Nasty case of pathological autopoiesis?

Have you got one?!

It’s a posh term but it describes something we see in organisations from businesses to the Church – and it can be fatal! Autopoiesis refers to the ability that organisms have to reproduce themselves. This is a good thing (without it we wouldn’t be here!) – but if it gets out of control (becomes pathological) it can have the paradoxical effect of destroying life. E.g. cancer.

The term has a special meaning in the world of organisations and, posh as it may be, it refers to a phenomenon we see a lot. Organisations start with a clear sense of having a purpose in the world, whether it is to make widgets or end poverty. Over time, however, the organisation takes on a life of its own to the point where it becomes mostly interested in itself. If you’ve ever spent hours on the phone trying to get some sense out of customer service you will have experienced this. The organisation tells us and tells itself it is there to serve the customer but actually it is interested in itself, its systems, its convenience. Its computer says no.  Continue reading

Sustainable change: 10 killer questions

It is hard to create large scale sustainable change in organisations.  You are up against ingrained cultural habits and assumptions, internal political interests and a lot of anxiety – and that’s before you think about the threats and opportunities beyond the organisation itself and the technical challenges involved.  If you are going to do it, you’ve got to give it your best shot.

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My ideal client

Today I accidentally rang my best client at 2.30 in the morning local time.  Oops. The response?  She laughed groggily, I laughed and apologised, said I’d go, but she insisted on spending 20 minutes talking about the issues I’d rung her to discuss.  I do not suggest that I have any expectation that my clients should welcome such calls, but the incident is, nonetheless, revealing.  It made me think about the relationships I aim to build with my clients and the qualities I look for in them. Continue reading

Church: organisation or Body of Christ

In the Church Times last week Martyn Percy criticised the Church’s use of ‘secular models of organisation” under the headline ‘It’s not an organisation, it’s the Body of Christ’. (See: http://goo.gl/EznDGa for the original article – you may need to be a subscriber to read it in full)  Here is my response, which may or may not also appear in the letters column of the Church Times!

The first thing is to say that if the use of organisational thinking indeed results in the intrusion of a rootless commercialism, over-simplification of complex ideas, an instrumental culture of objectives and results or a tendency to bureaucracy then I don’t want it either. I share the concern that there is already too much bureaucracy: this, to me, is an example of how the Church is adept at borrowing the less appropriate and attractive features of the secular world! The Church can feel over-administered and under-powered as a result. This can be remedied partly by a renewal in spiritual practice and in theology – but also by a richer understanding of the learning that is around about organisations. Continue reading

Clergy pay the price for Church uncertainty

“The difficulties facing the Church create heavy daily burdens and dilemmas for those whose task it is to lead the Church.  There is a cost associated with the confusion and uncertainty that exists.  Continue reading

Management speak or theology speak

I don’t know which is worse –

In my experience Church people are suspicious of the language of management and business – and I can see why, even if I think the antipathy is sometimes misplaced.  In recommending ideas and practices that hail, in part, from that quarter, I am far from doing so uncritically.  What worries me more is the extent to which 1. the Church adopts the most bureaucratic practices from the Civil Service and others and 2. uses theological language as a way of avoiding reality…What follows is the first of a series of extracts from my new book, “Creating the Future of the Church”.

“‘Management speak’ is not attractive and it is an easy target for the media and clergy alike.  Continue reading

The Church and (its) wonga

How refreshing it was to see the Church hit the headlines for positive reasons! The Archbishop of Canterbury’s initiative to challenge Wonga and other payday loan companies by using the resources of the Church to support local credit unions and compete them out of existence is bold, imaginative and appealing. It was a shame then when it was revealed the next day that the Church is, if only indirectly, invested in Wonga.

To be fair to Justin Welby he handled the embarrassment this caused very well. And I don’t think the news undermined the power of the original idea. But it does illustrate a couple of significant ways in which the Church neither helps itself nor makes the most of its still considerable resources. Continue reading

Welfare: choices

I signed the petition urging a boycott of the Daily Mail following its decision to use the Philpott child killing case as a stick to beat the welfare system. It is a most unpleasant rag and today’s front page plumbs a new low in its cynical exploitation of the worst instincts of middle England.  The suggestion that the welfare system produces horrible crimes is nasty (and stupid) even by the Mail’s standards. But leaving the Mail and the Philpott case out of it for a moment, why is there such a strong instinct to see the welfare system in such black and white terms, as if all the issues around it are easy? I don’t think they are. Continue reading