Three parts every healthy organization must have

Nov 18, 2021 | 0 comments

Do a quick Internet search for “organizational health” and you’ll discover an abundance of architectural metaphors.

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While there’s nothing wrong with architecture, it’s the wrong metaphor for organizational growth, development, and health. Architecture is too simplistic. Some articles suggest health is as simple as laying the right Lego blocks in the right place. You’re guaranteed organizational success when you do. Follow the formula and solve for X.

Leaders of organizations should rethink this analogy. Healthy organizations are better compared to plants than to buildings.

Organizations are not static. They are alive and growing. Sometimes they grow wild and in the wrong direction. Sometimes they get bigger than they should. Other times, they’re stunted.

Every organization—a sending org, a church, a non-profit, or a business—is a living thing. Organizations are people before architecture.

Think about your organization organically.

At Growability® we teach organizational leadership in a very horticultural way. (We base our entire model on the anatomy of a tree!) Similarly, the very name of Global Trellis is in the plant world. 

Every organizational leader should think about their organization in three parts. You might not have an official leadership title, but for the outreaches, initiatives, and programs you may lead, these three parts still apply to you.

Leadership – Everything below the ground

A healthy oak tree will have a root system that goes as deep as the tree is high. There’s a lot happening under the ground and behind the scenes in a healthy plant. The same is true in an organization. Leadership is about direction and vision. Likewise, leadership involves people and partnerships. Healthy organizational leaders are thinking about all the things that are unseen—but critical. I also like to think of the gardener’s job as another important leadership task. She prunes and looks for both internal and external threats to the health of the tree.

Leadership plays a vital part in every organization. Leaders maintain both the internal and external health and handle:

  • Vision
  • People
  • Direction

Management – External structure, internal systems

One of the significant problems I see with churches and non-profits is leadership having way more vision than the organization’s capacity to administrate. Therefore, every organization—or project—needs great management. A healthy tree has healthy systems. It absorbs nutrients and water from the ground. There’s sap flowing from the roots to the shoots. The leaves transform light to energy. A tree may look stationary, but there’s a lot going on!

Growing organizations need brilliant systems, processes, and teams. Without management’s work, the vision and goals set by leadership are a poster on a wall. Organizational leadership leads by finding the best people for:

  • Systems and processes
  • Team building
  • Measurement

Marketing – All that fruit

Marketing.

We fear that word sometimes. It suggests images of a guy yelling at us from a used car lot, or social media influencers showing us their perfect life in pictures.

Marketing is how you take your story to the public—whether they are customers, donors, beneficiaries, or other stakeholders. It’s the fruit of the tree, providing value and beauty to your people. Writing newsletters, sharing on furlough, posting updates on social media are all marketing. Sales, marketing, and advertising don’t have to be smarmy. Marketing can (and should!) be generous and transformational. Good marketing changes people for good through genuine connection, empathy, and ethical storytelling. So learn to market what you do well!

Organizational leaders direct marketing endeavors through:

  • Sales (fundraising, etc.)
  • Telling your story (brand)
  • Developing organizational culture

Leadership in horticultural terms is simple yet nuanced. Architecture lets you make plans and blueprints that guarantee results if followed. Organizations are people. People don’t work in such predictable ways. While there’s much to say about this (I teach a year-long course on organizational health and leadership), I conclude with these three points to ponder:

1. Every organization needs people with skills, abilities, and strengths to lead in each of these areas (leadership, management, marketing). It’s the leaders’ job to build a dynamic team.

2. Organizations are more than what meets the eye. It’s the leaders’ job to think through every aspect of the organization.

3. As a leader, embrace marketing as a leadership responsibility. Marketing is not a “necessary evil.” It’s a critical part of organizational health.

If you’d like to learn more about growing healthy organizations, be sure to keep following along with this month’s series of articles at Global Trellis

If you haven’t heard of them, you could also consider joining a Growability® Collaborative—12-months of immersive, transformational education in a group setting, learning about every aspect of organizational leadership, management, and marketing.

While organizations—and you!—might like the clarity of an architectural metaphor, often these metaphors simplify the leadership, management, and marketing needs you face on the field. Whether in a time of dormancy or over-growth in your organization, God has invited you to be a part of the harvest, and we want to help you keep growing in your part of the field.


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Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Bernie Anderson

Empowering next-generation leaders, business and non-profit consultant, writer, and speaker.

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