Principles of Operating an Organizational Structure

Just as there are principles for developing an organizational structure, there are principles for operating one as well.

Principle of following the chain of command

The chain of command refers to the line organization. It would work up to the top and down to the bottom of the organization. Links in the chain, representing levels of organization, should not be bypassed in communications. Pastors have a hard time because they are the chief executive officer, like a company president, and should not be directly available to the lower levels of the organization. However, he is also the pastor, and anyone should have access to him in pastoral matters; but in areas of management he had better send matters back down the line to a person’s supervisor.

There should be clear channels of communication and these should be followed. This chain of command, or channel of communication, should provide for sending messages, and also for receiving feedback.

Principle of increasing management responsibility

As a church grows, the pastor has to spend more time in management and less in ministry. This calls for a real adjustment on the part of church leaders. They must do less of the work of the ministry directly, and delegate more of it to others. The larger the organization and the higher the person is in an organization, the more management work is required of the leader. The only way one can serve many is through management, however, the more a person is involved in management, then the less time he has to minister. Pastors tend to choose ministry over management, and the neglect of management leads to the detriment of the whole organization.

Principle of decentralization

An organization that is decentralized gives much more autonomy to each department than a centralized organization. Complete centralization is the concentration of all decision making at the top. Complete decentralization is the delegation of all decision making to the lowest level. Neither will work. The leader must find the magic spot of balance. Hard times will increase centralization.

Principle of management emphasis

When a manager is called upon to divide his time between two types of work, he will tend to show preferential emphasis in his decisions and choices. This preference can cause problems.

Principle of approval of next level

Promotions, demotions, and terminations, and other major decisions should always be approved by the executive immediately superior to the one directly responsible. This is a good control. Many times special forms are used which require the signature of the manager at the next level to show his approval.

Principle of complete accountability

Every level in the structure needs an officer willing to put a sign on his desk saying, “The buck stops here.” Every section must assume complete responsibility and be held completely accountable for their work. Only poor supervisors blame their failure on some other section.

Leaders are always accountable not only for their actions but also for the actions or lack of actions, of their subordinates. Regular reports keep leaders informed of what others are doing, and these reports should be complete, specific, and clearly related to the church’s mission statement.

Principle of complete job assignment

A worker deserves to know what work is going to be expected, and that should be understood before hiring takes place. A job description is the best way to accomplish this. Pity the poor worker who doesn’t know what is expected and has a supervisor who keeps on adding more and more and more. Sunday School workers are often enlisted without having any idea of the training expected, the meetings one is to attend, or the visitation requirements for the job. Sunday School teachers are enlisted and they wrongly assume their only job is to teach the students who appear on Sunday morning.

Principle of commensurate authority

When a person is given responsibility, he should be given a commensurate amount of authority. The worker, and those who work under him, should know the exact limits of his authority. Some pastors seem to have a hard time releasing the authority for a position, although they do hold a person responsible for getting it done. Usually one is impossible without the other one.

Principle of correction

All corrections or criticism should be made in private. Under no circumstances should a subordinate be criticized in the presence of those of equal or lower rank.

Principle of exception

Decisions should be made at the lowest level possible according to the policies that have been established. Exceptions to the policies should be passed up the organization, but never routine decisions. Managers may establish reporting procedures that will call their attention to exceptions, while all “normal” or routine matters are handled by subordinates. Managers should concentrate their efforts on things that are exceptionally good or exceptionally bad, and not worry about things going as expected.

Principles of Developing an Organizational Structure

The first job of organizing is to develop a structure. This is where the leader groups related work and workers together. A number of proven principles should be used in the development of structure. Many of these and the next set of principles have been taken from Olan Hendrix.

Principle of maximum span

This is also sometimes called the span of control. It simply means that as a general rule, the maximum number of workers a supervisor can oversee is about five to eight. This will depend on the type of work, the ability of the supervisor, the geographical dispersal of the personnel, and the other duties of the supervisor. It is felt that the greater a leader’s personal contact with subordinates, the more effective the leader’s direction and leadership will be. The supervision of a small group will give a leader the opportunity to get to know his workers and to show concern and love for them and to help to develop them as individuals.

The church staff member with duties of his own to perform will be able to supervise fewer persons than an office manager whose primary duty is to supervise the work of an office staff. The senior pastor who tries to hold on to all the details will violate this, as he probably wants everybody reporting directly to him, and wants to approve everything. People should not attempt to direct people who are not under their span of control. An organizational chart where this is violated will be short and squatty.

Principle of minimum levels

These first two are closely related. The first warns against putting too many people directly under one supervisor, and the second principle warns against putting too few people under a supervisor. Violation of this principle results in too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Organizational structure can become top heavy. If there are levels with a supervisor over only one or two people, perhaps the structure needs restructuring. An organizational chart where this is violated will be tall and lean.

Principle of single reporting relationships

Every person in an organization deserves to be bossed by one person. If a worker is made responsible to a committee, it produces a mess. A church janitor has the worst job in the world, because everybody in the church tries to tell him what to do. It is hard enough for a worker to please one supervisor, without trying to please a group. More than one boss means more than one set of rules, priorities, and deadlines. Churches with a Christian Day School seem to have a very difficult time with this, especially with a youth pastor teaching in the day school and reporting to the school principal and also reporting to the senior pastor.

Principle of specialization

The work assigned to individuals should be specialized as much as possible. Specialization is the key to the success of assembly lines, and can also contribute to success in any other organization. The more specialized the work is, the more skilled the person is apt to become. Specialization can be in many different categories. If the work becomes extremely specialized, the worker may need very little training and may become bored with doing the same task over and over.

Principle of line and staff

Line positions direct the work of others and have direct responsibility for accomplishing the basic goals of the organization. Line positions give orders. They select the best alternative from the alternatives suggested and carry it out. Staff positions advise and assist the line positions. They gather and analyze information and make suggestions. Staff positions may be personal (assistant pastor or administrative assistant) or specialist (business director or music director).

Churches have a problem sometimes deciding if a position is a line or staff position, as in the case of a music position and a youth position. Churches also have a problem with a staff position, like a business administrator, controlling a line position, like a youth pastor in budget areas. Sometimes a staff position may become a line position, where an administrative assistant is placed over a section of his superior’s work.

Principle of adaptation

Organizations must accept and adapt to continuously changing conditions. People change, environments change, and the demands upon an organization are constantly changing. If an organization structure becomes set and resists any change, the organization will soon be in trouble.

Principle of perpetuation

An organization will seek to perpetuate its existence long after it is needed. There must be a constant evaluation of basic purpose or objective. If conditions have altered the need, then the organization should be dissolved. It takes wise leadership to dissolve an organization, because an organization will resist this. Sometimes an organization can effectively stay alive by changing its purpose, but this needs to be recognized for what it is.