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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.

01 Jun '11

Common vocabulary and common culture

One of the questions I enjoy asking staff or leaders of organizations is this: "What is the common vocabulary in your organization that everyone would know." I ask for two reasons. First I want to find out if there is a common vocabulary, and second, if there is, I am curious as to what it is because it tells me a lot about the organization.

In ReachGlobal, such common vocabulary would include: "Whatever it takes," "We measure results," "KRAs and AMPs," "personal retreat day," "autopsy without blame," "develop, empower and release," "intentional living," "the RG Sandbox," "teams," "empowerment," and "leading from the sandbox."

These and other common words and phrases define a common culture that is our unique culture. Because they are well known, they shape the ethos of the organization including its leadership philosophy.

Organizations that do not have a common vocabulary usually do not have a shared culture. This is why good leaders work to communicate key values or commitments with carefully chosen and continuously repeated words or phrases. When we say, "We practice autopsy without blame," we are sending a strong message that when problems happen we will focus on the problem and not the people. That is an organizational value that I will live out but that I also want lived out at all levels of the organization. As it is modeled and communicated the phrase becomes our practice. 


It is an instructive exercise to ask a group of people in an organization what they think the common vocabulary is and what they think it means. In unhealthy organizations that vocabulary will reflect the dysfunctions. In healthy organizations it will reflect the healthy practices. If there is simply a lack of common vocabulary, it is reflective of leaders who have not yet been intentional in creating a common culture. Think about this for your organization.