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August 27, 2016

Creating a Healthy Organizational Culture

By Shelley G. Trebesch

“Organizational culture powerfully determines the success or failure of a vision, the flourishing or demise of the human spirit.” [1]

As part of a coaching process with Charlie, a pastor of a large church in the southern United States, I asked her to keep track of how she spent all of her waking hours. [2]

To write down how she spent every 30 minutes of her day for seven days. Daunted at first, Charlie set about this activity, and at the end of the week, we analyzed her results. Our analysis revealed a glaring inconsistency. While Charlie’s espoused values centered in relationship and community, she spent 75% of her time answering emails, updating progress in the church’s project management system and creating media for Sunday services—all solo activities. Charlie’s espoused values didn’t match her lived values. The lack of integrity startled her. Something had to change.

Charlie changed her work rhythms to include others even when she worked on emails. She and the staff created parallel work sessions for what normally would be solo activities. Everyone worked on their individual projects, but they did it together. She also invited new, emerging leaders into the project management process, which gave them time for mentoring. Finally, she and the staff increased the hours they met but made them more strategic, using Pat Lencioni’s model in Death By Meeting. The above changes increased Charlie’s relational and communal time, demonstrating her espoused and lived values.

“Organizational cultures are created by leaders…” [3] What leaders model, teach, pay attention to, measure and reward create culture. [4] Reflecting on your church context and your leadership, what do you model, teach, pay attention to and measure? A “time audit” similar to Charlie’s can help you assess if you’re forming the culture you intend and whether it matches your espoused values. For those of you forming new churches, remember, EVERYTHING you do creates culture! And culture lasts! It becomes deeply rooted into the warp and woof of church life for decades to come. Therefore, be intentional about the culture you all form. Here’s an idea and some questions to consider:

  1. Conduct a seven-day time audit for a normal week. Write down what you do every half hour. At the end of the week, create specific categories for the way you spent your time—exercise, emails, social media, TV, video games, prayer, Bible reading, preparation, meetings (what type?), commuting, hygiene, household chores, meals, time with the family (doing what?), sleep, etc. Leaving out sleep time, assign percentages to your categories. Drawing a pie chart may provide a helpful visual.
  2. Focusing on the percentages and categories, what do you observe? Does anything surprise you? Does the way you spend your time match your values? The values of the church? What are you modeling? Anything you want to change?

In the next blog post, we’ll explore Jesus’ counter culture, which led to flourishing for those he encountered. Ultimately, we want those who encounter our churches to experience the same freedom and engagement.

Make sure to watch the NewChurches.com Q&A Webinar with Shelley Trebesch.  This webinar is part of Plus Membership, so to get access to it, and much more, I encourage you to become a Plus Member.  Click here to see all the benefits of becoming a Plus Member.

[1] Shelley Trebesch, Made to Flourish: Beyond Quick Fixes to A Thriving Organization (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 158

[2] Shelley Trebesch, This story is told in Made to Flourish, 111-112.

[3] Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985), 2.

[4] Ibid., 224-225.


Shelley G. Trebesch

Shelley G. Trebesch (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) has served as vice president for capacity development for Prison Fellowship International, as well as assistant professor of leadership and organization development at Fuller Theological Seminary and in Singapore as global director for Membership Development for OMF International. An active consultant, trainer and seminar leader, Trebesch has facilitated complex change processes and developed leadership curricula for churches and organizations around the world.


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