In the Christian scriptures, Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth calls all toward greater alignment. He says, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” And Paul goes on to say to the early church, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” The work of development in religious community is long and hard, and it requires a faithful coordination of all the parts, even those which we might find more difficult to engage.
In religious communities and congregations, it can happen that we take organizational alignment for granted. If there’s a clarity of identity, centered on religious belief and commitment, leaders can make the mistake of thinking that people are better aligned with the organization’s mission or purpose than may actually be the case. We can look toward other organizational models for help in seeing what we might be missing.
Business schools and expert consultants have focused on alignment of organizations as a strategy for growth and the achievement of outcomes for a long time. Since the 1970s McKinsey and Company have focused clients on the 7-S model for alignment, with work centered on the elements of structure, strategy, system, shared values, skills, style, and staff. These elements rely on coordination with one another to be effective, and shared values lie at the heart of any organization’s success. McKinsey also refers to these as “superordinate goals,” focused on answering the question of what the organization is trying to achieve. This model can be used to analyze how well-aligned your organization is currently, to identify areas where some elements are out of alignments, and to consider what is needed to better coordinate toward achieving your goals and living out your shared values.
When our congregations or religious communities, made up of individual members, are out of alignment, we are ill equipped as leaders to move toward positive change, growth, or development. The lack of alignments leads to an internal sense of scarcity, as different groups focus on their own priorities, over against a clear mission or sense of shared values. This is when religious education comes into competition with the music program, and committees cut the funds for outreach or mission in favor of preserving a surplus for future facility needs. By failing to identify the coordination of different elements within the organization, the heart of the community is itself sacrificed. This is a circumstance of scarcity, of our own making, and one that we must address in our organizations if we are to become more generous.
Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky remind us of the value of getting “off the dance floor” and “onto the balcony” in their classic Leadership on the Line. When we gain perspective, we can begin to see what patterns emerge in the coordination of different elements in our organization’s life, as well as among the different individuals involved in orchestrating those elements. In a congregation or religious community, alignment and coordination depends not only upon the ability of the senior leaders to see the patterns on the dance floor, but also on their willingness to empower others to see those patterns as well. It is in this way that we move our organizations closer to the ideal of being, as Paul exhorted to the early church, one body of many members, all made one in the Spirit.