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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

09 Feb '14

Communicating in a matrix world - it is everyone's responsibility

Posted by T.J. Addington in communication


Communication builds trust and trust minimizes conflict because information is power. The issue of how an organization designs systems where the right information gets to the right people at the right time so that good decisions can be made and everyone know what they need to know is complex. When it comes to information, everyone has an opinion and expectations are hard to meet. Some common complaints I hear are:


We don't get enough information.
We get too much information.
I don't know everything that is happening.
You did not solicit my opinion or input before you made the organizational decision.
My leaders don't tell me what is going on at their level.
Leaders can cascade information down through the organization but how do I send information back up to them?

There are some principles that if understood and practiced would help address these and similar concerns.

In today's flat world, communications is from the top down, the bottom up and horizontal all at once.

While there must be intentional organizational communication, the day of leaders simply telling the organization what it needs to know is long gone. I receive up to 100 emails per day, from people throughout our organization, from national ministry partners, from donors and pastors on any number of issues. And, I reply to every one of them or I ensure that the one who can address the issue they have raised replies to them.

One of the great blessings of our day is the access to information from many sources and the ability for most to quickly communicate throughout the organization to share insights, express opinions, offer solutions or share challenges. This works both ways. In the traditional top-down organizational structure, employees knew primarily what their leaders wanted to tell them. And, leaders knew primarily what their reports chose to pass back to them. No longer: I can solicit or receive unsolicited information from anywhere in the organization and so can anyone else in the organization.

In today's flat world, it is the responsibility of every team member to share information that needs to be shared with whom it needs to be shared and to solicit needed information in order to make healthy decisions.

Here is a paradigm shift. In the old paradigm, it was primarily the job of leaders to communicate pertinent information throughout the organization. In the flat world, it is the job of everyone to share relevant information that they possess to those who need to know it regardless of where they fit in the organization.

And, it is the responsibility of each of us to solicit information we need (if we don't have it) from those who do have it to make the best-possible decisions. Rather than allowing a culture of blame to exist (you didn't tell me), we need to create cultures of proactive communication in which people at all levels of the organization are responsible to others at all levels of the organization. This is empowering for those who practice it because anyone, at any level of the organization has the ability to influence the direction of the organization if they are willing to share what they know or solicit information they need to have to do their job well.

Flat organizations that are intentionally healthy create an egalitarian communications culture where everyone has the responsibility and freedom to communicate with those who need information they have and to solicit information they need. At the same time they retain organizational structure and accountability and the support for decisions by the right people at the right level of the organization. The central theme here is that every one of us has responsibility to communicate relevant information, not just some of us.

Not everyone needs to know everything

Small organizations are like families. In families, everyone kind of knows what everyone is kind of doing. It happens naturally through family relationships, shared meals and relational proximity. As organizations grow, this changes because of the complexities of ministries, relationships, the number of personnel and the need for everyone to focus on their particular areas of responsibility.

For those who were in the organization when it was small, this is a tough transition because where they always used to be in the know, they no longer are. This is a painful transition for staff members in growing churches.

Historically, the organization I lead has called itself a family. And, back in the '60s when the denomination was small and the mission family was small, it felt like family. Today, it is not a family but an organization because you cannot be 'family' with 550 personnel scattered across 40 countries of the world (Except by Facebook). Thus, like a church that has grown out of the family state (at about 150 people), we have as well but the expectation is still there by some (who remember the old days) to think we are family.

A family knows what is going on with all its members, a clan does not. When people say to me, "I don't know everything that is happening anymore," I reply, "neither do I." The truth is that I need to know certain things, but not a lot of things. I expect members of the organization to share significant breakthroughs or issues, and always their concerns. But much of what happens I don't know. I am trusting good people to do the right thing. Anyone who expects to know everything, or even most things in a growing organization, will be disappointed by their unrealistic expectation.

In a flat organization everyone has responsibility for communication:
To communicate concerns to appropriate people.
To communicate with appropriate parties after decisions are made.
To solicit information that is needed for making wise decisions from any level of the organization.
To alert leadership of barriers, concerns and opportunities.
To be as transparent as possible on any issues that are raised.
To recognize that no one will know everything.
To take personal responsibility for getting information they need rather than complaining that they did not get it.