By Samuel R. Chand
Have you ever walked into an office and, after only a few casual, brief conversations with people, sensed something was wrong? Many of us have a sixth sense about the atmosphere and relationships on a team, but it’s much easier to take a sniff test in someone else’s church, office, store, team, or home than our own. Amazingly, some of us who are incredibly perceptive about other cultures are clueless about the nature of relationships and attitudes around us each day. To be objective, we need to step back from time to time and take a good, long look in the mirror. We might be surprised at what we see.
Analyzing a team’s culture is a lot like marriage counseling. The way people relate to each other and the way things get done are entrenched patterns that have been in place for years. These patterns frustrate people, but nobody talks about them until someone from the outside addresses the core issues of culture, connection, and communication. I want to invite you and your team to look in the mirror to see the nature of your culture. The categories of “healthy” and “unhealthy” aren’t very helpful because they aren’t specific. To go deeper, we’ll examine seven important factors that shape organizational culture, and for each of these, we’ll identify particular attitudes and behaviors that point cultures along the full range of health: inspiring, accepting, stagnant, discouraging, and toxic. The seven keys of CULTURE are:
People function most effectively if they are given control (or authority) with responsibility. If they are held accountable for a task without having the means to accomplish it, they’ll fail, and they’ll be terribly frustrated.
Contrary to the beliefs of some people, control isn’t a dirty word. Delegating responsibility and maintaining accountability are essential for any organization to be effective. Strong, effective teams have a “Goldilocks approach” to control: not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of checks and balances. The leader gives clear direction, assigns tasks, delegates authority, provides resources, and then has a reasonable reporting procedure so the person can provide updates, coordinate with others, and stay on track until the task is finished. The right control system for a team is like a conveyor belt of ideas and resources. It manages the flow of work—not to slow it down, but to make it flow smoothly and effectively.
Every person on a team needs to have a clear grasp of the vision, his or her role, the gifts and contributions of the team members, and the way the team functions. Each person should be able to clearly articulate each of these vital aspects of the team’s life.
The vision must be both global and specific—too big for anyone to accomplish without the power of God, but with handles on each person’s specific role in fulfilling aspects of the overall vision. It breaks my heart when I talk to a staff member who says glumly, “I’m not really sure what I’m doing here.”
Healthy teams are pipelines of leadership development. They recognize that an organization is only as healthy as the pool of rising leaders, so they actively seek to discover those who show leadership potential, develop resources to equip and inspire leaders, and carefully deploy them in roles that enflame their hearts, challenge them to excel, and propel the organization to new heights.
Mutual trust among team members is the glue that makes everything good possible. Without it, a team quickly disintegrates into a gang of people protecting their turf and forming angry alliances. Trust is important up, down, and across the organizational structure. People need to have confidence that their supervisors mean what they say and say what they mean. When people trust each other, they make a strong connection between the vision, their own roles, the input of others, strategic planning, and the steps of implementation.
Trust grows in an environment that is HOT: honest, open, and transparent. People aren’t expected to be perfect, but they are expected to own their failures as well as their successes. Confession, contrary to popular opinion, is good both for the soul and for the person’s reputation.
Corporate courage is an incredibly appealing but slippery trait. Healthy teams foster the perspective that failure isn’t a tragedy and conflict isn’t the end of the world. Great leaders welcome dissenting opinions, as long as they are offered in good will and with an eye toward a solution. These teams are willing to take great risks and even to fail miserably because they’ve gotten over the notion that failure is a personal flaw. They believe that God is worthy of noble efforts, and they trust that God smiles on them as they attempt great things for him. When they look at one another, they don’t see competitors; they see friends who have their backs as they take big risks. Courage, support, and innovation go hand in hand in inspiring cultures.
Teams with healthy cultures are alert to open doors and ones that are closing. An individual may not notice a particular threat or opportunity, but someone else on the team will. These teams develop the productive habit of keeping their eyes open so that they can handle every situation: on the team, in individuals’ lives, in the church family, and in the community.
To be sure that follow-through becomes the norm, leaders need to define goals very clearly. Decisions should be articulated with precision, including who, what, why, when, where, and how. Obviously, some decisions require more thought and precision than others, but many teams err on the side of fogginess, and the team suffers. Clear delegation is essential to execution.
Cultural transformation may begin when an individual has a fresh insight about the need to work together more effectively, but sooner or later, everyone on the team has to get involved in the process. Some jump on the wagon with enthusiasm; others are brought along more reluctantly—but everyone on the team has to become a willing partner in the venture. When people bring their best to the team, amazing things can happen. As the Japanese proverb says, “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
This article is adapted from Chapter 3 of Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code by Samuel R. Chand.
Dr. Sam Chand is a former Pastor, college President, Chancellor and now serves as President Emeritus of Beulah Heights University.
In this season of his life, Dr. Sam Chand does one thing–Leadership. His singular vision for his life is to Help Others Succeed.
Learn more at samchand.com.