Living Local This Week:
Organizational theory and leadership literature has been attending to a unique shift in organizational change for over a decade now, if not longer. In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block notes that organizations need to consider the way they structure their life as a human community. Most organizations, including churches, are conditioned for top-down, task-oriented, problem-solving, needs-based functioning. As a central way of organizing, however, it perpetuates the very maintenance model most churches long to avoid.
While these functions have a role, according to Block, they do not attend to the deeper reality that binds organizations as human communities of belonging. A social structure that is more aligned to human interactions, and ways of belonging and becoming, will necessarily be an unfolding process of learning, and re-learning.
Here are some quotes from Block’s chapter on “Transforming Community”. Consider convening a conversation with your leadership teams with a view to similarities and differences from the congregation’s current organizational structure.
“Creating a future is different from defining a future. If our goal is to build social capital and to change the way that citizens are engaged with each other, then we have to shift our thinking about the roles that traditional strategy and problem-solving take. The essence of classic problem-solving is the belief that the way to make a difference in the world is to define problems and needs and then recommend actions to solve those needs. We are all problem solvers, action oriented, and results minded. It is illegal in this culture to leave a meeting without a to-do-list. We want measureable outcomes and we want them now. And this all has such face validity that it seems foolish to argue in any way against it.”
“This way of thinking does indeed work for many things, especially for the material world. It does not work well with human systems or when the desire to create something out of nothing. In fact, it is this very mindset, one based on clear definition, prediction, and measurement, that prevents anything fundamental from changing. We still believe that in building a community, we are in effect building and operating a clock. Once again, problem solving makes things better, but it cannot change the nature of things. This insight is at the center of all thinking about complex adaptive systems, emergent design, and the organic and self-regulating nature of the universe.”
“Transformation is about altering the nature of our relatedness and changing the nature of our conversation, as in community-building effort initiated by local leaders. The problem-solving mindset treats relatedness and language as means rather than the end itself. Therefore, it instrumentalizes relatedness and conversation, keeping problem solving the point. What creates an alternative future is acting on the belief that context, relatedness, and language are the point, and that traditional problem-solving needs to be subordinated and postponed until context, relatedness, and language have shifted. In this thinking, problem solving becomes a means, and not an end in itself.”
“Of course, just coming together has to provide some movement toward the future. Every time we meet, we want to feel that we have moved the action forward. The question is, what counts as action? Traditionally, we want a strategy, and a list of next steps and milestones, and the knowledge of who will be responsible for them in order to be satisfied that we have spent our time well when we are together. Any change in the world will, in fact, need this kind of action. To say, however, that this is all that counts as action is too narrow.”
“If we are to value building social fabric and belonging as much as budgets, timetables, and bricks and mortar, we need to consider action in a broader way. For example:
• Would a meeting be worthwhile if we simply strengthened our relationships?
• Would a meeting be worthwhile if we learned something of value?
• Suppose in a meeting we simply stated our requests of each other and what we were willing to offer each other. Would that justify our time together?
For more reading check out these two chapters from Peter Block-Community: The Structure of Belonging.