Great Teams Make Great Boards

Rowing team on a river

By Renee Ruchotzke

Congregational boards are intended to provide collective discernment rather than be a forum for competing interests or agendas. Faithful boards are in alignment with and accountable to the mission and vision of the congregation. Effective boards trust each other enough to listen deeply to one another, and to admit to one another when they don't have an answer.

Boards can develop a sense of trust and teamwork by focusing on several markers of effective teams:

Spend "Slow Time" Together

New boards should find a way to interact with one another in a "time out of time" format such as a retreat. This is an opportunity to get to know one another, to connect deeply to your mission and vision, and to make some plans for the coming year.

Covenant as a Board

Being intentional about how you interact as a board is a great first step. Promising to come prepared to meetings, to hold yourself and one another accountable to the work, and to listen deeply to one another sets the tone and provides a reminder of how you want to work together.

Be Right-Sized

Any group with more than 10 members is difficult to cohere into a team. Seven to Nine members (plus the minister as an ex officio member) tends to be good size. Smaller congregations may want to have fewer members so there is more volunteer energy available for other parts of congregational life.

Build Trust

Trust can be built among people who are willing to be their authentic selves. Being one's authentic self requires vulnerability--being willing to admit to one's weaknesses as well as one's strengths.

Be in Alignment with the Mission and Vision

The board members should have a shared understanding of the congregation's mission and vision, and be able to make decisions and set common goals in alignment with that shared understanding. For example, if you are a congregation whose vision is to work for racial justice and you host meetings for local activism groups, it will be easier to say no to opportunities (such as a preschool wanting to rent space during the same time) that present themselves.

Lean In Toward Creative Conflict

Although destructive conflict is bad for a board, creative conflict is actually essential. Creative conflict provides enables a leadership team to considers many different ideas and points of view, and usually results in the best decisions. Here are some markers of creative conflicts.

  • The parties respect and trust one another
  • The parties listen deeply to one another
  • Each thought or idea given a chance to be considered
  • All of the parties are willing to be in a place of discomfort or "not knowing"
  • All of the parties are willing to admit what they don't know
  • All of the parties are willing to have their assumptions challenged
  • All of the parties are willing to change their positions or minds

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .