Thursday, May 02, 2013

Another View

The Permanent Transient writes:


The Permanent Transient said...
What was the problem that reforming the governance of the UUA supposed to fix? What are the other dimensions (not governance) of the necessary solutions to that problem?
Full disclosure: I serve on the UUA Board. I'm also a minister. I speak for myself.
Liberals fear granting authority to others. So, if liberals joined together to create an organization, they might design one that produces no clear authority for anyone to do anything. They might create confusion in the system, so as to undermine the attempt of anyone to exercise authority. Because accountability and authority are two sides of the same coin, a system built to undermine clear authority will also lack clear accountability. You end up with an organizational chart that looks like a bowl of spaghetti. You end up with people who are timid in their roles, unsure of what power the role actually has. Even the president of such an organization must tip-toe around, gaining buy-in of power-brokers and seeking harmony, before launching an initiative. Now and then, a powerful figure might rise up and exert authority. But that exercise in authority would not come with its concomitant accountability. The Unitarian Universalist Association, built by liberals, has left deep questions of mission, vision, and impact unresolved for a very long time because it is not clear in the system who has the power to authoritatively name or assess these things. Absent a functional organizational process, the UUA has developed a small-church culture (albeit, one sustained nationwide) in which personalities and personal relationships are tended to, and harmony in personal relationships is prized above organizational performance.
As I understand it, governance does three things: names the Promised Land (the vision/goals); authorizes who will do what on the way to the Promised Land (“you’re empowered to do these 12 things, but not these other 4”); and assesses progress toward the Promised Land (“are we there yet,” “how much farther,” “are we headed in the right direction—and how do we know?”) An Association unable to fulfill these tasks is an Association unable to govern itself, an Association unable to name the Promised Land, authorize leadership, or understand whether our attempts are working, or whether it’s time to change course.
As an Association, we are committed to democratic process. There are other processes an organization might use to fulfill the tasks of governance. But, as long as we say we’re democratic, we’re obliged to connect the people’s dreams into goals into plans into impact. To accomplish this connection between people’s dreams and organizational impact requires a system of clear roles and responsibilities. Without that clarity, we are attempting an ongoing Town Meeting, where it is never clear how decisions are made.
Some might say that the attention to governance comes at the cost of focus on mission and ministry. And, it is true that good governance is not the ultimate dream. It is only the vehicle through which an organization can sustain the ultimate dream. But, if we were to focus only on questions of mission and ministry, and our voices were disconnected from a process through which decisions are made, would we be only talking? What would participatory, functional democracy look like for our people?

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I am new viewer to this blog. I am a lay leader in my congregation and was on the board during a small part of our long transition to policy governance. We had a very difficult time trying to understand the Carver model and figuring out how it could be adapted in a way that made sense to a church organization. Questions of authority and autonomy. Questions of accountability. Figuring out what was an 'Ends statement.' End statements would be written and then we'd be told by our consultant that they weren't end statements at all! It took years. And, I think some of our forward movement as a congregation was stalled as we worked our way through the process. Thankfully, we are on the other side and policy governance appears to be working quite well.

I think the definition given by 'The Permanent Transient' aka Jake, was about the best one I have seen: "As I understand it, governance does three things: names the Promised Land (the vision/goals); authorizes who will do what on the way to the Promised Land (“you’re empowered to do these 12 things, but not these other 4”); and assesses progress toward the Promised Land (“are we there yet,” “how much farther,” “are we headed in the right direction—and how do we know?”)

Again, as an outsider and newcomer to this conversation, it seems to me that the first sticking point is that there is not a shared vision between the Board and the Administration. Without a shared VISION how can anything move forward? If the board and the administration see the vision in different ways, even the most dedicated and talented people will struggle over whose vision holds more power.