Before we look at the specifics of managing chaordic organization, it is important to dig into and understand some important aspects of the churches and unruly organizations. We like to think that if we simply find the right rules or structures or hit upon just the right formula, we will have a church that works. Unfortunately, churches are inherently messy. The share many of traits common to social groups. Now there are many ways of looking at social groups, but one that I particularly like and find very useful is set out below. I believe that understanding these concepts will help as we move into the discussion of managing a chaordic organization.
Arther Koestler coined the term holon. A holon is a system that is a whole in itself as well as a part of a larger system. This has direct applicability to churches. There is a truth that is so basic it will seem childish – but it is a critically important concept to truly internalize and understand.
The individuals in the church are one type of holon and and the church itself is quite another and how these two interact is as the heart of virtually every issue facing any church. Let's explore this difference and its implications.
The human beings in the church could be considered sentient holons. A living being is made of up constituent parts – atoms, molecules, cells, organs and so on. Let’s take a goose for example. If the goose flies away, virtually ever part of the goose moves with it – except perhaps a couple of feathers. The constituent parts of the system do not get a vote in what happens. A sentient holon acts as one unit.
Contrast this with a social holon. Compared to the sentient geese holons, the flock of geese is an very different type of holon. Geese flock together because it serves a purpose. If it didn’t serve a purpose, the organization simply wouldn’t exist. Every goose in the flock knows why it is there and what its role is. It also recognizes its own kind – geese don’t flock with deer. A fancy way to say this is that there is a common “inter-subjective"reality of "goose-ness" that all geese share. However, there are times when, for whatever reason, some geese will drop out of a flock and let the others go on. Each individual holon with thin the group is self-existent, autonomous and, in higher order animals, self-determining. This type of system could be called a “social holon.” Sentient and social holons are found throughout nature. They are built into the fabric of our world and they function in remarkably analogous ways up and down the chain of life.
This brings us to the critical point - every social holon exists as an aggregate of individual holons held together by 1) the internal motivations or drives of the individuals in the group, 2) the gathering of the individuals in a physical environment which will support them as a group, 3) a discernable structure to their relationships, and 4) an “intersubjective” commonality – what could be called a culture. If any one of these pieces goes too badly wrong, the social holon simply ceases to exist. In the animal world, the creation of social holons is largely driven by biology and instinct. In humans, it is driven by biology, instinct and self-reflective consciousness. That self-reflective consciousness means that human beings have the ability to create intentional social holons.
Thus, every human social holon has four critically important aspects.
- The individuals that comprise it.
- The physical resources and characteristics of the collective.
- The structural organization of the gatherine.
- The intersubjective cultural perspective the individuals share.
To map this, it might look like this:
A successful chaordic organization must function well in each of these four quadrants. Functioning well means different things in each quadrant.
For the social holon to survive, enough individuals within the holon must be getting what they need from the group. It is vitally important that leaders understand both the stated and unstated needs that drive the individuals within the group. Almost all groups have both stated shadow reasons that bring people together. For example, a stated reason might be to change the world. A shadow reason might be that people are getting enthused by the drama of the community. Both may be true and that is OK as long as everyone is clear what is going on and dealing with the darker underbelly. Thus, leaders have to ask deep questions that uncover the authentic motivations that people in the community hold in common.
These conversations require a lot of self inquiry and real honesty. It is hard for someone to say about themselves, “You know, I came from an alcoholic family and one of the reasons I am part of this system is because it meets my need for chaos.” Or “I am a fearful person and change terrifies me and I know that the reason I am part of this church is because it is simply set up not to change. I can count on it being stagnate” Doing this shadow work as a church is absolutely essential. When any social organization is stuck in bad patterns, it is almost always these shadow motivations that are to blame. People are getting something out of the stuckness or the social holon would simply fall apart or change.
The great thing about being authentic in this way is that you can identify one or two dominant themes on the shadow side. By identifying them, and giving them a name and voice, you automatically empower yourself to recognize the dynamic at work. More importantly, these shadow sides also contain tremendous constructive energy in groups. They can be turned into positives. For example, if you have a church that seems to thrive on chaos, you can turn that into a postive part of the mission of the church For example, you might officially recognize that part of the purpose of the church is to be enthusiastically engaged it vital change. If you have a church that is fearful of change, you can state that one of your goals will be to make the church a safe, stable place and sanctuary for everyone who enters its doors. Either is a completely valid choice and either is clearly appropriate for that stage in the church’s life because that is the shadow side that it absolutely must deal with to fulfill its purpose for existence. The church that takes either of these roads is making decisions about what kind of a church it will be and the kind of people it will attract. The important thing is to be honest not only with your aspirational goals, but also with the shadow goals. Once you are honest, you can make progress.
Note: Ideally each leader is asking themselves these questions on a personal level. All of us participate for mixed motives and understanding what those motives are will help us engage authentically and mindfully with the community as a whole.
Every church has a physical location, certain resources, and a collection of individuals who are already there. You can point to things in the world and say that these particular people and things are the outward manifestations of the church. It is important to recognize that these physical realities do put real constraints on a church. Indeed, most church leaders are painfully aware of these constraints and often these constraints drive decisions. That does not have to be the case, but it is foolish to ignore them and it will put certain constraints on what the organization can do.
A church is typically comprised of a series of structures. The people in the group are organized in certain ways. There are almost always formal structures (such as governance bodies, committees, task forces, RE classes, and so on). There are also the informal structures which consist of friendships, informal groups and thought leaders. How these work together can have a tremendous impact on whether the church is doing well or not. You might have every official group of the church headed in one direction and one informal group that is working against it and as a result, you have major problems. Understanding these structural issues is essential to managing a chaordic organization. Structures must fit the organization and further, not impede, its purposes.
The church is comprised of principles and values that create the intersubjective shared values. This has to do with the way members treat each other and the norms and rules that govern interaction. Who is included and excluded and what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. Here the question is what is appropriate and inappropriate. Again, there will be express values and shadow values. For example, we might espouse to be a loving community, but the cultural norms tolerate unkind criticism.
Obviously much more could be written about each of these but I believe, we have introduced the concepts sufficiently to move on.
In our next piece, Planning: There's the Hard Way Then There's the Easy Way, we will look at the way chaordic organizations become successfully self-organizing an self-governing.
To start this series at the beginning, go to Bullfrogs In Wheelbarrows.
© 2007. Matthew Wesley. All rights reserved.