Practical Help for Team Transitions with Stephen Brewster

Welcome back once again to another exciting episode of the unSeminary podcast. I’m so happy to have Creative Coach and Consultant Stephen Brewster with us today.

With missionary parents, Stephen has lived all over the world and then grew up to go to six different colleges, so he’s experienced a lot of transitions. During his senior year, he left college and moved to Nashville, Tennessee to chase his music dreams. God opened doors for him in the music industry, but Stephen always had a love for the local church and so God eventually led him into creative leadership within the church.

Stephen is here today to talk with us about transitions. People are always either going into a transition, in the middle of a transition, or coming out of a transition. How should we as leaders be thinking about helping others in our organizations during transition times?

  • Transitions are tough. // In the church world, we can miss the weight of what a transition really means for people. Unlike the secular workplace, transitions into and out of ministry mean uprooting individuals and families from their spiritual “home” and hub. There is loss that needs to be processed as individuals move on from a church, a pastor, a small group, or the people they’ve served with. A person’s local community can suddenly change dramatically and they can feel cut-off from relationships at a previous church. For these reasons it’s important that we on-board and off-board people well.
  • Prepare new hires for success. // Hiring and firing is the most expensive thing we can do – if we don’t hire well, we’re going to end up hiring again. Take your time when it comes to hiring the right people. Think about character, competency and chemistry. Is this new person going to fit? Do they match who we are? Do they fit the values? Can they adapt to the values if they don’t? Once you hire someone, make sure you on-board well. A lot of times people are thrown into work with no preparation. What are the resources they need to read and listen to and watch before day one? Once they reach day one, have you given them a worksheet that has all of their passwords and expectations? Plan out their first week hour by hour and have them meet with HR, individuals on their team, and so on to get to know everyone. Make the process fun rather than all busy work. What 90-day goals can they be working toward to have a clear understanding of what they should be aiming for? Think about your culture – how do you make that person feel important in that culture? Set them up to thrive in and to understand that culture.
  • Don’t overlook the importance of off-boarding well. // Unfortunately, we also have to let people go sometimes. When you’re letting someone go, most of the time they’re going to be surprised because if they were self-aware they would have probably fixed the problem. Even though you may have written them up before and have a paper trail, the day you let them go they probably won’t understand why. As a leader, you have to think through who this person is connected to and how it will affect the rest of the organization, as well as what your communication plan is to the organization. Who needs to know what and when? Take into consideration that it’s usually not your story to tell, it’s their story to tell. Be fully truthful but full of love in the conversations around the dismissal and never meet with them alone to remove any potential “he said/she said” conversations. It’s important to document everything in these situations, but also give them everything you can financially to help them in this transition. If possible extend counseling sessions post-employment to help them process what happened. In healthy cultures with secure leaders, you care more about the people than anything else, so you’re going to lead them through that transition well.
  • Take corrective action before considering a dismissal. // Every time Stephen has a corrective conversation with a team member he communicates verbally first, then sends an email recapping what was discussed, asking them to reply to verify that this is clear and expectations are understood. Once he recognizes what isn’t working, he will create an improvement plan with milestones and markers for the staff member to accomplish by certain dates. They will meet back with Stephen every 30 days to see how they’re doing. At the final meeting if they haven’t made the improvements needed, bring all of the documentation from the process and thank them for their time and work with the organization. If your staff is well aware of the culture and values of your organization, then you can make it clear with the documentation you bring where they didn’t meet those values. Go over their last day and any next steps while keeping the meeting brief and unemotional.
  • Question your transitions. // Sometimes we find ourselves wondering if it’s time for us to transition. For Stephen, a red flag is when he wakes up in the morning for more than five consecutive days in a row no longer excited about what he’s doing. When he’s started to do things that would have been previously non-negotiable for him, that’s a sign that he needs to address where he is at this point in his life. He considers these questions: Five years from now what do I really want to be doing? Am I on the pathway to get to that place? What matters most that makes me tick? What are the kind of people I want to be around? What is the kind of culture I want to be around? Where do I want to live? Where do I want my kids to grow up? What fulfills me? What lifestyle elements are making my life enjoyable? If I could do anything without fear of failing, what would it be? When he feels he’s in that season of transition, he goes to that list; a lot of times it talks him out of a change, but other times it talks him into one.
  • The rules of transition. // Once you have decided to take the step into transitioning, remember the rules of transition are that it’s never easy and God is not surprised. When you remember that God is not surprised, you can also remember that He has got you along the way. Every transition needs to be processed, so give yourself the grace to process it. Be brave, but flexible.

You can reach Stephen at his website www.stephenbrewster.me.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.