Organisational life stages and organisational health

By Neil Hart

Healthy organisations don’t ‘just happen’. To become a healthy organisation takes introspection, humility, honesty, and courage to confront hard questions, among many other things. The road to organisational health isn’t always easy, but it is worth the journey.

With this in mind, Mergon has developed an Organisational Self-Perception (OSP) Scan to help NPOs and ministry leaders understand and grow their own organisational health. As mentioned in our previous articles on organisational health, it is a practical tool to help identify and define the key dimensions to any healthy organisation. From the perspective of the 11 dimensions, our hope is that management teams and leaders will understand how to lead their organisations forward, building capacity to create resilient organisations with greater impact. 

Organisational life stages

Organisations go through various ‘life stages’ and one helpful tip for any leadership team is to ask yourself the question: ‘where are we on our organisational journey?’ Though it sounds simple, it is a crucial question.

Below are three ‘archetypes’ that may help you to understand the life stage your organisation is in. This perspective is particularly useful as it gives greater clarity on the types of challenges, focus areas and energy levels you may experience while in this particular stage. We call these:

1. The People Practice Archetype

2. The Thinking Practice Archetype 

3. The Governance Practice Archetype

Each ‘archetype’ encompasses three or more of the 11 dimensions we looked at in our previous article, which you can refer to here.

1. People Practice Archetype

Dimensional strengths: Leadership / Mission / Talent / Culture

An organisation that scores highest in the People Practices Archetype is generally led with clarity towards the vision and has mobilised team members energetically on mission. These are often founder-led organisations where the passion burns bright and volunteers are inspired to give their time towards the mission. Oftentimes, systems and processes are not well defined and can result in some organisational chaos or governance exposure, but no-one is concerned about that – the work is too exciting and motivating to slow down!

People Practice organisations know how to live on a shoestring budget, immersed in the miraculous. The culture is sacrificial and marked by inspiring stories to share. Growth comes naturally in this life stage but sustainable, scalable momentum cannot be built on sentiment. The key question for these organisations to consider is: How do we set proper organisational foundations to enable continued missional growth? 

2. Thinking Practice Archetype

Dimensional strengths: Strategy / Brand Communication / Funding / Systems, Processes and Technology

A Thinking Practice organisation is a maturing organisation. It has taken time to reflect on its successes and failures and has a more clearly defined strategic vision. The leadership team has found its groove and knows what they are managing. Chances are the values of the organisation are defined and documented and new staff are recruited based on this. There is a clearer brand positioning and this communicates with greater coherence to the outside world. Funding is no longer ad hoc and hopeful, it is purposeful. Some funding streams are becoming steady inputs into the organisational flow. 

Thinking Practice organisations may feel good about themselves and can begin to dream about more expansive challenges, but dynamic leadership and governance elements are still important factors for smart scalability. The two key questions for these organisations to consider are: how do we avoid plateauing, and are we raising enough leaders for the next leg of the journey?

3. Governance Practice Archetype

Dimensional strengths: Financial Best Practices / Board Governance / Impact Evaluation

A Governance Practice organisation has transcended the chaos of early stage growth, happy to put it behind them. Their leadership has allowed individuals the space to manage their domains through good systems and processes. Finances are well audited, and the board and management teams are kept informed with regular communication. The board carry their mandate well and walk closely with the CEO but may, at times, lead too strongly. This could result in a leadership team that feels it necessary to justify their performance through numbers and statistics. Governance Practice organisations may be efficiently managed but may have a downward trajectory in passion for vision and mission. The key question for these organisations is: how do we inject fresh, Godly vision and passion into the lifeblood of leadership and culture?

It is rare for any organisation to function perfectly in all 11 dimensions of organisation health. Wise leadership is required to prioritise and manage these dimensions to progress through the various life stages for organisations.

Organisations are like individuals, they grow, mature and grow old. To keep an organisation nimble and responsive to the mission, leaders must remain one step ahead – strategically thinking and pro-actively leading the team into the next life stage of the journey.

Please refer to our previous articles for more information on this topic:

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