Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Walking the Tightrope: A Case Study of Church Leadership Team Facilitation

Academic journal article Group Facilitation

Walking the Tightrope: A Case Study of Church Leadership Team Facilitation

Article excerpt


In the past several years, churches, like their for-profit business counterparts, have adopted leadership teams because, in large measure, "the demands of top roles outdistance the capacities of any single person" (Wageman, Nunes, Burr ess, & Hackman, 2008, p. 7). Indeed, Surratt and Smith (2011 ) pointed out that in many churches, "the structure is changing from a single leader calling all the shots to flattened-hierarchy leadership teams that share crucial strategic and directional responsibilities" (p. 1). However, very little is known about the actual collaborative interactions of Senior Leadership Teams (SLTs, also known as top management teams, or TMTs), much less their facilitation (Zorn & Tompson, 2002). Because SLTs, like many other work groups, often have members who do not exercise the discipline to become a behaviorally integrated, high-performing team (see, e.g., Hambrick, 1994; Katzenbach, 1998), they are prime candidates not only for descriptive communication studies but also for facilitation. In fact, Zorn and Tompson (2002) suggested that "facilitation methods may well help TMTs to manage status differences and process complex information and, thereby, to engage in decision-making processes that are more thorough and consensus-based" (p. 263). Though certain aspects of senior leadership teams have been studied extensively, such as CEO characteristics, team composition, and task properties (see, e.g., Carmeli, Tishler, & Edmondson, 2012; Edmondson, Roberto, Watkins, 2003; Menz, 2012), a significant void in the literature remains regarding the facilitation of SLT communication.

This case study begins to fill that gap by reporting on a nearly 4-month-long facilitation of the SLT of a large, suburban, evangelical church in the western United States. The facilitation was executed as part of a 2.5-year study using ethnographic facilitation, a unique methodology in which engaged scholars employ ethnographic practices to observe and develop a rich understanding of communicative practices, intervene in those practices to promote change using facilitation procedures, and report findings to scholars and practitioner communities (Hartwig, 2014). After introducing the church leadership team and the facilitator's history with the church and team, an eight-step facilitation program is detailed. Finally, the relative success of the facilitation is discussed, highlighting several techniques and practices that either promoted or hindered the team's goal accomplishment, and drawing out applications of these techniques for other facilitators and scholars.

The Senior Leadership Team

At the time of the study, Freedom (a pseudonym) was an 11-year-old, large (more than 2,500 regular weekly attendees) and growing church in the western United States, established under the vision and direction of its founding pastor Steve1. Just before the facilitator's engagement with the church staff, the church had significantly increased the size of its congregation and staff and started two additional campus churches in other locations, making it a part of a national movement of multisite megachurches (Surratt, Ligón, & Bird, 2006; Thumma & Bird, 2008). Furthermore, the size of the congregation and staff, and the multiple locations, spurred the design of more complex organizational structures and systems (Hall, 2007).

To deal with the increased organizational complexity, to take pressure off the senior pastor in providing leadership and direction to all the staff and congregation, and to benefit from collaboration, Steve established a SLT in 2008, comprised of himself, three campus pastors (one for each campus), and pastors of finance/business administration, graphic arts, and media, as well as all of these pastors' wives2. All SLT members reported directly to Steve. All of the other staff members reported to SLT members.

The researcher investigated Freedom from October 2007 through February 2010, though he was a member of the church for several years prior. …

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