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The physics of organisational health


By Neil Hart 

To unpack the topic of organisational health, it is helpful for us to revisit high school physics – specifically the idea that energy is finite in any given system. Likewise, any organisation has a finite amount of energy based on the number of people in that organisation.

A highly energetic culture will draw the most out of the potential of its people. Conversely, an organisation that is not well tuned will absorb energy away from external missions and into the management of the organisation. This is the tragedy of so many well-meaning organisations, ineffective in achieving the important results that they were originally founded for. Instead of seeing big-picture purpose accomplished, they spend most of their time playing management games with limited effect.

Because energy can be changed from one form to another (but it cannot be created or destroyed), good leaders know how to ‘extract’ and then ‘change’ human energy into missional energy. Great leaders will ‘point’ as much of that energy as possible towards accomplishing the mission of the organisation.

At Mergon Foundation we are interested in organisational health. Not as an end in itself, but because it is indicative of how effective or ineffective a ministry or NPO can function. We developed the Organisational Self Perception (OSP) Scan to look at the 11 dimensions of organisational health. Management teams and boards should have a wider perspective of the key management dimensions in their organisations. Surprisingly, most leaders (even good ones) have a view of only a few of these dimensions. CEOs and Board chairs can use the OSP and other tools to assess how much wasted energy goes into running things like systems, reporting or financial sustainability. It can also be used to gauge whether the organisation is running lean internally and missionally-fit. Leaders with this kind of healthy perspective that lead healthy organisations will always see the greatest impact.

As a leader, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Of the total number of staff in your organisation, what percentage of their energy is given directly to the mission?
  • What percentage is directed towards keeping the organisation running?
  • What percentage of your time is given to running the organisation and how much to mission?

Remember that organisations serve purpose and vision. Not the other way around. Loving the organisation will only ever be a shadow of the full colour that is its Godly purpose. Strong organisational culture is a most wonderful thing, but being in love with the organisation can never suffice as a long term incentive for people. Human hearts are tuned towards one great purpose: love. Love produces the best kind of energy. What is that expression of energy pointed towards in your organisation and how can you ensure not a drop of it is wasted?

As mentioned in our introductory post on organisational health, over the coming months we’ll be diving deeper into the topic of organisational health as well as the Organisation Self-Perception (OSP) Scan which we have created as a practical resource tool for all NPO leaders. Our hope is that it will offer an eagle eye’s view of what a healthy organisation looks like as well as enough granular detail to help bring lasting change where change is necessary.

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