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Good Teamwork Skills: Intentional Inefficiency

Not all good teamwork skills look the same!

If you hang out in the hallways of a church named Cornerstone West LA, you’ll watch three leadership meetings occur during the course of a typical week, each with a different configuration of people, goals, agendas and leaders. You’d also see a lot of informal collaboration between the pastors, especially because they share the same physical office. Most important, you’d affirm that this team not only effectively leads the church but also shares an incredible sense of community.

People Sitting at Restaurant Table with Drinks and Computers

Things weren’t always that way. Cornerstone West LA is the result of a merger. One entity was a young church plant that was started by two young pastors with a strong conviction that shared leadership was God’s design for the local church. The other was a long-standing church that struggled, in part, because it had three different boards that were constantly at odds with each other. When Cornerstone West LA was born, much was murky, but one thing was crystal clear: leadership by plurality of elders was nonnegotiable. They would make plurality leadership work by realizing that some team members are better educated, more passionate or more skilled in certain areas, and therefore, sharing leadership and regularly deferring to one another. In other words, they created a culture of continuous collaboration.

Good teamwork skills example #1: play to your strengths!

Today, Cornerstone is led by eight men—five vocational pastor-elders and three lay pastor-elders. They work hard not only to value collaboration but to live it out, even when it requires more time, energy and occasional frustration. The pastor who oversees preaching noted with a smile: “We’re intentionally inefficient.” As part of their commitment to continuous collaboration, the vocational pastors share one office. In its previous life, the office they now inhabit was the senior pastor’s waiting room and private office. Now by intention all five of them have a desk in one space, which spurs ongoing collaboration. When they need to work alone, the pastors retreat to one of two study rooms. In other churches team members typically office individually, and then come together for meetings. Cornerstone flipped the model—they office together and go away to work alone.

Good teamwork skills example #2: communicate!

They also spend a good amount of time together regularly to pray, make key decisions for the church and coordinate ministries and pastoral care. Their meetings are highly structured yet remarkably relational. One pastor—not the main teaching pastor, but the one more skilled and gifted in strategy and administration—convenes and facilitates two weekly meetings: a prayer meeting and an elders meeting, during which the team updates on a segment of the church’s members, makes strategic ministry decisions and reviews key areas of ministry on a rotating basis. The lead teaching pastor leads a weekly “Sunday morning” meeting, which involves most of the elders along with the church’s media director. Finally, the elders meet roughly once every other month for half-day planning meetings, during which they discuss their philosophy of ministry, review doctrinal matters, plan strategic activities such as setting the annual budget, and so on. These meetings are carefully planned and executed so that all of the team members contribute and provide leadership to the congregation. Most of the elders are in each of these meetings, which provides them with ample opportunity to not only speak into church matters but also spend time caring for one another and building community and trust.

Cornerstone’s meetings are highly productive, even if a little inefficient.

Additional good teamwork skills

They’re full of banter and true community, even though conflict is welcomed and desired. And they’re nicely structured and well facilitated, even when most of the team is not organizationally gifted. If that doesn’t sound like your team’s meetings, here are four tips you can learn from the leadership team at Cornerstone West LA:

  1. Assess your convictions about the importance of doing your work in teams, and then organize accordingly. These guys were so committed to leadership via team that they were willing to do whatever it took to build a thriving team.
  1. Build your environments to make collaboration the default setting, and individual action the exception. You might not be able to configure your office like this team did, but there’s likely something you can do to create an environment more conducive to collaboration.
  1. Embrace structure in your meetings. Though it might feel constraining for a bit, structure on who comes to your meetings, what your meetings must accomplish, how you are going to make the meeting most productive, and how long you will meet will transform your team meetings for good.
  1. Be willing to sacrifice efficiency for effectiveness. You won’t regret it, and you also won’t miss the meaningless efficiency you thought you enjoyed.


For more models of great team interactions and a host of other tips to help your teams thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership 


Excerpted with permission from chapter 12 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. 

Ryan T. Hartwig, PhD is the author of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership and Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Azusa Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter at @rthartwig and learn more about his work at

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