The Corrosive Mindset Of Organizational Dysfunction

The loyalty and dedication of those that work inside a ministry is unlike most not-for-profits or businesses. They often work long hours and for little money and often work inside even the most dysfunctional organizations, because the eternal reward is their real payoff.

Most ministries begin on shoestring budgets, understaffed with everyone doing a little bit of everything. From these experiences, founders and long-time leaders learn that to survive in ministry, they must manage every decision. As the ministry grows and staff is added, a culture evolves about how decisions are made, by whom, and how that information is to be shared. Older ministries are unique in that, like an old married couple, team members can finish one another’s sentences and everyone knows who and when to trust about what.

However, the benefits and optimism that comes out of this camaraderie often carries an unhealthy mindset that can be hard to overcome. Like rust that has set into a bolt and nut over time, the longer a mindset is left unaddressed the more difficult it is to change.

Expectations become culturally engrained where new-hires can end up feeling frustrated and discouraged as they are constantly made aware of the myriad of unpublished social mores that they have violated. Resentment and bitterness can grow from among the veterans who interpret a new employee’s ignorance of the “way things are done” as disrespectful; demonstrating a lack of loyalty and commitment to the ministry. After all, the veterans can remember that proverbial walk in the snow, uphill, both ways, and a new-hire just cannot appreciate the sacrifice that those before them have made to make the ministry what it is today.

This cultural mindset is why a receptionist who has been with the organization since its early days can have more power than a new division president.

Compounding all of these issues are the leaders who have gone from managing out of the ministry’s necessity to micromanaging out of the leader’s need to feel secure, the ever- changing ministry landscape where the things that used to create incredible results now have mediocre impact, the growing list of “competing” ministries, and dwindling donor funding, can exacerbate dysfunction.

When things go wrong, newcomers become easy scapegoats. Even those with the most potential to help the organization are targeted because that have invested far less than others in the organization and relationships from within the organizations are still immature. Agents of change are especially ripe for picking out because their changes are seen as an affront to the culture. Letting them go becomes the most satisfying solution because it involves the least (immediate) pain.

There is certainly no such thing as a perfect organization and where people are involved, dysfunction is guaranteed. Leaders, however, should take steps to open communication channels within their staff so that rust doesn’t set in and corrode a vibrant team.

If you only do what worked in the past, you will wake up one day and find that you’ve been passed by. -Clayton Christensen (from the book, Disruptive Innovation)