Friday 7 August 2009

Taking refuge in Denial

is not what they used to do in ancient Egypt, but characteristic behaviour of organisations confronted with unpalatable feedback about themselves arising from changed conditions over which they have no control. So said Gary Hamel, business guru, at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit today. It’s the same for businesses confused by what others would take for a clear mandate for change they can’t quite bring themslves to handle.

What often happens in Civvy Street is lurching from crisis to crisis, occasionally decapitating the old team — exactly the way nasty autocracies work, with infrequent, total and convulsive decapitations marking catacymic transitions between one unchanging junta and the next, induced by a change of Generalissimo. Surely we can do better than that? Yes we can, he says. For a start we can recognise four phases of denial:
  1. Dismiss the problem — “It can’t be”

  2. Rationalise the problem, projecting it on someone else — “you have the issues, not us...”

  3. Mitigate the problem — try prozac

  4. Confront the problem — hopefully not the other person, but confront myself honestly, recognising that until I change nothing else will.
For organisations wanting to save themselves time on this cycle, he suggested four helpful organisational habits to protect against unreality:
  1. Unflinching honesty.

  2. All our practices are hypotheses open to revision, not absolutes. It’s fine to decide we do need to maintain them, but they still need justifying in contemporary conditions, again and again.

  3. Listen to renegades and dissidents: resource not infliction

  4. Develop new strategic options in as enriched a way as possible all the time, engaging as many people as possible in a meritocratic way in the discussion.


Jane said...

Thanks so much for this post. I've been doing some work over the past two years with the Craighead Institute on understanding organisaitons.

My experience is that the church can be just as bad - and sometimes an awful lot worse - than civvie street on this front.

I am constantly amazed at how resilient people's faith is despite the failings of the churhces as institutions or just simply as organisaitons

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Jane. When I get to blogging other bits of the Leadership Summit, I want to engage with Jim Collins' new small book on how institutions decay and fall, which explores denial as stage 1 of a five stage process.

I wonder if it isn't worse for Churches when we feel somehow entirely different, or entitled, with a special kind of selective sight, a lot of "oughts" and perfectionism, and a bag full of excuses when things don't work out.

Whatever one makes of the Evangelical megaChurch aspect of Willow Creek what they do have is a radical business pragmatism and clarity, along with a commitment to excellence as they see it, which it would be nice to see all round the Church in general.

UKViewer said...

Sure there are problems with Church. But the Church is not a business.

It needs to be businelike in its dealings when issues connected with funding, and dealing with people and places, but the end result is not output or the bottome line for share holders.

As the representative body of Jesus Christ in the world - we need to be dealing with the bigger issues confronting mankind, not least the environment, poverty, famine, persecution, mission.

The output surely is demonstrating the love that God has shown for us in a way that leads others to want to follow, not avoid or denigrate the Church or God. Ths is worth pursuing to excellence.

Internal disputes endanger this output and make us appear to be spiritually and perhaps morally bankrupt and not worthy of consideration or listening to.

Or am I missing something?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Quite agree we are not just a business. The children of this word can sometimes be very much better at doing their business than the children of the age to come.

There's a very interesting monograph by Jim Collins that explores the differences between what he calls the social sector (including charities and churches) and commercial business.

When I was involved very heavily in clergy training a few years ago, some clergy were quite confident, using a particular view of the incarnation, to be wide open to praxis and learning that wasn't Church based. Others really needed things, as it were, to be baptised in ways that related back to Scripture or the core tradition before they could engage with them fruitfully. I think both groups were right, not just from their own points of view, but for protecting important aspects of how we are called to engage with the world.

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