Three Things To Remember About Cultivating A Healthy Culture

img_0450Culture is talked a lot about today in leadership, and well it should be.  The potential of an organization is only as powerful as the culture in which it has created.  Culture is like the foundation to a building.  You might have the most impressive looking structure, but if the foundation is not sound that building can easily come tumbling down.  You might fill up a facility with the greatest furniture, art and accessories, but if the foundation is not strong and the building collapses it will ruin all of your expensive belongings.

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A lot of leaders don’t want to do the hard work of cultivating a healthy culture.  I’ll be the first to admit that our culture has not always been strong at Element Church.  We’ve had times where there was an impressive looking structure as a team but the foundation was cracked and falling apart.  We’ve had great furniture and accessories but the walls were caving in on our culture.

Right now as a church we are in the best place we’ve ever been culturally.  Just this past weekend we were interviewing some perspective residents at a university and one of them asked “What is your favorite part of your church right now.”  I didn’t even think about it.  I said, “My favorite part about our church is our team.”  We laugh together, we cry together, we pray for one another, we serve one another. Most of this has happened in spite of me I can tell you that.  We definitely have not mastered a healthy culture, but along the way, here are three things about cultivating culture we need to remember.

1.  Culture is cultivated not just created  — It doesn’t matter what you start with, if you don’t cultivate it it won’t last.  That’s the problem with so many of us leaders.  We put a lot of hard work into creating a culture but it eventually falls apart because we don’t cultivate it.  The hardest part of culture is not getting it started, it’s sustaining it.
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Think about gardening for a moment.  When you plant a garden, not only do you have to prepare the soil, get the seed in the ground and put down some fertilizer, you have to water it on a regular basis, pull out the weeds, keep the rabbits away and eventually reap the harvest and do it all over again.  To truly benefit from a great garden you can’t just get it started, you have to cultivate it along the way.  The same is true with culture.
2.  Culture is cultivated not just convinced —  Part of a healthy culture is when the people in the organization live out the values on their own.  Here at Element Church, before someone comes on our staff there is a code of conduct they have to agree to and a list of values that we want to model to the people lead.  Part of a healthy culture is convincing someone that these are the things we are going to do and the way we are going to live, but you can’t stop there.
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When someone violates a code of conduct or begins to live in a way that doesn’t model a core value that needs to be addressed.  When the staff as a whole, or church as a whole begins to veer off course, away from the culture that’s been created, it needs to be addressed.  Not only do we need to convince someone to join our culture we need to cultivate that culture in them.  There are times you need to “correct, rebuke and encourage” someone on your team with the Word of God.  At times, in order to protect the culture you need to remove someone from the team.
Think about a garden again for a moment.  You won’t have a healthy garden if all you do is put good stuff in it but never take the bad stuff out of it.  You need to remove the weeds.  Remove the pests.  Remove the rocks.  Culture is cultivated not just convinced.
3.  Culture is cultivated but never complete —  Once you think you’ve arrived with your organizational culture, that’s probably about the time it needs the most work.  Like anything else, it can take a turn for the worse if you don’t keep cultivating health in your culture.  You can lose 50 pounds, but if you don’t continue exercising once you get there you’ll gain it all back.  You can get out of debt, but if you don’t continue budgeting, saving and spending less than you make you’ll end up right back in debt.  You can plant an amazing garden, but if you don’t cultivate it, you’ll have nothing but weeds and rocks the next year.
A culture of excellence will cease being excellent if you don’t cultivate that culture.  A culture of generosity will cease being generous if you don’t cultivate that culture.  A culture of risk will cease taking risks of you don’t cultivate that culture.  You get the picture.  Culture is cultivated but never complete.
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I love being able to say that we have a great staff culture, but I want to keep saying that decades down the road.  In order for us to continue a healthy culture, we can’t just create it, convince people to live it and it’s never complete… we need to cultivate the culture.
Jeff Maness
I am a follower of Jesus first, husband to a beautiful wife, father to four amazing children, lead pastor of Element Church in Cheyenne, WY, and blogger of all things life.

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