The Next Level: Do You Have the Right Team?


“What do we need to do to get us to the next level?” That’s perhaps the one question I get asked the most.  While the answer might include strategies like  better systems, seizing opportunities, new facilities, retooling business or ministry models, they are all predicated on the most important variable of all: the competence of the team.

next level teams

As I look back in decades of consulting, I can point to the competence of a team as the key element on taking an organization to the next level. Most businesses, churches or not for profits have gotten where they are in the strength of their current team. In my experience, the next level always requires “next-level” thinking and performance. Good leaders realize that and want to move forward. But unless the team has what it takes to run at a difference pace, the organization will not get unstuck.

I have sat through many a strategy session where a leader would get clarity on how to move to the next level. In many of those instances, I knew that the team in the room could not go pass where they were. Some members would make the journey by growing to meet their new challenge. Others, sometimes the majority, would not. As a matter of fact, they would usually end up, consciously or unconsciously,  sabotaging the new strategy until it died or they left, or were asked to leave, the organization.

Early on in my career I would gently walk my clients through these tough personnel decisions. After all, some of those on my not-making list were good people who had been part of the organization for years. In my attempt to soften the blow, I ended up prolonging the pain. Much like pulling a painful band-aid slowly. I have changed my strategy. I find myself being much more direct: “You can get there, but you will not get there with Susan, Bob and Carl. Do you still want to do it?”

Think about your team. Usually the weakest link at the highest level in the organization will determine how far the organization can go.

How do you feel about my team assessment approach? Do you prefer the slow and painful or the short, and yet painful method?

  • John Allman

    It is difficult to choose between the pain of letting “good” people go versus the prolonged agony of spinning our wheels in a ditch when there is so much at stake.  It is never easy.  Our organizational culture seems to prefer the slower pain. The frustration that comes with lack of progress is ultimately more painful.

    • You also have to deal with loss of resources and opportunity. A window of opportunity will stay open only for so long, sometimes by the time the organization is ready to make the move the opportunity has passed.

  • I think this can be a tough pill to swallow, especially in a church environment, but that doesn’t make it less true. You’ve gotta have the right people in the right seats on the bus. Especially when the bus is getting an upgrade or getting replaced entirely.

    • In a church setting you have to answer the question, “are we willing to stop reaching out to people who need the Gospel because we are not willing to raise our expectations?”

  • I love the question: “Do you still want to do it?” As a former worship leader, I struggled with going to the next level in musicianship when I knew it meant I would lose team members. Sometimes that answer was no, keeping the people was more important.

    In reality, sometimes an organization must go to the next level, but in some cases the cost of people will not be worth the reward.

    • Jacob, I struggle with that one. In my mind if we are not moving forward, we are moving backwards. Organizations seldom “stand still.” I think that in the long run, you don’t keep the people nor the organization. You end up losing both.

  • Thanks so much for writing this. As leaders we get stuck in the slow and painful method too often disguising it in performance improvement plans and painfully drawn out conversations about, “getting the right people in the right sits on the bus.” (I love Jim Collins but in my experience organizations use that language just to buy time while they secretly and silently hope the team rises to the challenge.) Right now, I am more in favor of the short and painful method, particularly in non profit ministry settings. There’s just not enough time for slow and painful anymore.

  • Can you share some examples of how your clients executed the “Short and painful” method?  I like the consultant coming in and saying jerk the band aid off just for the jolt perspective, but the execution seems to stall when humanity comes into the picture.

    • Robb, I had a client who did both ways. They fired a top executive who had been with the organization for near 2 decades with a nice severance predicated on his leaving well. That went flawlessly. Years later they kept someone in a high position who should have been fired and demoted him without dealing with it. He got enough support, resources and started his own deal once he walked away.

  • I know it may sound mean, but I like your method a lot better. As a leader of an organization, I would rather hear straight out what it holding us back than struggling for years, only to find out too late that someone needed to go. While it’s hard to face that, some people just aren’t the right fit for what God wants us to do. But it is a challenge to know when to let people go and when to move forward. 

  • John Nissley

    Right On Brother! Yes, Team assessment is an important function to keep on track. An annual evaluation to ask ourselves and our Team, “Am I the best person for this position at this time in the Kingdom?” For example, I have seen effective church planters kill a plant by staying too long. I ask people/students,”What is your Kingdom passion?’ Guiding people to their Kingdom passion may involve a relocation and transplanting (ouch that hurts my roots) but perhaps I’ll bear more fruit in less sandy soil. . .

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