Parochial Teamwork - some thoughts and resources


"We believe that, although many teams have come about as a result of pragmatics, there is a theological imperative for Team Ministry that must not be lost. We regret, therefore, that the reasons for Team Ministry given in the 'Chelmsford File' [Chelmsford Diocesan policy statements] seem reactive rather than proactive."

- opening sentences of a Statement prepared by members of the 3rd Chelmsford Diocesan Conference on Team Ministry, April 1992


"Since each active priest must now minister in at least two churches every weekend, there will inevitably be some re-tuning of service times in various parishes."

- translation of part of the weekly news sheet of the Parochie H. Maria Hemelvaart, Aardenburg, NL (28th August 1988)


"The present shape of the ministry of the Church of England was largely determined by changes in mid-nineteenth century society, where the professions as a distinct stratum of the middle class achieved a position of prominence and importance. It was the professional man - the doctor, the army officer, the lawyer, the colonial administrator, the engineer - who became the 'cultural hero' of Victorian society. Increasingly the clergy came to be regarded as members of a profession.

"This development encouraged individualistic understanding of the nature of ministry and still exerts a major influence upon the clergy's understanding of their role and the way in which this role is regarded by the congregation and wider society. Like the services offered by the professional man, there has been since the mid-nineteenth century a tendency to regard the public aspects of religion as something which is done to and for the individual by professional personnel. It has on the one hand encouraged those around him to leave matters entirely in the hands of the clergyman, and on the other fostered dependency.

"The phenomenon of the professional clergyman, particularly in rural areas, with time to devote to the smallest details of Church and parish life, produced attitudes which have inhibited the development of a more corporate understanding of the Church and of shared ministry."

- Team and Group Ministries Report (1985) - GS 660 - para 39


"Many of the difficulties that have been encountered in Teams have followed from problems relating to the style of leadership and in particular it has been felt by some that placing all the rights and responsibilities of the incumbency on the Team Rector has exacerbated the potential for conflict between Team Rectors and Team Vicars. The suggestion has therefore been made that the Team as a whole should be viewed as a 'body corporate', holding together the rights and responsibilities of the incumbent."

- ibid, para 63 (The 'body corporate' proposal is further examined in paragraphs 67 to 71, where in true C of E style it is deemed to be a good thing, but not yet... (deep mutterings about Parliament and all that) - "However, if in the future there is some major revision of the Pastoral Measure requiring the processes of major legislative change, we recommend that the body corporate concept be carefully and sympathetically considered then."


"Too easily the local church has been built around the gifts of the incumbent. What will be needed will be the building of churches around the rich mosaic of gifts, insights and convictions of the whole of the laity. For this to happen, the ordained minister will need to affirm, train and support such gifts as well as, where necessary, confront the hidden power agenda that may be shaping what is going on."

- Robert Warren, contributing to ‘A Time for Sharing: Collaborative Ministry in Mission’ (1995) - GS Misc 465


“The days of independent ministers and parishes must come to an end.”

- from ‘Re-imagining Ministry in the Diocese of Chelmsford’, a policy document endorsed by Diocesan Synod in March 2013 as part of the process set in train by the Diocesan Vision Statement, ‘Transforming Presence’; having highlighted the need for “increasing collaboration and team working”, the document goes on to promise that “this will be the hallmark of all that we do.”


"Many organizations are now moving towards self-management, by which many of the tasks formerly done by managers and supervisors are becoming the responsibility of teams. Experienced managers, supervisors and team leaders face new challenges as their role shifts from that of initiator, controller and arbiter to that of facilitator, enabler and coach.

"Organizations once seen as rigid, hierarchical structures are now being recognised as emergent, living systems which cannot be defined by traditional design and practice. The established image of the single, strong, domineering leader is fading, no longer appropriate for today's flatter, more flexible organizational structures. The 'liberating leader' is one who develops and supports teams, who frees staff to take responsibility and who leads by example."

- drawn from material issued by the Industrial Society, 1998


Yet this is not as new as might seem. In the early 1960's, Burns & Stalker produced their seminal work "The Management of Innovation". With great precision they identified the characteristics of two highly contrasting systems of management:-

mechanistic (appropriate for stable conditions)


organic (more suited to changing conditions).


Mechanistic Management System ~ distinguished by:

  1. the specialized differentiation of functional tasks into which the problems and tasks facing the concern as a whole are broken down;
  2. the abstract nature of each individual task, which is pursued with techniques and purposes more or less distinct from those of the concern as a whole, i.e. the functionaries tend to pursue the technical improvement of means, rather than the accomplishment of the ends of the concern;
  3. the reconciliation, for each level in the hierarchy, of these distinct performances by the immediate superiors, who are also, in turn, responsible for seeing that each is relevant in his own special part of the main task;
  4. the precise definition of rights and obligations and technical methods attached to each functional role;
  5. the translation of rights and obligations and methods into the responsibilities of a functional position;
  6. hierarchic structure of control, authority and communication;
  7. a reinforcement of the hierarchic structure by the location of knowledge of actualities exclusively at the top of the hierarchy, where the final reconciliation of distinct tasks and assessment of relevance is made;
  8. a tendency for interaction between members of the concern to be vertical, i.e. between superior and subordinate;
  9. a tendency for operations and working behaviour to be governed by the instructions and decisions issued by superiors;
  10. insistence on loyalty to the concern and obedience to superiors as a condition of membership;
  11. a greater importance and prestige attaching to internal (local) than to general (cosmopolitan) knowledge, experience, and skill.

Organic Management System ~ distinguished by:

  1. the contributive nature of special knowledge and experience to the common task of the concern;
  2. the 'realistic' nature of the individual task, which is set by the total situation of the concern;
  3. the adjustment and continual re-definition of individual tasks through interaction with others;
  4. the shedding of 'responsibility' as a limited field of rights, obligations and methods. (Problems may not be posted upwards, downwards or sideways as being someone else's responsibility.);
  5. the spread of commitment to the concern beyond any technical definition;
  6. a network structure of control, authority, and communication. The sanctions which apply to the individual's conduct in his working role derive more from presumed community of interest with the rest of the working organization in the survival and growth of the firm, and less from a contractual relationship between himself and a non-personal corporation, represented for him by an immediate superior;
  7. omniscience no longer imputed to the head of the concern; knowledge about the technical or commercial nature of the here and now task may be located anywhere in the network; this location becoming the ad hoc centre of control authority and communication;
  8. a lateral rather than a vertical direction of communication through the organization, communication between people of different rank, also, resembling consultation rather than command;
  9. a content of communication which consists of information and advice rather than instructions and decisions;
  10. commitment to the concern's tasks and to the 'technological ethos' of material progress and expansion is more highly valued than loyalty and obedience;
  11. importance and prestige attaching to affiliations and expertise valid in the industrial and technical and commercial milieux external to the firm.

Burns, T. & Stalker, G.M.,
The management of innovation, London, 1961
(Tavistock Publications)


Inspired by the above, in 1999 (or thereabouts) I came up with the following set of criteria for identifying "traditional" and "organic" ways of teamwork within an institution (such as a local church):-



1.     the task is reduced to a number of discrete operations; each operation has its boundaries, and the more clearly these are defined then the more secure everyone feels

2.     the captain allocates each team member to an operational area, where they are required to concentrate their energies and faithfully discharge their prescribed duties

3.     the captain is a manager who must be in control

4.     the captain may be feared, despised or idolized, but is always to be obeyed

5.     reports, instructions and decisions travel along set pathways within the hierarchy

6.     badges, uniforms and labels are important - members ARE what they DO

7.     problems are a matter for others and must await their instructions

8.     in the event of a setback, members' sole responsibility is to pass clear reports onwards and upwards through the hierarchy

9.     affiliations and expertise in areas external to the team are perceived as a threat

10.  knowledge of where the team is coming from is valued more highly than speculation as to where it may be going, and anxiety is expressed if the team is felt to be less than true to its original brief


In an ORGANIC team ~

1.     the task is published as a vision statement; this generates excitement, more through poetry than through precision

2.     members voluntarily assume transient and dynamic combinations, frequently in concert with non-members, in order to model an infinite series of expressions of their corporate vision

3.     the captain is a "playing coach" who works alongside others

4.     the captain is neither omniscient nor infallible

5.     information, advice and energy flow freely within the network

6.     idiosyncrasy and spontaneity are valued - members ARE who they ARE

7.     problems may not be referred upwards, downwards, or sideways

8.     in the event of a setback, response begins at the point of impact, which becomes the "ad hoc" control centre for repair and relaunch

9.     affiliations and expertise in areas external to the team are encouraged and valued

10.  exploration and re-definition of the vision in response to new insights and awareness is welcomed as a sign that the team is alive and responding to real changes in its environment



Further Keywords that I would suggest as being appropriate to the study of mechanistic/organic institutions/events:



analytic ~ synthetic

differentiated ~ polymorphic

didactic ~ heuristic

covenantal ~ amphictyonic

confederal ~ federal

Parisian ~ Bolognan

caveat emptor ~ caveat vendor

serial unitarianism ~ modalism


Finally, some thoughts about Innovation:

In March 2017 I attended a networking session focused on 'EveryDay Innovation', courtesy of Wazoku, a London-based producer of idea management software.

Wazoku describes itself as "a trusted partner to organisations around the world, helping them to achieve their innovation and engagement goals". The company seems to be British through and through, and not Japanese – an analogy here with 'SuperDry', maybe?  'Wazoku' is certainly more catchy than their initial thought of 'I'd Suggest'.

We met 'innovation champions' from Avis, Virgin East Coast and Hitachi. These organisations have successfully employed Wazoku software to crowd-source innovative ideas from their workforce, their partners, their customers, and beyond.

Effective implementation calls for changes in culture along the lines already indicated above: flatter, more flexible organizational structures that are fully committed to listening and adapting.

The panel represented three businesses possessed of varying degrees of native capability to innovate. Given that speed of change is of the essence, I wondered what might be the effects of:-
(a) system drag ~ arising from a perceived - or actual - need to maintain backwards compatibility;
(b) premature release ~ in response to competitive challenges, thereby drawing unwitting customers into beta testing amidst claims of insufficient time available for sandbox trials.


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