Staff Development Cycle

Transforming a team's effectiveness and engagement in mission through three vital conversations.

People are valuable to us and to God, and we desire to be good stewards of both people and our time. The Staff Development Cycle (SDC) helps us do this with focused conversations between team leaders and team members.

The Staff Development Cycle involves each team leader connecting with every team member in three focused conversations—one at the beginning, middle, and end of each year—that include clear mission objectives, development, and feedback.

It takes just a few hours per year to ensure every team member feels valued, has clear direction for their work, and knows where there are opportunities to grow and develop.

Conversation 1

The initial focus conversation answers the headline question of “What are we going to do?”

Conversation 2

The refine conversation is the mid-year “checkpoint” and answers the headline question of “How is it going?”

Conversation 3

The review conversation is the ‘grand finale’ to the year. It answers the headline question of “What has happened?” and lays the groundwork for “Where do we go from here?”


For many years, organizations have tracked employee engagement globally. They find that clear expectations and connection to mission have a profound impact on engagement and efficiency. It is essential that team members get regular feedback on how they are doing, how they can grow and improve, and where their work is contributing to overall goals. The Staff Development Cycle is our key process for meeting this need. 

The Staff Development Cycle resources provide direction and tools to ensure that team leaders have at least three focused conversations with each team member every year to help strengthen team engagement, effectiveness and progress in the mission. 

View the Staff Development Cycle Overview

Further information can be found in this Staff Development Cycle Overview video:


**You can find more resources about the Whys and How-Tos for this excellent process under the Tools tab.


The initial “Focus” conversation (or subsequent [Re]focus conversations in the following years) is the “launch-pad” for the year. It answers the headline question of “What are we going to do?” in terms of the priorities of the team member’s role and development plans.

As you prepare to have this conversation, it’s helpful to use whichever of these you have to establish priorities:

  • Job Description(JD): looking at the purpose of the role, why it exists, and all the elements that are involved in it.
  • Strategic Plan: If your team or ministry has a strategic plan, then the team priorities and plans also have significant impact on a team member’s Position Focus.
  • Personal Development Plan (PDP): If the team member already has a Personal Development Plan, it’s important to review current priorities for development and what progress has been made.

The desired outcome of the [re]focus conversation is to establish an individual’s personal ministry and development plan for the year as a “Position Focus” (Position Focus forms for your team may be available for you online or you can download a form from the ‘Tools’ tab).

As you prepare for a Position Focus conversation, you will want to refer to the Position Focus form. The categories of the Position Focus, the inputs listed above, and the input of the team leader will be vital to establishing annual priorities.

Preparing for the Conversation

Whether the inputs listed above are available or not, you will want to think through the same sort of questions in preparation for a [re]focus discussion. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. What is the job or role?  Why does it exist?
  2. What are the key responsibilities for this role (JD)?
  3. What developmental steps are essential this year (PDP)?
  4. What progress needs to be made according to the team’s ministry plan this year?
  5. What progress needs to be made in the next 6-12 months?
  6. How will you measure progress?  Make sure these are concrete measures (you can find further information on SMART goals here)

Both team leader and team member should think about these ahead of time so you can discuss them in the meeting. 

The Conversation

Before the meeting, the team member should develop a first draft of the Position Focus. The team member fills out the first two sections.

The team leader and the team member then work through the initial draft together, discussing the priorities until you come to an agreement on the Position Focus. It may take more than one draft. Working together provides some rich coaching opportunities!  For further resources on asking good questions visit

Critical Mission Objectives

The Critical Mission Objectives will be drawn from a combination of the team member’s Job Description and the Strategic Plan. If neither of these are available, then they will be the combination of the team priorities and the joint understanding of the team member’s role. The Position Focus does not attempt to list out every aspect of a team member’s role, but rather to highlight the priority areas for annual focus by setting specific goals in mission critical areas.

Many people find setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) the hardest part of this process, but it is essential to do this, as you will find when you are ready to review them!

Personal Development Plan

This section of the Position Focus is not designed to replace a full Personal Development Plan but, like the Mission Objectives, it is a way of highlighting the most important areas for development. Different people take different approaches as to how closely these areas of development are related to the Job Description. That can be decided by you or your wider organization.

Key Developmental Assignments 

Unlike the other Postion Focus sections where both the team leader and the team member bring input, the Key Developmental Assignments (KDAs) are where the team leader takes the initiative to ask the team member to undertake a specific assignment for the sake of ongoing development. 

The assignments become developmental when there is a “stretch” or challenge to the assignment along with feedback and coaching. This is a great opportunity for team leaders to develop others as they accomplish the mission. Here are some questions to consider when thinking about creating a Key Developmental Assignment:

  1. What is the team member’s potential for leadership? 
  2. What experience(s) this year would help the team member develop as a leader?
  3. Which of the four roles of a leader (direction setter, change agent, coach or spokesperson) is a strength? What responsibilities would stretch this person in that strength area?
  4. If the person has the potential to lead a team, what work/projects/team could this person lead this year?
  5. What work on the strategic plan would give this person the opportunity to expand personal and/or leadership capacity?
  6. Who will coach the person in the assignment?
  7. Not everyone requires the same level of support in a developmental assignment. People who are doing things for the first time may need more instruction or clear expectations. When a person has more experience and confidence, coaching is supportive. 
  8. The team member should receive feedback on the developmental assignment throughout the year, especially during the mid-year and end-of-year Position Focus Review conversations. This is what anchors the experience in the mind and heart of the person as developmental.

You can find out more about developing KDAs for team members HERE.


The Refine conversation is the “checkpoint” at the mid-year point. It answers the headline question of “How is it going?” and is an opportunity to reflect on a team member’s progress towards set goals and objectives and see what adjustments need to be made. Although we recommend this happens at the mid-point of the year, it can happen more frequently. You can refine the Position Focus occasionally but frequent completed items may indicate the Position Focus has become too tactical – more of a “to-do list” than a statement of priorities for the next 6-12 months.

In the Refine conversation, the team leader is primarily taking the role of “coach”. There are a number of benefits to the Refine conversation. Here are a few of them:

  • It provides for open communication.
  • Team members are encouraged and motivated by having strengths affirmed, successes celebrated, growth acknowledged and contributions to the ministry appreciated.
  • It helps facilitate the achievement of key ministry objectives.
  • It helps the team member and team leader to identify any difficulties early (unfulfilled responsibilities, lack of motivation/resources/training or an outside factor over which the team member has no control).

Before the Meeting:

The focus of the Refine conversation is to look at what progress has been made regarding ministry priorities and development based on the Position Focus that was established at the beginning of the year. This conversation offers evaluation so there can be celebration and also adjustment where needed. It may not be essential to spend much time preparing for the meeting (particularly if you are regularly aware of progress being made), but it is helpful to review the Position Focus and pray for insight, wisdom, grace, and truth as you meet together.

The team member should complete the “Position Focus: Refine” form (see the Tools tab) ahead of the meeting time.

The Conversation

The Refine conversation will take around 60 minutes, but if you have a relaxed conversation, over a cup of coffee perhaps, it may take a little longer (it’s worth it!). Take time to pray and ask God to bless your time together.

Both team leader and team member should have a copy of the original Position Focus and the “Refine” form.

The primary goal is to hear the team member’s perspective on how things are going. The team leader can ask questions to help unpack the details:

  • What has gone well?
  • What has not gone so well?
  • What are you learning?
  • Where are you stuck?
  • What needs to change?
  • What do you need more of?  Less of?

By the end of the conversation, both team leader and team member agree on what changes need to be made to the Position Focus. In particular, consider:

  • What needs to continue as a priority?
  • What needs to adjust in some way?
  • What needs to be replaced? (because it is completed, no longer relevant, or it has become evident that it is not achievable)

Pray and thank the Lord for the progress. If not completed online, the team member can amend the Position Focus form and send the team leader a copy.

**An additional resource, “Refine and Review Conversation” provides suggestions and a conversation format for conducting Review and Refine conversations. You can find this and other resources under the Tools tab.


The review conversation is the ‘grand finale’ to the year. It answers the headline question of “What has happened?” and lays the groundwork for “Where do we go from here?”. It is a chance to look back and reflect, to celebrate the things that have happened, the goals that have been achieved, and the areas of growth that God has been at work in.

There are many similarities between the core part of the review conversation and the refine conversation(s), in terms of the benefits and approaches, so do look at the refine conversation details again, if it’s been a while since you read through the details, and also the additional resource, “Refine and Review Conversation” (in the tools tab).

Before the Meeting:

The focus of the conversation is to evaluate and celebrate the things that have happened, so unlike the Refine conversation, you should take a good amount of time to think through what you believe about the team members performance and achievements this year, by working through their Position Focus form and the notes from the Refine conversation. Think through each of the elements of the Critical Mission Objectives and the Personal Development Plan priorities and make a mental note of how you would rate their performance on the Position Focus: Review form.

If the team member has a Job Description, you will probably also want to look through this to evaluate how the team member has done in light of their wider team and ministry responsibilities. We have attached some additional questions that you might want to use for “Role Review” in the Tools tab.

As with your previous preparation, continue to pray for insight, wisdom, grace, and truth as you meet with your team members.

It is helpful to have your team members download or share the “Position Focus: Review” form, and ask them to think through their own evaluation of the elements, but not complete the form as you will do that together.

Key Tools

The Review conversation is a longer conversation than the Refine one (around 90 minutes) as there are a couple of different elements that most people find helpful to cover. Both elements are more evaluative than the previous Refine conversation.

Hopefully, you will both have access to the Position Focus (amended since the Refine conversation) and any notes you made for the Review time. 

We have described the two elements of the conversation in this way:


The zoom-in part of the conversation focuses on the elements of the Position Focus – How well have the priorities been achieved? Some people may find the rating system on the Review form uncomfortable: evaluating the team member’s performance as “satisfactory,” “outstanding,” or “needs improvement.” This is not essential (or another rating system may be appropriate), but it is essential for the team member to understand which areas they have done well in and which areas they need to continue to focus on. This will form the basis of the next conversation where you refocus and establish priorities for the coming year. Work through each of the areas of the Position Focus, (you might want to use some of the questions from the Refine discussion), evaluate the performance and then together start to work on the next steps as appropriate. Don’t feel you need to finalize all these. Sometimes further reflection is helpful before it is than finalized in the following Refocus conversation.


The zoom-out part of the conversation puts the priorities of the Position Focus in the context of the team member’s wider role by looking at the individual’s Job Description (if available).  Whether it is formally written out as a Job Description (which we’d certainly recommend!), or whether you and your team member just know the other elements of their role, it’s important to work through the whole role, as well as the areas prioritized in the Position Focus. We have developed some questions that you may want to use to guide this part of the conversation. The Role review questions can be found in the tools tab.


By the end of the conversation, you and the team member should have agreed (or at least understand your points of differing perspective) the level of performance and to have started to make progress on what the next steps may be (to be finalized at the next [re]focus conversation).

There shouldn’t be any surprises for the team member, but it is the leader’s responsibility to complete the Position Focus: Review form.  

There will be a few things you’ll want to do with it:

  • Keep a copy for yourself. You’ll want to continue your thinking and refer back to the form when you have the [re]focus conversation.
  • Give a copy to your team members. It will encourage them in the things they have achieved and hopefully focus them and spur them on in the things God continues to call them to, as well as their own development.
  • Provide a copy to HR. If your ministry or organization has an HR department, it’s helpful to send them a copy of the review form as well. It will help them keep a record of development. Particularly, if the Role Review has uncovered aspirations for future roles, notifying HR and the organization’s leadership will be essential as they plan for the future.

If you are using an online system, such as the Google forms provided, this process is obviously much simpler as they can simply be shared.

We have said that celebration is a key part of this stage. How you go about doing this will vary greatly according to culture, but think through what would be appropriate, either individually or as part of a team get-together.

Continuing the Cycle

The richness of this cycle will really only emerge as you continue to go deeper. You may have found by this stage that the whole process would be even more effective when used together with some other tools and processes. The common ones are:

  • Strategic plan. There may have been some frustrations over expectations in the staff development cycle. This can sometimes be because the team was not clear on the strategic priorities of the ministry or team. This might be an area to re-visit.
  • Job description. When people do have job descriptions, they are often unused and therefore not reflective of the particular role. The process of developing or refining a job description can often seem an administrative burden, but can often solve a multitude of misunderstandings, conflicts, and frustrations before they start.
  • Personal Development Plan & Input. Although the Position Focus identifies a couple of areas for development, many people find gaining others’ input on their development, (using a tool such as a 360-degree feedback questionnaire) and then articulating more fully the plan for development (in a Personal Development Plan) really helpful. These two tools are available in the Forms section. We have suggested that sometime in the middle of the year (around the time of the Refine conversation) might be a good time to do this as well. 



SDC “Apologetics” – The WHYs 

Key Development Assignments

Definition of Terms

Refine and Review Conversations

Team Leader Overview 

Team Member Overview

How to Give and Receive Feedback – 30 Days of Feedback

Using the Forms

Here are forms and resources you can use to record the three conversations of the Staff Development Cycle as well as some great sample questions and a PDP. The resources can be downloaded and adapted to fit your organizational culture. There are also some example forms below.

Position Focus

Position Focus Refine

Position Focus Review

Role Review Questions

Personal Development Plan

Example Forms

Position Focus example

Refine form example

Review form example

Personal Development Plan example

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