6 Practices Toward a Healthy and Productive Organization

No one wants to be part of a chaotic organization.

Unaddressed organizational problems lead to unhealthy and unproductive reactions. Over time this results in a breakdown of your culture and loss of momentum.

On the other side, however, too many churches suffer unnecessary frustration because they pursue perfection and a kind of “peaceful easy feeling” that will simply never be part of organizational life and ministry. These churches play it safe and therefore lose the edge that stimulates growth, momentum, risk and taking new territory.

Living in the middle tension (between chaos and perfection) is difficult, but it’s a skill that needs to be developed and practiced.

Leading an organization can be exhausting at times. That’s why some leaders play it safe and others just leave.

Modern organizational behavior has been studied for decades. It’s often presented as science with managerial overtones, but for me it’s always been all about people.

Org charts matter and systems are definitely important, but your ability to understand human nature and lead people well always wins out in the end.

Every church has flaws in their structure. Some get stuck in their flaws, others seem to operate well with them, while constantly working on making things better. That’s what this post is about, making your church organization better.

6 Practices toward a healthy and productive organization:

1) Let go of perfection and perpetual peace.

It always helps to talk to leaders of churches your size, larger and much larger. It helps you shape what is normal. I regularly talk with leaders of healthy and growing churches that are much larger than 12Stone and they all have a little chaos. It sounds like this. “Well, this guy reports to two bosses, this person is dotted-lined to three departments, and this guy is paid too much because…” Aha! We’re normal!

Here’s the key, those organizational “flaws” are never presented as an excuse and those church leaders are always working on improvement. They just know what needs to be “fixed” now and what can wait!

2) Fight the extremes.

Because we all dislike organizational chaos, we tend to head toward an extreme due to frustration. One extreme feels like “big brother.” Too many policies, too many rules, too much bureaucracy. The other is “maverick.” Pretty much everyone does what they want, the way they want. Obviously, both those extremes are seriously problematic.

We resist finding a middle ground because we think it’s boring. But the truth is, we resist it because it’s more work. It’s easy to write policies and command people. And it’s easy to do whatever you want. The problem is that neither of these work.

Your “best middle” is where the right balance of organization health is found that produces a healthy environment and productivity. That requires constant attention.

3) Tell the truth about your flaws.

One of the first steps to a healthy and productive organization is to get honest about what’s messed up and broken.

One of the very healthy things about 12Stone is that we quickly admit our flaws and are passionate about making things better. That’s good. We have flaws for sure, but rather than get stuck in sideways negativity, we get honest and focus on solutions. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it takes time, but it does mean we are headed in the right direction.

How about your church? How honest are you about what needs to be improved?

4) Outlaw gossip.

Negative talk in the hallways never helps anything. However, it is human nature to vent frustration. So either you create environments for healthy venting and discussion, or it’s going to happen in the hallways and over lunch in ways that hurt morale and diminish health.

Can you really stop gossip? 100%? No. But you can get close. I can promise you that writing a policy against gossip will do absolutely nothing! That will actually invite your staff to talk about how “dumb” your policies are.

First, the staff (not the senior pastor) and key volunteers must hold each other accountable by calling each other on gossip right when it happens.

Second, create space for conversations to get the tough stuff on the table. Suck it up and embrace the awkward and uncomfortable moments. (Not inappropriate or angry outbursts but honest frustrations that might get a little heated.) That is healthy. You can guide those moments to healthy and productive places.

Without these safe and intentional opportunities to speak the truth in love, the conversations will find unproductive and negative forms of expression.

5) Become a student of human nature.

Slow down enough to pay attention. Each time you observe an unusual or difficult situation, ask yourself, “What made them behave that way?”

Get close. You will never understand human nature from a distance. This is not about clinical trials. These are human beings that hurt, laugh, cry, experience joy, succeed and fail. They want to be loved, needed, included and above all they want to matter.

Ask your team questions. Keep learning.

6) Focus on clear expectations and outcomes rather than being fair.

The church is notorious for attempting to be “fair”, and that kills an organization. Nowhere in scripture do we find stories of good leadership being fair.

God is just, merciful, kind, loving, wise, etc. but not fair. Whether we understand this through a parable like the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15) or salvation itself (Ephesians 2:8-9), or dozens of other places, the point is clear.

This is a difficult principle to put to practice because, in day-to-day practice, we don’t actually seek to be “unfair.” The better path is to focus on super clear expectations and measurable outcomes. These two things, if done well, have a way of solving the fairness issue.

Solutions are gold, execution is platinum, and people matter most.

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