We’re familiar with the practice of creating a mission statement for our businesses, ministries and churches. I’ve been part of shaping a number of them. The Leadership Institute recently worked through our own mission, vision, strategy and legacy statement. But in our work with ministries and churches, we’re seeing a practical difference between a stated mission statement and a functional mission statement.
For example, a church may declare that it is a church that prays. It may also have a board member who says, “We just don’t have time in this board meeting to spend praying.” The implication is that matters of organizational policy, financial accountability and conflict resolution and other business for which the board is responsible requires little by way of prayer and much more by way of business savvy. What we’ve stated is out of harmony with what we practice.
This is where Edgar Schein’s insights into organizational transformation are so helpful. Paul Jensen has done quite a bit of work with his writings and has developed a presentation for The Journey from these insights. Schein reminds us that the actual culture or “spirit” of an organizational is the unstated beliefs and assumptions that lie hidden from view below the surface of an organization’s social community. A leader’s primary function, in Schein’s view, is to transform the organization’s culture which first requires that the organization be preserved. An organization that is destroyed by leadership action cannot be transformed. And there is a tension between transforming functions and preserving functions.
One implication of Schein’s insight is that organizational culture is transformed more indirectly than directly. This happens through what he calls “embedding mechanisms.” He also talks about reinforcing mechanisms that do not produce change, but can serve to support (or fail to support) new beliefs and assumptions that are being embedded by leaders. How are these new beliefs and assumptions embedded in the cultural values of the organization?
- By what a leader actually models. To what degree does a leader (or leadership team) model trust in God versus trust in personal resources or strategies?
- What a leader gives attention to. Where is their focus? What do they talk about most? Where are the leader’s intentionalities focused?
- What criteria are used in selecting and advancing leaders? (Jesus spends the night in prayer before selecting his Twelve).
- What criteria are used in releasing others from certain tasks or roles? (Not just “firing,” but sabbatical or sick leave).
- How does a leader respond to crisis. How is crisis and the leader’s response expose actual values that may be in conflict with stated values?
- (Added by Paul Jensen) How is the leader telling the group’s story, reminding the community of their roots? Such stories are the lived experience of what its beliefs, assumptions and convictions actually are. God repeatedly invites His people to remember and proclaim the story of His actions on their behalf, as well as how they followed or didn’t follow. This is a way of refreshing the good things that were embedded in the past for the present.
Think about your own influence—family, work, church, ministry. How do you see these six mechanisms at work? Which is a strength for you? Which is a weakness?