playoffs! I was not surprised when the San Antonio Spurs skillfully beat the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. Why? Well, to be honest, I don’t pay a lot of attention to pro sports. So you could have told me that the Podunk Potato Heads won, and I wouldn’t have been too surprised about that either.
No actually, my husband, Mike, had explained the situation to me: this was a re-match between the two awesome teams who’d played each other in last year’s Finals. In 2013, the Heat had won after a riveting 7-game contest. Heading into this year’s playoffs, there were a lot of folks who seemed to think – how could the Heat not win again, with 3 players as incredible as LeBron James (even I know who LeBron James is), Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh? So, I was drawn in by the drama…and I found myself hoping that the Spurs would get their turn as champions.
I’m obviously not a sophisticated spectator, but I couldn’t help but notice that the Heat’s offense revolved around the talents of the 3 superstars. Meanwhile, watching the Spurs, I could see that it was truly a team effort. Each player seemed to have this uncanny intuition about his teammates’ strengths and style. It wasn’t about any particular person; at any given moment, it was simply about what was best for the team as a whole. The way the Spurs worked together was cohesive and synergetic.
This got me thinking about congregational leadership. Sometimes we tend to rely on one impressive leader (or a small handful) to rack up the points for us. Maybe it’s the minister. Or the music director. A number of the congregation’s efforts may fall to an exceptional lay leader or two. These standout performers become the focus of the congregation’s attention and activity.
Of course we need strong individual leaders in our congregations! But what will really make our faith communities fly is teamwork. Among the professional leadership, this means staff who appreciate and leverage each other’s talents to create experiences that transcend any individual’s contributions. Moreover, it requires staff to trust one another, to strive for common goals, and to focus is on what’s right for the whole organization. There are no ball hogs.
For lay leaders, roles are not prescribed by job descriptions and the “team” is far larger – effectively (ideally) the whole congregation. This presents the opportunity for intentional exploration of gifts and passions. Are congregants’ time and talent being utilized effectively? Is the work of the congregation (or a particular ministry area) distributed well among the team? What roles and responsibilities tend to fall to your “LeBron” and why?
In their book The Wisdom of Teams, JR Katzenbach and DK Smith define a team as “a small number of people with complementary skills; who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach; for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” The success of the Spurs proves that your congregation can be a winner without LeBron, Dwyane, or Chris – without Reverend Remarkable or Lucy the Luminary Lay Leader. What you do need is a theology of teamwork, with cohesiveness, common purpose, and collective accountability at its core.
So here’s the drill: explore how teamwork can improve your congregation’s score. I’ll be rooting for you!


Jan gartnerJan Gartner is Professional Development Associate for Religious Education and Music Leaders in the Ministries and Faith Development Staff Group of the UUA, telecommuting from her home near Rochester, NY. Her portfolio includes staff team development.

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • Mark Bernstein

    This blog, Jan, was a slam dunk! Thanks.