Teams that Thrive and not just Survive

A Cutting Edge Interview:

People, tasks, conflict: An interview with corporate teams consultant Grace McLaren

One of the most challenging aspects to planting a church is doing it with a team of people. Nothing is more exhilarating. Nothing is more filled with pain and frustration.

Most leaders underestimate the effort it takes to cultivate a team of people that really works, says Grace McLaren, president of Working Together, a corporate training firm near Baltimore, MD, focused on developing high-performance teams in the high-tech sector. She frequently consults for non-profits and churches, as well. Grace's particular expertise lies in helping people understand their fits and

I recently spent an afternoon with Grace, talking about teams and the inevitable conflict which comes along the way. Her familiarity with both theory and practice - and with the realities of new church start-ups - gives her an insight into cultivating teams that work.

Jeff Bailey, Editor

Talk about the phases every task typically goes through

Extensive research suggests that there are, essentially, eight stages to the completion of any task.

  1. Advisor          (INFP, ESFP)
  2. Innovator        (ENFP, INTP)
  3. Promoter       (ENFJ, ENTP
  4. Developer       (ENTJ, ESTP)
  5. Organizer       (ESTJ, INTJ)
  6. Producer        (ESFJ, ISTJ
  7. Inspector        (ISFP, ISTP)
  8. Maintainer      (INFJ, ISFP)

(Unfamiliar with the Meyers-Briggs Personality inventory? Take the Keirsey test (an adaptation of the Meyers Briggs) on-line. It will take you about 10 minutes. Also, a standard, helpful resource is the book Please Understand Me, which includes in-depth explanations of the various personality types.)

The first phase, Advising, is essentially market research. When you start a project, the right place to begin is with gathering information. If you are a new church and need a place to meet, there are certain people who are phenomenally good at gathering data. They love researching it, on the internet or via city hall. When they bring the information to the table, it's typically organized in a way that's very helpful to the team.

The advising function is typically INFP or ESFP. Both are Perceivers, who are great at asking questions and generating options. That is what they do in the research phase - think of options, then walk down the street and think of yet another person to talk to. They are very patient with the research process.

Then they come to the meeting, put the information on the table, and say, "OK, here's the deal. First, there's a place downtown that could sublet 5,000 square feet at this price. Second, there's a new computer business up the road that things they have a second floor available. Third, there's a school around the corner."

For a church plant, this is the person to do your demographic studies. If you don't have this person on your team, you tend to race through this first stage or make decisions without doing your homework. Church planters often fail at this one.

What if this stage isn't done well? Do you end up having to go back and re-do it?

Well, you pay for what you don't know. You might end up renting a school and then a year later find out that they had plans to add another grade and were going to need the space and you didn't think to ask. Or there could have been a great deal that would have saved you $10,000 that you never found out about. So, any time you want to start something new - whether this is a church plant or a new initiative in an established church - send your advisers out. These folks tend to be Feelers who will be very patient, very sensitive and thoughtful in the way they ask questions. they can get really good information for you.

Stage two is the Innovating stage. Once the information is on the table the Innovator types go crazy with it. They say, "OK, so there's this computer business up the road that isn't going to use their second floor for two years - what if we can rent the space and ask if they would be willing to make a donation of some of their computers so we could run an after-school program for kids in the neighborhood. They could get credit for that, some free publicity,, and we could partner with the/1" The Innovators will come up with all kinds of options - but because of the advisors, it will be with good data.

Note: it's important for the people who excel in the later, more detailed stages of the task to simply be quiet during the innovating phase. By nature they are going to want to start inspecting the idea for all the things that won't work - but it's not time for that!

What Myeres-Briggs profiles go with the Innovators?

INTP (the Bill Gates of the world, and all the absent minded professors!) and ENFP.

Now you might be thinking, "I thought I was creative and innovator, but I'm an INTJ, not an INTP. What does that mean? Does it mean that I can't innovate?" To that I would say, "No, no. You can innovate very easily, but in order for you to innovate you are going to have to take that INTJ and suspend the "J" - suspend making a decision or judgment - and put on your "P" hat and tell yourself, "For just a couple of minutes I am going to just play with the options." If you do that. If you make a conscious choice to not move to "closure" right away and just play, lots of innovation can happen.

Alright, suppose the Innovators come up with some idea that looks rally good. then what?

The next phase is Promoting. We have to go to that company whose space we want to use and convince the sending church that we need more resources. Certain types of people are really good promoters, and when they talk about an idea, it sounds so much more inviting and inspirit. You want to use them when trying to win support for something that might be controversial. They types for that are ENTP and ENFJ. As you can see, both are extroverted and intuitive, people who are very verbal and very big-picture. The ENTP's are very "out there," very enthusiastic; the ENFJ type would be persuading because they would be so sold on the idea that there would be a very authentic feel to what they are saying.

So now we've got everybody all excited, but we just have this little seed of an idea. We need somebody to take this little idea and put some form to it, to map it out into a mini-business plan and assess it. The Promoters generally don't want to do that, they just want to generate the idea. So now the Developer kicks in and says, "OK, that's a great idea, now let's map out the who plan of how it is going to work." These are ENTJs - good strong leaders - and ESTPs, which of all the SPs are probably the ones with the strongest leadership potential. Now they are starting to get things happening! Both are extroverts, so they are going to be verbal about it, and they are both thinkers, so at this point they don't care whether you like it or need our hand held. They aren't interested in being sensitive; they are just saying, "The job has to get done, we've researched it, people are excited, now let's do it." 

What comes next?

After that is Organizing. The organizing phase takes the plan fro the Developer and divides and delegates the work among people. Organizers can be a bit on the bossy side, but at this point somebody needs to take the plan and say, "OK Tim, I need you to make this phone call, Janis you do this..." ESTJ is in this category , the premier administrative type, but also INTJ. INTJs tend to organize a project on paper - they create matrices, plans, systems. They might email everybody what has to get done, because they're introverts. Their motive, though, is to divide up the work so it gets done. At this point we are now in the phases of doing, and not just sitting around talking.

Now we arrive at the Producer's glory days. The Producers actually drove over to the empty space and measure out the room sizes. They make the phone calls, they make the deposit in the bank. They do all the central work that has to get done. Don't put your promoters here; they will be a waste! Producers are ISTJs and ESFJ. These are hard workers who get tons of stuff done, but they don't want to have to think up what had to get done. You don't want these people at brainstorming meetings - they get overwhelmed because as soon as you come up with a new idea, all that comes into heir minds are the 3,000 little things that are going to need to happen in order for it to work. Then they start feeling, "Oh no, oh no!" It panics them. Those sorts of things don't bother the Brainstormers because those little details don't even occur to them.

I suppose the Brainstormers don't do the Producers any favors by processing aloud some of their new ideas with them?

No. Especially because when you are brainstorming, you may come up with three new ideas! It doesn't occur to a Producer that you are only going to pick one of them, or maybe even none of them. All they can think, is, "What if we do all three of these ideas? Oh my! That means..." It's overwhelming. Just as it is overwhelming for these creative types in the beginning phases to listen to all the details that the Producers can think of! They get so overwhelmed that they think, "Maybe I don't want to do this anymore." So people working at different phases of the task need to let the others do their thin, and maybe not even listen.

The nice thing about this language is that it's neutral - every job is important and unique.

Right. Sometimes people will say, "I feel like I'm not being helpful here, I'm expendable." No, you're not! We just haven't gotten to your phase yet. Don't disappear! When we get to the later phases - the organizing, producing, maintaining phases - we are going to need you so much.

OK, let's say we've sublet the space from the business which is going to give us the computers, and things are starting to be put into motion. Now what?

The next phase is Inspecting. The Inspectors check all the details to make sure they were taken care of. For example, they ask, "Did anyone check how many electrical outlets are in that space? If we are going to be putting ten computers in there for the kids, we need to have enough outlets. If we are going to do a mailing to this whole neighborhood, did anybody run spell check on the database? Did anybody weigh that thing to be sure it's not going to take two stamps instead of one? Hey, are we going to be in there in time for Christmas? If so, we need to send out the announcements for our Christmas service now." They are thinking ahead, but on little details. Inspectors don't necessarily have to be doing anything - most often they are commenting on things that need to be done. They might say, "h-oh, we're not going to be on time with this project." They aren't doing, they are watching. The types here are ISTP, who are good problem solvers anyway, and ISFJ. Here you see your accounting people, your finance people. If you want something to count the offering on Sundays, look for an Inspector; they take the task very seriously.

How does this category differ from the previous one, the Producers?

They are very close. One thing that's helpful to remember is that everyone is really good at one thing in this model, and fairly good at two other things - so most of us can do three. Most are good at the one right before and right after their best one. Not always, but that is usually the case. So we do see people who are good at Producing often be good at Inspecting.

The last category is Maintainer. That might sound a little boring. It's also called the Upholder, the one who upholds the values of the organization. Those people, once we are in the building, care about who's going to maintain the relationship with the company whose building we're in. Who's going to stop in and say hi to those people, send them notes to tell them how much we appreciate partnering with them? In business this is Customer Service. The Maintainers care about who is going to continue to care for the people who come. This is important in a church community, as well. These guys are ISFPs and INFJs.

Then this comes full circle, because the Maintainers bring up some questions that lead to some new tasks as well, and you start the process all over.

Any project can start wit this last phase. And if any business goes through the eight phases and then stops, they will be out of business soon! Once you hit the maintaining stage, you eventually have to do some research to see what's changing in the world, and start innovating again.

Especially if you want to be the kind of church that is spinning out new missions, new initiatives in embodying the gospel.

I think that what has happened is that some of the churches in America have hit the maintenance stage and are not willing to go on to the beginning of the circle. So you have all the great innovators wandering the streets, and eventually they say, " I want to start a new church." Whether they're smart enough to build a team with some of the other types might determine their success. You can start something with innovator types, but what often happens is that as soon as they go to set something in place, they think, "Oh!" I can think of a better way to do it! Let's move to that part of the city instead of this part," etc. They keep reinventing the thing and never really finish it. They need other people to help them with that.

Now, in the middle of this chart is someone called "The Linker." What kind of role do they play?

The Linker is in the center of the whole thing. He or she is usually good at several of those other things, but their role is not to play a particular parts so much as to step back and get all these eight types of people to work together without killing each other! We have found that the people who work during the early phases of a project get along with each other really well. it is tempting, then, to pick people for the team who are similar to you, who work well in the same phases in which you work well. If you do that, the relationships will be a lot easier because you get along well - but the overall task will be much harder because you don't have enough balance on the wheel. If you are brave enough to put diversity in the team, you know that the relationships will be a little harder, but the tasks will end up being easier. In that case, however, the role of the Linker becomes even more crucial. The good news is that the skills associated with being a good Linker are ones that can be learned.

What are some characteristics of a Linker?

The number one Linker ability is being a good listener.  Teams that have leaders who are not good listeners become disenfranchised.  They complain, “She’s leading this team, but she never listens.  She didn’t hear me when I tried to say that this wasn’t going to work…”  If they feel heard, though, it goes a long way.  If you want to work on one skill, this would be the first one to start with.

Good Linkers have also developed an instinct for team balance:  “I need one person kind of like this and one person like that.”  They also have the ability to delegate.  Delegating is an art now – because people want to do work that is satisfying to them.  Can you pick a job that matches who the person is?  And do you have a way to follow up so you can ask them, “How’s it going?  Is there anything I can do to help?”  These are all good Linking skills.

How often do you find that people in churches are not well suited to the role they have been asked to play?

I was once involved in a church plant myself.  In the early stages of church planting, when resources are limited and people-hours are limited, we often had to do lots of things that we were not good at.  In that regard, the tasks weren’t very satisfying.  But the overall mission was enticing, and the excitement and the possibilities for the future kept us going.  However, as you go through development in the church, if three years later people are still doing stuff they are not good at, you start having problems.

By the time you walk into organizations that have become more established, have people migrated to the stuff they are good at?

I have often found that when the there are areas of conflict in the churches, a primary reason is that someone is misaligned, not working where they are gifted, and they are grouchy.  And that’s if they know they are not happy in the job and are doing it anyway.  A worse conflict is having someone in a job that everyone else knows they are not good at – but they don’t!  Then they get territorial about it, and to replace them or move them to a better fit is a major blow to their self-esteem.  That’s very hard.  Successful churches have worked this out; have found a way to start the conversation about aligning people with their area of gifting.  In the old days when so many moms were home, you could run a church just off the volunteer resources.  No more!  Now you don’t have excess hours and lots of people to be plowing a job through; if you don’t align people in their area of gifting, tasks won’t get done.  Some churches are really good at letting people move around until they find what they are really good at, while in others it is taboo –“We can’t go there, we can’t tell Bob that he is a lousy small group leader.

How have you seen this “task process” work out in a church?

I worked with one church that had been in a rented facility for fifteen years.  The leader of the church was highly intuitive, and thus excelled in the earlier, innovative stages of a task.  He kept saying that the church needed to purchase property and get its own facility.  The rest of the Board was made up of Producers and Inspectors.  They were thinking of the thousands of things that would have to get done in order to buy property and build.  They also kept saying – good Inspectors that they were! – “We don’t have enough money to build a building!”  The innovative leader kept saying, “If we don’t get land and get someplace permanent, we are going to burn out our people setting up and taking down week after week.  We can’t keep this up.”  They were deadlocked for two years, getting nowhere.  Finally, they brought in a professional fundraiser whose personality was a Producer – a black-and-white, concrete type of person.  And when he came to talk to the Board about the possibility of building, he brought something the Innovators had never put on the table – a plan.  He had a plan, pages long, full of details.  “The first week you do this, the second week you get that, and then you get the pledges…”  The intuitive leader never would have thought of that; he was only able to say from his gut, “I think if we tried to do this we could pull it off.”  The intuition was correct – but he couldn’t prove that to the more concrete types.  So when someone came with a plan, the Board said, “Oh, now we can see how we might be able to get there!  Okay, let’s do it.”  But someone had to be brought in from the outside, who had the skills to be a bridge.  They didn’t have someone like that on the team.

The consultant also told them, I think you can raise $600,000.  If you raise $800.000 that’s going to be way beyond what I think you can do with this size of a group, and if you get a million, you’d better praise God, because it’s a miracle!”  Well, the intuitive leader was saying, “No problem, we can do this!”  And the night they counted all the pledges, they received 1.5 million dollars!  So who was right?  The Intuitive was right – but he didn’t have a way to make his case.  Until the guy with The Plan came along, the Producers and Inspectors couldn’t trust the intuition.

When you go in to work with a team of people, is there usually conflict waiting for you?

There is almost always conflict waiting for me, and rarely does the person who hired me tell me that it’s waiting for me.  “We just want to do a little team-building, and we’re having this one-day retreat.  We thought that Meyers-Briggs would be a lot of fun.”  I always say, “Are there any interpersonal dynamics going on here that I need to know about?  Because it’s all going to come out, anyway.”

As you work with teams, do you see any patterns of conflict that are common?

A common one is conflict between the Big-Picture people and the Hands-On people.  Visionaries think you can conquer the world, and the hands-on folks feel taken advantage of, and suspect that you don’t know what you are talking about.  Another conflict, especially in churches, is between Thinkers and Feelers.  The Feelers are way more concerned about meeting the needs of the person, creating community.  They say, “I don’t care about getting the next 50; let’s take care of the 50 that we have.”  A Thinker might say, “No, let’s create a system by which hundreds of people can get individual care.  We’ll have ten people who can give fifty people care because we have a system.”


It seems that some of the conflict teams experience is just inevitable, no matter how much they try to avoid it.  How do you help a team process conflict in a productive way?

You can’t escape the conflict.  The research shows that if you throw a bunch of people together to do a task, the relationships consistently go through a predictable 4 stage pattern:  Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.

Stage One is Forming.  Everyone is excited, everything is new.  “I don’t know you very well but you look like a cool person to get to know.”  People feel a little tentative; they don’t know what they’re going to be doing yet, and they are very polite.

After you are into the project for a little while, teams hit the Storming stage.  People are starting to really feel in over their heads, with no way out, and now that person over there is really starting to get on their nerves because he’s always late to the stupid meetings, but you can’t tell him because you might hurt his feelings.  Now the whole thing is churning.  I know when a team is in this phase because people tell me things like, “It’s so-and-so’s fault.”  When people have isolated complex problems down to one other person, I know they are in the Storming phase, because life is rarely that simple.  But people are so desperate to blame something!  Another way I know they are in Storming phase is when there is a better meeting going on out in the hallway than in the official meeting.  In the official meeting they were very polite, but in the hallway they’re saying, “Did you hear what he said, blah, blah, blah.”

Some organizations are desperate:  “Help us skip the Storming Phase!” they say.  But I tell them no – you aren’t supposed to skip that phase.  Storming brings out what the issues are – and you just can’t predict those ahead of time.

But most organizations aren’t very good at handling this, are they?  Especially churches.

Yes, and it can be very political.  Jobs can be on the line.  And in churches, it’s worse – we’re not supposed to dislike you, we’re Christians.  You are coming late to meetings and I’m hating you inside, and praying, “God, please help me not to hate him, please, please, please,” while on the outside I say, nicely, “Bob, please come to meetings on time.”  So organizations that are working desperately to avoid Storming mode actually end up getting stuck there, with everything below the surface.  And then you have a seriously dysfunctional team.

How do things get to that place?

No one is willing to tell the truth.  No one will break the ice.  It’s all polite on the outside:  “Yes, I will do that for you” – but they don’t follow through because there is such animosity.  Everything just stalls.  And it’s cold; you can feel it!  People are very cautious about how much they say, they don’t want to go first, they don’t want to contribute.  There’s too much “agreement.”  Whole churches are going out of business today because the leadership team has gotten stuck in Storming mode and can’t get out.


And people who are willing to talk honestly get fed up with the charade and leave.

Right.  They say, “This is just not worth upsetting everybody” or “I tried and they are not listening.  I’m leaving.”

I think the younger the people are – well, sometimes maturity helps because you can keep things in perspective – but, in general, the younger people are a little bit better at dealing with conflict.  In older generations people just didn’t talk about this stuff.

We are the first generation to have grown up in a therapeutic culture.

Yes, and they teach peer mediation and conflict resolution in the schools now.  Also, I work in the high-tech industry a lot, and there they don’t have time to get into prolonged storming.

So they put issues on the table really fast:  “I don’t care if I hurt your feelings; I have to tell you that we only have until Friday to get this thing to market.”  That creates some forced urgency.

Most teams in Storming find that it gets so painful that somebody finally calls Time Out.  “This is so painful that we need some help.  What is going on?”  Either somebody can take the lead with that or ask a neutral person to come in.  That’s the only way to get to the next stage – Norming – where we are able to say, “This is not working and that is not working.  Now how are we going to run this together?  What do you really need to operate?”  You kind of self-design a unique approach to the task that’s going to work for this team, and finally honesty can flow, and it’s such a relief.  But it takes a while to figure out what all those ingredients are, and not until you’ve done that do you get to the Performing stage – the stage that all the top business books are written about!  “I was on this team and we changed the world in six months!”  But you don’t get there without paying the price of going through the other stages.  So I want to encourage those who are in the Storming stage to hang in there.  Remember that just calling someone in is usually the first step towards the Norming stage.  But you have to be careful, because you can say things in Storming mode that cause big damage in your relationships.  Ask for help.

Anything else with the Norming stage that is helpful to remember?

Honesty is important.  People will take tentative steps:  “Could we have these meetings on Thursdays instead of Fridays?” and then they will hold back a little bit.  So the more honest you can be about what you need, the more it will help.  Patience.  Be open to apologizing.  Even when it was nobody’s fault, feelings get hurt during Storming.  To be able to say, “Wow, I had no idea that hurt so much” is very healing.

And in some cases it may mean telling someone, I just don’t think this is a good fit for you.”

Yes!  Sometimes during Norming some people will say, “I realize that this is not what I had hoped it would be, and maybe I need to find a different place.”  Leaving in anger during Storming means that person carries this terrible story with them for the next ten years – where they say, “I had this horrible church experience.”

Is the pain of the Storming phase related to how clear the vision was in the Forming stage?

Well, a clear vision in the Forming stage will minimize some difficulty – but I’m telling you, no matter what you say or put down in writing, until people experience it, they don’t get it.  “Oh, this is what you meant by mission:  I’m going to have to work on Saturdays and Sundays.”  Or, “I didn’t really understand when you said, ‘Whatever it takes’ that you meant this!”

So there’s only a certain amount of that can be dealt with up front.

Yes.  And the leader will have to help a team through this.  But, on the other hand, if they are seeing the leader as part of the problem, you will need a neutral person to help.  They don’t have to be a professional; he or she can just be a friend of the organization.  What counts is the neutrality.

This would be helpful to teach church planting teams.  They are all excited about changing the world.  But they are going to start fighting several months into it, and if they are prepared for it, they can just say, “Oh that’s right, Grace told us that we’re going to hate each other at some phase in this thing, but to hang in there because if we get past it we can really accomplish something.”

I don’t think pastors have any idea how much conflict they are going to have to sustain in order to accomplish things.  Most of them are warm people, unprepared for the conflict and for the amount of hatred that’s going to be focused on them for no apparent reason.  Often it’s simply because of the role they are in.

Most church planters aren’t aware that this is coming.

And they don’t know what to do with the emotions they feel.  If they feel angry back…  Before they planted this thing, people liked them; they were the good guy!  And now they are blamed for everything. 

The thing about the Storming stage is that each time you change the dynamic of the team, you cycle through all the stages again.  Often not as deeply, and it won’t take as long, as new people go through that stage with the team.  But as a church grows, it always goes through Storming stage to get to a new phase of growth.  It’s helpful to know, though, that this is normal and healthy.  And that it’s not really an option.




Cutting Edge - Spring 2001 Vol. 5 #2, Copyright 2001, Vineyard USA, Stafford, TX (used by permission)