How Handcuffing Your Team Can Increase Productivity

I could tell that my team was drained. We were two weeks into the launch of our brand new campus for Southland Christian Church, this one in Georgetown, KY. The campus staff had been in place for three months, every one of them stepping into to brand new roles with increased responsibilities. As part of a multi-site church, we had tons of central support from within the church organization; nevertheless, the launch phase of a new campus is inherently stressful and chaotic. In addition to recruiting, interviewing, and training leaders, each staff member had to grapple with the logistics of carrying the model and "DNA" of his/her particular ministry area into a facility and environment that they had little control over. (As a "portable church" campus, we load in and load out of an elementary school every single weekend).

The stress and fatigue that comes with setting up and tearing down every environment, every weekend, was impossible to prepare for. Weekend hours are long and tiring, leaving little time and even less energy for family relationships and activities once we get home. We were all fighting to settle into the new rhythms of portable multi-site church, and some on our team were barely keeping their heads above water.

The day after we launched, our team gathered in the office for our weekly campus staff meeting. I knew that they were thrilled and blown away by the success of the first weekend, but the exhaustion on their faces and in their voices was palpable. They had been given incredible tasks, incredible responsibilities, and extremely high expectations...and they were knocking it out of the park! But they were spent. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, and relationally, they were spent. 

As a Campus Pastor, one of my primary responsibilities is to ensure the health and effectiveness of my staff team in carrying out the vision and mission of the church. In terms of effectiveness, they were crushing it; but a season of stress can quickly turn to a pattern of unhealthiness if left unchecked. It was obvious to me at this stage of our launch that productivity, morale, and overall effectiveness - not to mention relationships at church and at home - would soon begin to suffer.

The following Monday, the day after our second weekend as an official campus, I cancelled our staff meeting and abducted my team. Literally, I blindfolded them and handcuffed them to a metal bed frame in a dark room.  

In lieu of "business as usual" where we would debrief about the weekend and discuss necessary adjustments and priorities for the coming week, we went out to play. We spent the morning at Breakout Lexington, pretending to be kidnapped by a psychopath. We solved puzzles, we followed clues hidden in jars of (fake) severed fingers, we learned Morse code and tapped messages on the wall in hopes that someone would hear us, we laughed a ton...and we didn't talk about volunteer recruitment or portable church logistics a single time. Following our escape, which we proudly managed with more than 16 minutes left on the clock, we took a long lunch together where we ate too well and laughed too much. 

It would have been really easy to stay focused on our responsibilities that morning. After all, we were a fledgling campus, just two-weeks-old, with lots of needs to address. And, of course, it's not always possible or prudent to take an entire team away for food and fun; and we certainly never want to detract from hard-work, perseverance, and stewardship of resources. But if, as Bill Hybels so often says, everything rises and falls on leadership, then the health of our leaders needs to be a top priority. In this instance, in this season, handcuffing my team for a couple hours was probably the healthiest thing I could have done, and it has already proven to pay dividends over the long-haul.

Leaders, make sure you invest in the overall health of your teams. Play a breakout game, ride go-karts, eat good food, watch a funny movie, something to let your team be a team.


Dan is a pastor, writer, and speaker. He is the host of the Ordinary Faith Podcast and currently serves as a Campus Pastor for Southland Christian Church in Georgetown, KY.