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No church or organization ever wandered into a great culture.

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Here’s something unfortunate I’ve noticed through the years as our team has served more than 400 churches: Churches tend to let culture slip as long as people get their job done and don’t mess up morally.

They tend to hold people accountable for performance and character, but not so much for how well they fit the organizational DNA.

One reason for that might be that few churches are actually clear on their organizational DNA.

I’m not talking about “core values.” I’ve written before about how we’ve made a shift from talking about core values to focusing on team behaviors. Ultimately, the culture of your organization is built from the patterns of behavior you champion and tolerate—whether positive or negative.

The good news is, you get to choose your culture. And, if you don’t have the culture you want today, you can absolutely shape the culture your team will have in the future.

As the leader, it’s your responsibility to define the culture you value, model the behaviors that will shape it, and create the right systems for coaching and accountability so the wrong culture isn’t tolerated.

I love this second episode in our series on building healthy and high-performing teams. It’s really practical. Lance Witt, our director of the Unstuck Teams process, joined Amy and me again this week, and I think you’re going get a lot out of it. Here’s where we go in this episode:

  • Why getting clear on your organization’s DNA matters so much… even though it never feels urgent
  • How culture is created and shaped by the behaviors we value, behaviors that we model as leaders, and behaviors we tolerate—either positive or negative
  • 3 key questions you can use to evaluate how well you’ve been shaping culture with intentionality
  • How clear culture helps you attract the right people and turbocharges a new hire’s onboarding
  • Where to start, if you haven’t yet started trying to define your organizational DNA, and how to gain momentum
As the leader, you're responsible for defining the culture you value, modeling the behaviors that shape it, and creating systems for coaching u0026amp; accountability. #unstuckchurch [episode 131] Click to Tweet Starting to define DNA? Think about what makes you pound your fist on the table. The things that bug you often reveal a violation of a cultural behavior you inherently value. #unstuckchurch [episode 131] Click To Tweet

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Tony: 00:00 You really do get to choose your culture, and if you don’t have the culture you want today, you get to shape that culture for your team that you’ll have in the future. And as the leader, though, you’re responsible for defining the culture you value. You’re responsible for modeling the behaviors that are going to shape that culture and you’re responsible for creating the right systems for coaching and accountability, so the wrong culture isn’t tolerated.

Sean: 00:28 Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Each one of us has DNA. It’s fundamental, yet ,helps distinguish who we are as a person. In the same way your church has DNA. It’s an essential part of what makes your organization what it is. The tricky thing is that often DNA can be mysterious or sometimes just unclear. On today’s podcast, Tony, Amy and Lance explore how your church can more clearly define your DNA so that your staff team can thrive in health and performance. Make sure before you listen to get the show notes. You can get them every week in one email along with our leader conversation guide, the weekly resources we mention and access to our podcast resource archives. Go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. You may also want to learn about The Unstuck Teams process mentioned in this episode as well as our upcoming webinar on creating healthy and high performing teams. Visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/teams and theunstuckgroup.com/webinars for more info. Now let’s join Tony, Amy and Lance for today’s conversation on defining organizational DNA.

Amy: 01:38 This week we’re continuing our series of conversations on creating both healthy and high performing teams. And joining me today is Tony Morgan, as always, and Mr. Lance Witt. Tony and Lance, our conversation this week is focused around helping churches define their organizational DNA. So Lance, let me start with you. What exactly is organizational DNA and then why is it important for churches to clarify it? They have a lot of things going on. Why is this something they need to put their time and energy into?

Lance: 02:08 So, Amy, when I think about organizational DNA, I think about what is kind of the core essence of your leadership environment. For those who lead in an organization, it’s not so much about what they do in their day to day world, but really it’s how they do what they do and how they do leadership in their particular culture. In other words, there’s a certain style or personality that an organization has that really does define sort of its leadership DNA. So, you know, I think about good examples of this. Like there is a Ritz Carlton way of doing customer service. There is a Starbucks way of doing business that separates them and differentiates them from other organizations. You know, I know even at Unstuck, we have what we call The Unstuck Way. It’s a set of guidelines or principles that really do define our organizational DNA. And again, it differentiates us from others. So, let me give you two examples that everybody will be able to relate to: chicken and airlines. So you think about Chick-fil-A and Kentucky Fried Chicken both sell chicken, but they have radically different organizational DNA. Sort of the “how” they go about selling chicken is really different. And then you think about in the airline side, you’ve got Southwest Airlines and United Airlines. They both fly commercial planes but very different organizational DNA. I’ve done quite a bit of looking at Southwest Airlines and kind of their DNA and how they’ve articulated it, and they actually talk about the warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, a fun-loving attitude. Those are all sort of behavioral things that define the DNA of their leadership culture. And so I do think it’s really important, you know, even though you’ve got a lot of pressing urgent things going on in the whirlwind of your everyday life, kind of getting really clear about the organizational DNA really does matter.

Amy: 04:18 Tony, it seems like organizational DNA is really about culture, right? How do you define culture?

Tony: 04:24 Yeah, well Amy, actually there’s a bit of debate on how to define culture. In fact, if you were to Google definition of organizational culture, you’d come up with dozens, probably, of descriptors of what that’s all about. But personally, I tend to focus on the organization’s pattern and behaviors when I think about culture, and those patterns are shaped by the behaviors that we value, the behaviors that are modeled by top leadership and the behaviors that are tolerated within our organizations as well. And in all three instances, we have the opportunity to introduce positive characteristics into the culture of our organization, and we actually have the opportunity to introduce negative characteristics into the culture of the organization. So let me kind of walk through the keys for leaders to consider when you’re doing something intentionally to shape the culture. I want you to pay attention to these three areas with these questions. First, “Have we been intentional about the behaviors that we value?” That’s the first question we have to answer, and some things to help you discern whether or not we’ve done that appropriately — Have they been clarified in writing? Do we teach them? Do we tell stories about them? Do we celebrate those behaviors? So that’s the first question. Have we been intentional about the behaviors we value? The second question is this, “Do we intentionally model the behaviors that shape culture that we hope to create?” And some clarifying questions for you to consider with the second one — Do I model these behaviors as a leader? That’s the first thing we need to look at. And then more importantly, does the rest of my senior leadership team model these behaviors? And again, I’ve alluded to this, and I think I originally heard this from Sam Chan, who also works with churches and church leaders, that your organization, the culture of your organization is going to reflect how your top leaders, the top five leaders in your organization, operate. How they act, how do they live out what they’re trying to do in their leadership? And so that’s the key here is, do we intentionally model the behaviors that shape our culture? And then the third area, the third key question is this. “Do we tolerate behaviors that negatively shape our culture?” And here are some clarifying questions to ask around this third question — do we hire people who reflect the behaviors that we value? And this seems so basic, but if there’s a culture we’re trying to create, when we hire new people, we’re hiring not only for the skills, their competency, but we want to make sure that their behaviors, the way they operate, are reflective of the culture that we are trying to create. Do we coach to the behaviors that we value? Do we hold people accountable when they don’t live out the behaviors that shape the culture that we hope to create? So those are three key questions that I think we as leaders need to make sure that we’re responding to an intentionally, clearly. And that we’re living out, then, what it means to have clarity around being intentional about the behaviors we value, about modeling the behaviors that shape our culture and then making sure we’re not tolerating behaviors that might negatively shape our culture.

Lance: 08:11 So in order to put a little bit of flesh on this, let me throw a question back to the two of you cause I know that the two of you have worked on this, and that is when you think about The Unstuck Way, maybe you guys could just pull out one or two of sort of the markers of the kind of culture we want to have at Unstuck that might be a good example for a pastor or leader out there.

Amy: 08:35 Well, I think the first one Tony just modeled at least for me, if not for you Lance, but everything we do in The Unstuck Way begins with prayer. And I was all ready to dive in and Tony said, “Hey, let’s pray before we start recording this podcast.” So he models that, but as we work with churches, same thing. Everything we do begins and ends with prayer. And so I think that’s pretty embedded in our culture now. And it’s not just what we can do. We want to do what God wants to do. I don’t know. Tony, what comes to mind?

Tony: 09:02 Yeah, ironically, in the very first podcast episode of the year, we talked about hope not being a strategy, but actually one of the elements of The Unstuck Way is we bring hope to the pastors and the churches that we’re working with. And I think that’s important for us because those of us on The Unstuck Group Team, strategy just comes to us naturally, and I need to remind myself that it’s more than the strategy. It’s more than the structure we bring. It’s more than the systems and the action plans. I want to bring hope to the pastors and the churches that I’m working with. And obviously prayer going into an engagement is the prelude to that. But even through every conversation I’m having with a pastor or with a team, I just want to make sure when they walk away from that experience, they actually believe that God’s going to help them take their next steps. And they’re actually optimistic about the impact, the kingdom impact, that their leadership and their church is going to have going forward.

Amy: 10:09 And we look for those things when we hire and when we read our feedback that comes in because anyone who is just a critic on our team wouldn’t make it. Anyone who’s just drawing on their own strength. If that’s what we notice, they wouldn’t make it because we wouldn’t tolerate it, I guess to use your words, Tony.

Lance: 10:26 And as someone who’s fairly new to the team, I just can tell you guys it is so helpful to have that list because I’m finding myself now, when I’m showing up at a church, it’s front of my mind. What am I going to do to make sure I bring hope into this environment? And so to have that articulated just sort of turbocharges, I think, a new person’s on-boarding experience, and it’s been super helpful. So I appreciate you guys having thought that through.

Amy: 10:55 Hey Lance, my guess is that we have leaders listening right now that get this. You know, they understand what DNA is and why it’s important, but they’re probably wondering what specific benefits that they will see as a leader, as a team by investing time and focus on this. And we’ve touched on it a little bit, but how would you answer that? What are the benefits they’ll see?

Lance: 11:15 Well, let me give you a word picture. I think of culture or DNA, kind of like gasoline and your ministry strategy and programs sort of like an engine. And it’s not enough to just have high quality gasoline. Never, you know, no one ever holds up a gallon of fuel and says, wow, what a great looking gallon of gasoline that is. No, nobody ever does that. Gasoline is purposeful. It’s for powering the engine. In a high octane gas and a powerful engine will get traction quickly, but a high powered engine that’s got polluted gas, a polluted culture, the engine’s going to sputter. So articulating your desired culture shaping behaviors has benefits, I think, on so many different levels. Again, it brings things like alignment. I think it creates synergy. It’s clear expectations. You know, I’m thinking about Amy, your example just a minute ago, about prayer and that you’re about to rush into sort of recording this, and no, there was this alignment moment of nope. Prayer is kinda how we do things, you know, at Unstuck. And so we paused to do that. I think having a clear articulation of your culture also helps attract the right kind of people. You know, like you said, a critic, a negative personality’s probably not gonna last very long on our team. Well, it helps you actually filter out some people, but I think one of the biggest things it does is it differentiates you from other organizations, and it sort of removes the fog around kind of like really who are we and how are we different than everybody else. And, as I just articulated, as a new person on the team, it gives me sort of a clear playbook of how I’m supposed to behave as a leader in this organization. So I think we could just keep going on and making this list of all the different ways that clearly defining the culture actually helps us get after the mission that we’ve been called to.

Amy: 13:23 Do you Lance have a specific church that you’ve worked with where you’ve experienced, you’ve seen them experience the benefits of defining their DNA?

Lance: 13:30 The church I work with in South Florida, Christ Fellowship Church, I’ve been hanging around there for, gosh, it seems like a dozen years now. And I remember one day having a conversation with the lead pastors, Todd and Julie Mullins. And we were talking about how this was a void, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about helping them, but they actually came to Colorado, and we took a half a day and I just basically interviewed them and peppered them with questions about what is it that really matters to them, what are their values, what are the staff behaviors that have gotten rewarded through the years? And we began to just sort of unpack that. And then I would say over the next year or so, they began to sort of refine that and make those statements sticky. And I’ve just watched that become a training tool that they regularly go back to. They might be in a staff meeting, and they’ll call out one of their staff kind of behaviors that they’re emphasizing. And again, a church like their’s, that has multiple campuses, I think it’s been even more important to have a consistent, quality-controlled set of leadership behaviors that are expected across all the campuses. So, I’ve really watched it take root there, but it didn’t happen overnight. It took a while for it to really get kind of galvanized and then into the water system of the church.

Amy: 15:00 I like how you highlighted the multisite churches because ,if you’re going to be one church in multiple locations, of course your strategies need to have a lot of similarity, but your culture needs to be identical if you’re truly gonna replicate one church, right, Tony?

Tony: 15:15 Absolutely, I mean, just think of it. We talked about chicken earlier, but every Chick-fil-A that you walk into, it’s exactly the same culture. I mean, it doesn’t deviate in any way. The expectations are the same in every store and every location. And that’s part of the consistency we expect as customers when we order a chicken sandwich there. So the same thing holds true in multisite churches. If you’re trying to be one church in multiple locations, there needs to be consistency, not only of the experiences and the environments and the ministry strategies that are used, but the culture itself is going to be one of the key areas where when people walk into any location, they expect the same experience and the culture that we create helps to set that foundation.

Speaker 3: 16:07 And Lance, you’re mentioning the unstuck way. That was actually where that came from. We said if we’re going to have different people serving different churches all over the country but we want them to have a comparable experience with The Unstuck Group, we needed to define that culture so that everyone was operating with those same values and behaviors going out to serve the churches.

Lance: 16:27 That’s so good.

Amy: 16:27 So Lance, where should a leader start if they want to begin to define these at their church?

Lance: 16:33 Well, whenever I’ve done this with churches, I always start with the senior leader. I don’t think that culture can be disconnected from the values of the senior leader. And I know we all want to be collaborative and we want to get input through all layers of the organization, but at the end of the day, if the behaviors don’t reflect that of the senior leader, I think it’s never going to really get any traction. And going back to my example of Christ Fellowship, I would say one of the really strong values they have is hospitality. It just oozes out of them. And what I’ve noticed is now at every campus there’s this high sense of hospitality. They have a welcoming spirit that’s kind of over the top, and you just see it everywhere. But it started with senior leaders. Sort of the next layer down, I would say you gotta get some people who’ve been there a while and start asking questions like, what really is valued around here? What behaviors do we keep coming back to over and over when we’re training? What phrases do our senior leaders often use? What stories, you know, kind of are repeated over and over in the culture? And, you know, as just a starting place, you might even sit down at your computer or with a legal pad and even ask yourself as a senior leader, what do I expect from myself and those who lead on our staff? And sometimes it’s hard to articulate because it’s so second nature to us and it’s been in us for so long. But getting that out on paper really helps. And here’s a question I like to ask. “What makes you pound your fist on the table?” Because often the things that really tick you off, they reveal a violation of a leadership behavior that matters to you. And so, give yourself some time, allow some chance to sort of percolate in your spirit. But I think start the process of refining and defining what those leadership behaviors are.

Amy: 18:41 Tony, I’ve heard you say this too, when you’ve led teams through this, to think through who are the top four or five people on our team, staff or volunteers that when you see them in action, they model what you want in all your team members.

Tony: 18:55 Yeah. And going back to last week’s conversation, they’re modeling not only when it comes to the results we’re trying to achieve as a ministry, but also in the health, that they’re raising the health in the organization on the team as well. But you’re right, if you focus on the people that are bringing their best, kind of like those all stars on your team, and just try to look at what are the behaviors that they’re living out on a daily basis that cause you to want them to be around you. And they just bleed enthusiasm and they’re just bringing it every time. If you focus on their behaviors and then you can start to articulate what it is that you’re hoping to see across every level of your team as well.

Lance: 19:46 Let me add in one other thing, Amy. I think sometimes when you begin to make this list what you’re going to feel is there might be one or two that are a bit aspirational for you at this point. Like maybe they’re not fully baked into the culture, but you really do value them. And I think it’s okay to have one or two that may feel a bit aspirational, but you don’t want seven or eight because then it begins to feel like, okay, these values aren’t really us. But I do think to identify like what’s one where we’re not all the way there yet, but man, this matters to us, and we’re going to include it in our list.

Amy: 20:24 What I was going to ask Lance is of course you say it starts with the senior leader, but who else should the senior leader include in this conversation?

Lance: 20:32 I think it’s great to at least get input from everybody. Like, so I would start with my senior leadership team. I’d spend an hour or two on a whiteboard just doing some brainstorming. I’d percolate it down to my team, even all staff. I’d ask anybody for input. I’d get the board involved, you know, because again, they sort of have a unique seat to this. But my one caution is just to say it’s not a democratic process. Like this is not a majority vote thing. I think, again, at the end of the day, sort of senior leadership has to define it and ultimately holds veto power again, because it’s gotta ooze out of them as they preach and speak at staff meeting. It’s got to feel comfortable for them. So I’d get all the input I could, but at the end of the day, I think the leadership decision rests, kind of, with senior leadership.

Amy: 21:29 I heard you mentioned to avoid too many aspirational culture, values, behavior. But are there any other do’s and don’ts for you, Tony, or you Lance, that you’d share in your experiences in working with churches on this?

Tony: 21:42 Yeah, so this is just my experience through the years when it comes to working with churches. What I’ve seen is it’s easier for churches to hold team members accountable for character and performance, just getting the job done that they’re hired to do. But for whatever reason, when it comes to accountability around these culture shaping behaviors, there’s a tendency to kind of let those slip. And I’m not sure what’s behind it. I mean, Lance has talked in the past about what do you say? Something around kindness?

Amy: 22:17 Terminal kindness, I believe is his phrase.

Tony: 22:19 Yeah. Maybe that is playing into it, but it’s really important, not only when you’re bringing people on the team, but the coaching that you’re providing, that you’re providing accountability for character, certainly. For performance, absolutely. But you have to hold people accountable to these culture shaping behaviors as well. And that includes specific coaching and redirection when we see somebody living outside of those boundaries, giving people an opportunity to take next steps and actually follow through with culture that we’re trying to create. But when they don’t, you need to hold people accountable to that even if that includes at some point removing them from your team. Because what I’ve seen is this, when churches let these culture shaping behaviors slip on their teams, these are where the real cancers start to fester in the team organization. And it certainly will push good people away from your team if you let that continue.

Lance: 23:26 Yeah, that’s such a good word. Let me just give some practical, kind of “my experience” working with churches. I would just say first off, don’t have too many. You don’t want, you know, 18 culture shaping behaviors. I don’t think that’s helpful. I would say make them sticky, like find language and that feels comfortable to your culture but are sticky and memorable. And then I would say make them as kind of practical and specific as possible. So one of the churches I work with, one of their leadership behaviors was “speak with candor,” but then they had almost like a dropdown menu of two or three bullet points under any behavior that sort of puts some flesh on it. So I remember under speak with candor, one of the bullet points was “speak your mind without being a jerk,” And I thought, “that’s so good.” I mean, I get that everybody’s going to get that, right? And then I would say lastly on this one, Amy, would just be train on these consistently. I think about how at the Ritz Carlton, at the beginning of every shift, they take 15 to 20 minutes to train on one of their 24 leadership behaviors. Not once a month, not once a week, at the beginning of every shift.

Amy: 24:44 They have 24 you said?

Amy: 24:44 They have 24.

Amy: 24:48 So that’s too many.

Lance: 24:49 I would say for churches that’s a little much.

Amy: 24:51 So what is the right number, Tony? Lance? What should churches aim for?

Lance: 24:57 I’ve seen say somewhere between five and 10 is a good number to shoot for.

Amy: 25:03 All right. Well once they’re defined, you’re just saying train on them consistently. What are some best practices, Lance, for communicating them and keeping them in front of their teams?

Lance: 25:11 Yeah, so I have a word picture I like to use with this and when it comes to culture, “you don’t power wash it, you drip it in.” So power wash it is we come up with this grand plan. It’s our new cultural values or behaviors. We put it on a banner, we put it in the hall and we make all this hoopla about it and then we never do anything with it. And I just think way better than power washing it is just dripping it in little by little. So staff meeting is a natural place where that can happen. I would say, how are you integrating it into the on-boarding of a new person who’s come on your team? As leaders, we ought to drip it into our personal conversations that we’re having. When we think about rewarding and celebrating in our culture, it’s like, “Okay, who’s modeling sort of these desired behaviors?” And then maybe most powerfully is just regularly look for the opportunity to tell stories that bring the behavior or value to life. And so it’s kind of at every turn, I think you’re just sort of, you know, infusing it into every environment in your culture.

Amy: 26:18 That’s really good. Well, thanks to both of you for your time today. Tony, do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up this conversation?

Tony: 26:25 Well, of course, but you know, now I’m going back to that line, speak your mind without being a jerk. I have a tendency to speak my mind. You will tell me if I’m being a jerk, right?

Amy: 26:41 I will!

Lance: 26:42 Amy will!

Tony: 26:42 Yeah, this is the final thought that I had after today’s conversation is that you really do get to choose your culture. And if you don’t have the culture you want today, you get to shape that culture for your team that you’ll have in the future. And as the leader though, you’re responsible for defining the culture you value, you’re responsible for modeling the behaviors that are going to shape that culture, and you’re responsible for creating the right systems for coaching and accountability. So the wrong culture isn’t tolerated. So the good news here is there is coaching available. Our Unstuck Team’s process addresses both team performance and health, but a component of both of these areas is making sure you have the right organizational culture in place to live out the mission and vision God has for your church.

Sean: 27:34 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget to register for the upcoming Unstuck Teams webinar on February 24th at 1:00 PM Eastern. To learn more and sign up, go to theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. If you’d like to explore more about how The Unstuck Teams process could benefit your church, visit us at theunstuckgroup.com/teams. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

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