Showing posts with label organisation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organisation. Show all posts

21 August 2011

THOUGHT - The church is an army

The church is sometimes likened to an army. Armies require leaders, but they also require initiative from the troops.

Second World War German infantryWhen Germany decided to invade France during the Second World War, their mechanised forces and mobile infantry swept across the border and cleared major obstacles like the River Meuse very quickly. The French (and to some degree the British too) responded sluggishly and without flair. Because of this they lost the battle and northern France was quickly occupied.

The underlying reasons are interesting. They are relevant to church life, we can learn something useful from military history.

Organising an army - I've been reading 'The Battle of Britain' by James Holland. He explains that the French system didn't train the troops to use initiative. They were merely expected to obey orders. A plan would be created for the coming battle and orders were passed down the hierarchy. Everyone had detailed instructions to follow.

In contrast the German army gave people objectives and expected them to use whatever method they wished. A small group of infantry might be told to take out a bunker and would decide for themselves how to go about this task using whatever resources were available.

Both methods work well if everything goes to plan. But in battle things rarely go to plan! When it's necessary to respond to a changing situation the German approach works far better than the French system.

Organising the church - In the church, we should expect Jesus to guide us and provide us with objectives. But we should also understand that he expects us to use our initiative. He doesn't want to micromanage us, rather he wants us to become familiar with some guiding principles and use them to achieve the objectives he gives us. The guiding principles include such things as love, gentleness, grace, humility and patience. The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) will show us what needs to be done as and when we need to know. Sometimes his guidance will be very specific, but often he will expect us to achieve an end without giving us the specifics. He uses the two together as required.

For example, 'Make disciples', is a command but we have to work out how to achieve it. Sometimes he might tell us to speak to a particular person or share a particular story or do something practical or pray for healing. But in general we know we need to patiently love and pray people into the Kingdom.

How does this work out in your own experience?

27 September 2010

Can decentralised control work?

Most businesses and other large organisations (government, church, military, education, medical) are based on a hierarchical command and control structure of some kind. In government, even though leaders may be selected democratically, during their term of office they work as a hierarchical structure with a prime minister or president granted overall authority.

A temperate forestIs the hierarchical model appropriate for all projects and organisations? Are there workable alternatives?

One alternative that has been demonstrated to work (and work well) is an organic approach. This is based on the way living organisms grow, flourish, and reproduce. It also depends on grasping the nettle of death and decay - this is an essential part of the process, anything that is no longer working must be discarded and recycled.

Take the growth of a forest as an example. A tree starts its life from a small seed and it has a pattern of growth, maturity, seed release, and death. The forest consists of many trees of a variety of kinds along with other plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. All of these follow their own particular patterns of growth and reproduction and together they form an interacting ecological web that maintains itself rather well. Not only that, species will move in or decrease as climatic and other conditions change. And over periods of tens of thousands of years and upwards the species that make up the forest may evolve and fill new or unused niches that become available. Not only is the forest self-maintaining, it's also self-adapting in the long term.

Can organisations be maintained and adapted in the same way? Yes they can.

Let's take the computer operating system Ubuntu as an example. Most of us think of Microsoft Windows when we think of an operating system, or perhaps Apple's OS X. But there are many others. One of these is Linux, and Ubuntu is just one flavour of Linux.

A recent TechRadar article outlines how Ubuntu is built and managed. The Ubuntu website is the public face of the organisation where you can download your own copy (free of charge) or learn much more about what the system offers.

Compare and contrast this approach with Microsoft's proprietary and traditional business model for Windows.

The organic approach is as old as the universe itself. It works. If it didn't, we wouldn't be here.

I began by listing various kinds of organisation - business, government, church, military, education, medical. It would be easy to extend the list. The table below provides some examples of each along with generalised properties of such organisations. In practice, of course, extreme examples are rare, normally organisations fall somewhere in the continuum between hierarchical and organic and this is certainly true for the examples below. Even the most structured organisation allows (even demands) a degree of original thinking and initiative from staff; even the most organic and democratic organisation has basic rules governing behaviour.



Hierarchical

Organic

Business

Microsoft
Shell
Tesco
Unilever

Traditional high street
Village fair
Sole traders

Government  

Absolute monarchy
Dictatorship

Anarchy
Liberal democracy

Church

Orthodox
Roman Catholic

House church
Simple church

Military

Regular army

Al Qaeda

Education

University
School

Life experience
Parent/child interaction

Medical

Government service  

Private care

Properties

Command based
Controlling
Formal
Obey
Leader decides
Top down structure

Do your best
Freeing
Individual decides
Informal
Organic

So always remember that there is not just one way of doing things. There are two extremes with a whole range of possibilities between them. If you are creating or running any kind of organisation or activity, be open minded and choose the approach that will best suit your objectives.

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