From Maintenance to Mission

I took a course once called ‘From Maintenance to Mission’. It was about how to move an organisation out of a maintenance mentality into new focus on mission.\r\n\r\nThat particular course was about churches, but looking around the businesses I see and work with it could have applied easily to almost any organisation. For some reason the complicated network of relationships both within organisations and between organisations and their contexts seem to bring a paralysis in innovative action and an uneven distribution of power.\r\n\r\nThere are some obvious reasons behind this but for now the question is, how do we move our organisations from Maintenance to Mission?\r\n\r\nHere’s one thought:  become Innovative Learners\r\n\r\nWarren Bennis suggests that the way organisations learn is essential to the way they behave. He distinguishes between Maintenance Learning and Innovative Learning.\r\n\r\nMaintenance learning is a necessary but insufficient (and institutionalized) way of  ‘…comparing current performance only with past performance, not with what might have been or what is yet to be.’  And so corrective action in organisations is usually designed to deal with perceived weaknesses and failures, and not to build on strengths. The learning is limited to what is necessary to maintain the existing organisation.\r\n\r\nI know many churches like this.\r\n\r\nInnovative learning is also necessary but difficult and hardly ever found. Innovative learning is the means by which an organisation can prepare for the future, working in anticipation of uncertainties that lie ahead. Bennis puts it this way: ‘Innovative learning deals with emerging issues – issues that may be unique, so that there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error; issues for which solutions are not known; and issues whose very formulation may be a matter for controversy and doubt .\r\n\r\nI know few churches like this.\r\n\r\nInnovative Learning was a phase coined in the study ‘No Limits to Learning’, sponsored by the Club of Rome. Bennis quotes:\r\n\r\n

“…for long-term survival, particularly in times of turbulence, change or discontinuity, another type of learning is even more essential [than maintenance Learning]. it is the type of learning that can bring change, renewal, restructuring, and problem formulation  – and which we have called Innovative Learning.”

For my part, I’m restless when I’m not fully engaged in some aspect of Innovative Learning, but I am aware that it can tire people out.\r\n\r\nMy answer to this? \r\n\r\nBe careful to make the distinction between the Organisation and the Community it frames, and commit deeply to the Community when innovating in the Organisation.\r\n\r\n‘Good leaders make people feel they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.’ Warren Bennis.

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