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Try doing something newcomment (0)

January 6, 2011

By Jean Roberson

Jane Doe really has her ear!”  “He trusts John Smith’s opinion.”

Have you heard those kinds of statements? I think we all have, and we probably have made them, too.  

Have you ever known a pastor or boss who would take an issue to the appropriate group of people for input — such as deacons or a board — but then would seek out specific people outside that group to discuss it with? Almost as if he or she valued the other people’s input more than the deacons’ or board’s?  

Have you ever had a boss who had the position but did not really have the influence? Have you ever known a young wife who would seek her mother’s advice on an issue that really should be decided with her husband?

The issue we are talking about is the difference between formal and informal structures.  

Everyone has a formal structure. In a church, you have the pastor, the deacons, the committees, the trustees. In a business, you have the president, the vice presidents, the middle managers. In a home, you have a husband, a wife, children. These are all formal structures. These are our roles.

Informal structures are the key relationships that people have. Who really listens to whom? Perhaps that pastor really listens to the Sunday School director. Perhaps the president listens to a long-tenured middle manager. Perhaps that husband really values his son’s opinion. This is how we function informally.

It’s a way of life. So what does it matter?

It matters when we are trying to change something or do something new.

Many times when we are trying to do something new, such as begin a new ministry or make a significant move, we use formal structures to make it happen. If I want to do something new in the music ministry, then I need to first talk to the choir director or music minister. The music minister will talk to the pastor. The pastor may talk to a trustee. And so on.

We follow the chain of command, the formal structure. Sometimes this works. But sometimes our ideas seem to die in the process.  

Most decisions are actually made based on informal structures. It’s the person we really listen to, whose opinion we truly value, who influences us the most. Hence the statements such as, “If you really want the president on board with you, then you need to talk to so-and-so.”

When you are looking to make a change or start something new, stop and consider first who the influencers are.

Talk to them first. Get them on board with you and then begin working through the formal structure. It’s often much more effective and efficient.

A Takeaway Value …
When doing something new, use both informal and formal structures.

EDITOR’S NOTE — Jean Roberson, MSW, LCSW, is a ministry consultant for national Woman’s Missionary Union. She serves as team leader for the adult team and director of Christian Women’s Job Corps/Christian Men’s Job Corps and International Initiatives.

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