Book Review: Sticky Teams (Larry Osborne)

Larry Osborne’s latest book Sticky Teams is a great book for all levels of leadership within the church. As a much expanded and updated version of his book The Unity Factor, Larry dives deep into all things leadership for senior/lead pastors, boards, staffs, and congregations. He is a seasoned leader who gives practical, common sense, counter-intuitive, and often “contrarian” wisdom on leading at different levels within the church. There were numerous nuggets of wisdom, but five stood out:

1. Philosophical unity is a must. Osborne sights doctrinal unity, respect & friendship, and philosophical unity as the litmus of team stickiness. All of these are a must, but as he writes, “If you think about it, most church fights aren’t over theology or even ministry goals, they’re over priorities and methodology” (p. 31). And if (and the “if” is key) you operate in a collaborative leadership culture and environment, it takes time to get people to agree on philosophy of ministry, method, and mission. Take the time. If you don’t, get ready for conflict and disunity. If you do, then key decisions will be much easier to make.

2. Growth changes everything. The structure that was once great for a church at one size can be constricting, stifling, and even disastrous at another level of church growth. Leadership teams and congregations that fail to grasp and adapt to these changes “invariably experience unnecessary conflict or shrink to a congregational size that best fits the structures and patterns they cling to” (p. 61). Osborne reiterates his sports analogies of track star, golfing buddies, basketball team, and football team. These clarifications of size and “style” have been hugely helpful for our staff team as we’ve grown from a church of 2500+ over three decades. People who were used to being golfing buddies are often in for a “relational shock” when the church grows and the game changes. Osborne gives two important indicators that the game has changed: relational overload and increased miscommunication. “The larger the team gets and the more hectic the games becomes, the greater the need for special meetings, chalk talks, and film sessions to get and then keep everyone on the same page” (p. 69).

3. Roles of the Board. For those of us that function with a board (elders, deacons, directors, etc.), Osborne’s identification of four changing roles of the board is helpful. In small churches, the board is all about doing. As the church grows, the board then shifts to approving. But as the church continues into the next stage of growth, the board needs to be about reviewing. Finally, in larger churches (i.e., mega-, especially 3000+), the board must be all about setting direction and boundaries vs. micromanagement and preference management. Osborne points out something critical: “This final transition can be particularly tough for board members who successfully manage their own staff or who own a business. They tend to forget that the church staff is not their staff and the church is not their business” (p. 105). In all phases of growth and changing roles, the board is there to give wise counsel because pastors often need a voice from outside the day-to-day ministry to see and evaluate the whole picture.

4. Roles of the Staff. As churches grow, the role of the staff changes, and some staff can adapt while some can’t. The most noticeable changes in staffing centers around moving from generalists to specialists and from doing to empowering. In smaller to medium churches staff operate as generalists, wearing numerous hats being a “jack of all trades” and sometimes “master of none.” But as the staff grows, their roles change predominately to specialists. Osborne shares a harsh reality: “Frankly when a church hits this stage, there’s not much a generalist can do except find something to excel at or find another small church in need of a generalist.” Secondly, staff members must move from doing to empowering. If staff leaders don’t empower others to do the work of the ministry, then they become a bottle-neck and put a ceiling on their ministry and the church’s growth.

5. Making room at the top. This chapter is subtitled “Why Young Eagles Don’t Stay” and is aimed at encouraging especially senior leaders to identify young emerging leaders, invite them onto the team, and let them fly. Osborne asks three key questions: (1) Are young eagles empowered or platformed? Platformed means we give them face time on the “platform” (and not only when we’re out of town and need a fill-in). (2) Are young eagles in the loop or at the meeting? Young leaders need to be included in the meetings, not simply waiting outside to hear what decisions were made (i.e., “in the loop”). (3) Who gets to ride shotgun? Leadership in key roles can’t simply be on a first-come, first-served basis. If it is, we’ll never make room for new, and often younger, leaders. Osborne writes: “Shotgun churches are easy to recognize. Just look for a church where all the good and influential seats on the leadership bus are filled by old-timers… When tenure is the primary determiner of who sits where on the leadership bus, a church is headed for trouble” (p. 121).

There are many more great themes and subjects dealt with in Osborne’s book. I highly encourage anyone in senior staff or board leadership to read this book. Then take the time to discuss it in the context of team. The discussion is bound to be clarifying for many teams and churches. Thanks Larry for another great book!

One Reply to “Book Review: Sticky Teams (Larry Osborne)”

  1. Thanks for this, Jonathan. Loved the article relating chess to leadership, as well. I’m a total Patrick Lencioni fan….I eat it up….so readable! Leadership development is at the forefront of my learning right now, so thanks for the book suggestions! I’ll have to kindle them. 🙂

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