Teams That Thrive: An Interview with Author Ryan Hartwig

by Megan Ramirez '15

What inspired you to the write Teams That Thrive?

The concept stems from personal experience. I grew up a pastor’s kid, and at age 12, my father was forced out of our church. About 25 years later, a similar scenario occurred with my father-in-law. As I reflected on those situations, I found that the overarching issue lies in ineffective collaborative leadership. As I continued seeing this need in the church, I aspired to provide a resource to pastors, elders, and their boards to help them learn to thrive in church collaborative leadership rather than merely survive.

What type of expertise do you bring to this topic?

I carry a passion, a care, and a concern for these issues. Throughout my academic career, I have studied groups, organizations, leadership, and teamwork. In addition, I serve on a leadership team and regularly provide counsel to teams in both corporate and nonprofit settings.

Who is the book designed to help?

The book is a resource tool particularly for senior leadership and ministry teams within the church. Many different types of teams in various kinds of organizations can use this model.

Who did you collaborate with, and how did their experiences and perspectives complement yours?

When I thought about doing a research study, I sought a credible partner with a large pool of resources. As I brainstormed, Leadership Network came to mind—in particular Warren Bird. Not being a pastor myself, I opted for an expert who knew what kind of resources would be truly helpful. Along with Warren, I also collaborated with APU faculty and students, including (Alex) Chong Ho Yu, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology, Rachel Gonzales Castaneda, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and three former students and alumni over the course of three years.

What did the research process involve?

First, we conducted a major survey. We studied more than 250 churches and 1,000 senior leadership members. Teams participated in the Team Diagnostic Survey, developed by Harvard researchers, and a team communication questionnaire we developed. We grouped and categorized the data, then identified top-scoring teams and made site visits. Ultimately, our research consists of surveys, observation, and interviews.

How will the book best be utilized?

We hope that church leadership teams will provide the book to their entire team and work through it chapter-by-chapter, over a course of 10-12 weeks. We believe if churches do this, a new team will emerge by the end of that period.

What challenges do teams face most?

The biggest difficulties include too much focus on minutia in meetings rather than addressing big-picture and vision-oriented issues, too much control and dominance from a leader, and lack of prioritizing communication specifically related to the team. We also found that less than 20 percent of formal team leaders and facilitators acquired training in team leadership.

When you think of a successful team, what comes to mind?

I would emphasize the disciplines outlined in the book. Successful teams do five things: focus on purpose, leverage difference in team membership, rely on inspiration rather than control in leadership, intentionally structure the decision-making process to best utilize resources and seek God’s perspective, and build a culture of continuous collaboration.

Are there any high profile teams that exhibit these traits?

In the book, we profile several small churches you likely would not know by name. Teams That Thrive is designed for everyday pastors seeking a means of leading their congregations in a humble and collaborative way. However, some recognizable church names include Crosspoint Church in Nashville, Tennessee, Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Reality L.A. in Los Angeles, California.

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