This article by Paul McKaughan raise great questions about how people work together in a healthy way. He talks about the importance purpose, tactics, and culture. However, he states that the health of the corporate culture is the most important consideration. The culture of a group of people will trump the purpose and tactics–no matter how good–every time. And, if the culture is unhealthy, until that is addressed, no amount of energy put into strategies will accomplish long-term, worthwhile results.

He helps explain what purpose, tactics, and culture are with these questions and statements:

Purpose:

  • Where it is going?
  • Who it is serving?
  • Why it is going where it’s going and serve whom it is serving?

Tactics:

  • Day-to-day, week-to-week, season-by-season actions which serve the purpose
  • Are the actions nailed down? (do they know where their energy is going?)
  • Is there alignment? (does all their activity serve the purpose?)

Culture:

  • If the culture (the sum total of those learned or inherited ideas, beliefs and values that are shared by members of a group) is sick, defining purpose and tactics will be wasted energy.

Here is the entirety of the article:

“Turkey Buzzards and Organizational Culture” © 2012, Paul McKaughan | MissioNexus.org

As a child, I would look way up high and for hours watch majestic birds circle and soar effortlessly across the sky. I also remember the first time I saw a large community of turkey buzzards clustered on the fences and barn of an old abandoned farm. How could these regal surfers of the sky be so very ugly? In a Fast Company blog last week I saw the admonition: Don’t Let Culture Vultures Scuttle Your Strategy by Expert Blogger Shawn Parr 02-29-2012.
Culture is one of those mushy words that is difficult to define, but to me, culture is the sum total of those learned or inherited ideas, beliefs and values that are shared by members of a group. A lot of times, though it is necessary for success, organizational culture goes un-acknowledged and unevaluated. Organizationally, culture is like my turkey buzzard. It can soar with unbelievable beauty or just be plain ugly.

Your organizational culture provides the emotional energy that enables your ministry to soar. All organizations need a clear purpose and strategy. It is important for every ministry to know where it is going, who it is serving and why. Further, it is necessary to have its tactics, those day-to-day actions for accomplishing that strategy, aligned and nailed down. However, organizational culture is also a critical element for success. No matter how well-defined, rational and logical your strategy, no matter how carefully aligned you tactics, if your ministry’s culture is sick, the turkey buzzard of culture may soon pick your bones.

Perhaps one of the reasons we don’t evaluate our culture like we should is that with strategy, progress is easily quantifiable, measurable, while culture is more complex and nuanced. The domain of culture has more to do with the group’s emotional life and its motivation. It answers the subjective question, “Is the organizational trip worthwhile? Will the journey be enjoyable, or will it be so painful or distasteful we just don’t want to go?” Our organizational cultures determine to a large degree the staff’s motivation, its emotional energy.

Organizational culture is observable and describable many times through the interaction of its members. I think we can evaluate and judge if one is sick or healthy. Galatians 5:22 describes the fruit of the Spirit. You know the list. They are: love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, self-control. These characteristics energized by faith and Godly obedience are indications of the Sprit’s working. With them in evidence, your people will grow in grace and your ministry culture can soar majestically through the challenges that will come against it. If, on the other hand, the opposite of those characteristics is demonstrated in your staff interactions, you must assume that the culture is sick and the strategy contained in some beautiful document will never become fully realized.

Culture is a living thing. It is never static. It is shaped through daily obedience or disobedience to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and prompting. All those “one anotherings” in St. Paul’s writings should be more and more evidenced among us. We should show growth, not only in the accomplishment of our vision and purpose, but in the behaviors demonstrated in our organizational culture.

One final thought. Sometimes a culture is so sick that only major surgery can save the patient and reverse the pathology. It is dereliction of duty for a leader to accept a sick culture that maims and destroys the people who work in it. No matter how laudable the organizational purpose, a leader must never accept as OK a pathological culture. If you can’t bring about positive change to a sick organizational culture, get out, don’t become complicit with the injury of good people who love Jesus and desire to serve Him. The end never justifies the means.

After all these years, I still am thrilled as I watch those majestic circles in the sky. I still watch in admiration while knowing how ugly these raptors are on the ground. I am even more thrilled to see organizational cultures that nurture people, cultures that soar on the wings of grace as God uses His children to accomplish His mission and fulfill their calling and commission.

Your friend and fellow pilgrim, … Paul

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