• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Are We Fluid Enough?

Many of you were praying for us as global leaders as we met two weeks ago.  The main theme of our time together was to review and evaluate our Area project plans for the coming years.  Through small group interaction, we asked the hard questions of each plan as to how it aligned with the larger WT global vision and how it interacted with the guiding principles we drew from the studies on global trends.  Each leader gave critical recommendations to other leaders as to how to improve their plan.  Outside evaluators (from outside of WT) were also given opportunity to give input and recommendations for changes and improvement.

All this was good and your prayers were greatly appreciated.  However, the speed of change in our world is making each of us realize that we as an agency need to be more and more “fluid” in our planning, quicker to respond to new ministry opportunities that present themselves.  One contributor put it this way:

“In a rapid-response world you cannot make a strategic decision and expect it to meet WT’s needs for years (sometimes even for months). Today you need faster – indeed continuous – processes for being proactively responsive in your strategic decision-making in the constantly changing contexts.  That is the flaw in the current state of the art: traditional strategic plans, once complete, are not fluid and organic but static –and they quickly grow stale.  I believe that we need a new paradigm of strategy formation.  The rapid response world in which we live requires organizations like WT to identify, understand, and act upon new information and dynamically changing situations in real time, which means now, not five or six months from now.  Making this shift in thinking will not be easy; it is not easy to break out of the three years planning cycle pattern.   Long-term plans often get in the way of being truly strategic in real time.”

The reason this quote stood out for me was because it was written by a member of our WT community, and one of the senior members of our WT community.  This writer puts it so well in calling us to a more “fluid” approach to planning, while at the same time reminding us that our fluidity needs to result in concrete, specific steps that move us to a proactive response to ministry opportunity.

Much fruit has been borne through the work and ministry of the World Team community over the years, but if we want to remain ‘strategic’ in the future, we are going to need a lot of grace and a willingness to act now.

4 Responses

  1. “Fluidity” can be an abstract concept; hard to grasp as a metaphor and difficult to define without context.

    Recently, I watched the film, Money Ball. It’s an excellent case study of organizational adaption to changing environment and circumstance. It also highlights the importance of the corporate character necessary to adapt. Flexibility, humility, teachable spirit, interdependence, teamwork – all of these corporate character traits are important.

    “The more dynamic the environment, the more fluid the organization has to be.” But fluidity must be organized. Right? Fluid organization sounds almost oxymoronic.

    “Fluidity tends to underrate what it means to be organized and to act in or as organizations.”

    “If taken to its final conclusion, then the idea of promoting organizational fluidity would imply losing the very essence of organizing. Nevertheless, achieving organizational flexibility remains imperative in increasingly complex and volatile environments.”

    These quotes were taken from an article offered to me on a visit to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary I was able to read on the plane traveling home: “Organizing for Fluidity? Dilemmas of New Organizational Forms” by Georg Schreyögg and Jörg Sydow is concise and helpful. (Here’s a pdf from Organization Science: http://orgsci.journal.informs.org/content/21/6/1251.full.pdf.) The entry’s references alone are helpful. The article is rich in illustrative definitions and provides a concise anthology of the development of the fluidity concept and the tensions inherent to it. The authors stress the “necessity of patterned learning, organizational memory, selective boundary building, and identity constitution” when implementing fluid patterns.

    Since “the logic of organizations (or hierarchies) and the ideal of organizational fluidity obviously do not mix” they explore two inclusive alternatives: providing organizational ambidexterity or balancing countervailing processes. They sound complex, but are really very simple when explained.

    Definitively: “Organizations are not relentlessly changing systems; they have the option of adaptation (learning) or nonadaptation (non learning).” The article understands the ambidextrous organization “as containing two separate countervailing processes that are to be performed simultaneously” – linear/hierarchical/historic and non-linear/progressive/responsive. But the authors aren’t convinced that’s enough. Instead, they “think that the focus should shift from an emphasis on fluidity, virtuality, and complete adaptability to a concern for countervailing processes and the mastering of contradictory or even paradoxical requirements in organizations and networks.” Knowing what we’re up against and using what we’ve got. Learning and non-learning. Linear and non-linear. Retaining structure/identity without losing relevance/impact and becoming obsolete.

    Best analogy: ocean navigation. Weather can be progressive if it gets us where we want to go. But storms and currents mustn’t chart course. We shouldn’t become fluid because we find ourselves swimming in it. Thinking of our organization in right and left brain capacities that are mutually dependent might be helpful. The human body is organized this way. History (due course/memory) in conversation with the present (challenges/reflexes) moving cooperatively into the future might provide direction in the midst of change.

    An analogous organizational dynamic can be found in Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…”

    I will continue to pray for leadership. Thanks for the window in to what’s being discussed!

    • Most concepts, when you first begin to explain them, are difficult to grasp. Which is why this kind of discussion is so helpful in the process. When I say, “fluidity”, I am thinking not so much of organizational science but of planning and responding. Often our plans are static and somewhat unchangeable. Fluidity in the planning process allows us to ask questions of our plan, and perhaps readjust according to new opportunities that present themselves to us. To use your ocean example, sometimes the “storm” makes you go in a different direction than was planned. We need to be willing to prayerfully respond more quickly to opportunities that may not be on our first set of plans.

  2. Quick reflexes, then? Able to stick and move/stick and move… flexible plans. I think I get it. What’s keeping World Team from being more fluid as an organization in its response to opportunities? Don’t strategic plans have everything to do with structural dynamics? What opportunities pass us by because we aren’t nimble enough to capitalize on them? Any examples?

    • Excellent questions. What often holds us back is structure and attitude. Structure can cause the process to slow down so much that we miss the opportunity before us. Attitude can diminish enthusiasm to try something new because “we have always worked in this way.” However, ‘nimbleness’ does not mean that we have no structure. Being able to ‘respond quicker’ does not mean that we do not listen to the wise and experienced counsel of others. The WT Global Alliance and our fluid planning are two small attempts to help us move ‘more quickly’ in response to new opportunities to build communities.

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