Foundations and Practices of Collaboration: The Integrative System

July 12, 2021

By: David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary, and Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary

Last week, we began our conversation about a new way of collaborating by looking at 1 Corinthians 3:9 in which Paul reminds us that we are “co-workers in the vineyard.” We think this is a great place to begin conversations about collaboration because it reminds us that we are not competing with anyone – there is no competition in the Kingdom of God. Rather, we are invited to join with others as participants in the mission of God.

Our experience in theological education over the years has taught us that collaborating with organizations outside the walls of any given school can be difficult often because collaboration within the walls of the school itself can be hard. Because schools, and seminaries in particular, tend to be modeled after a modern academic and hierarchical structure, collaboration within institutions can be stymied by siloed thinking and internal competition for resources and control.

To address this challenge, in about 2008 Greg Henson, not yet serving at Sioux Falls Seminary, began experimenting with something he called the “enterprise model.” This approach to organizational development began as a way of thinking about institutional integration. It was born out of the need for seminaries to move past cross-functional employees or roles because this practice separates the various functions of the institution. In late 2013, the team at Sioux Falls Seminary, now with Henson as its leader, began working through these ideas and what they mean in practice. Finally, in about 2015 David Williams, President of Taylor Seminary, began working with Sioux Falls trying to capture the concept of this “Integrative System” in a succinct set of principles.

Over time, this line of thinking has formed into a much deeper, more holistic, and values-driven approach to integrated organizational development. We believe it is one of the most important changes that must occur within organizations in order to be truly collaborative within or without their walls. Within this approach to organizational development, when all employees become knowledgeable about all aspects of the organization’s work, they are able to think and act integratively. Such an integrative system requires institutions to break down the siloes within their organizations in order for work to be done efficiently and effectively and without competition for resources and control.

An integrated way of being that requires the ever-deepening embodiment of institutional values in service of mission.

The enterprise model can be defined as “An integrated way of being that requires the ever-deepening embodiment of institutional values in service of mission.” It is not simply a way of thinking about organizational development but rather a set of values and practices that creates an organizational culture and governance structure that empowers organizations to be more fully aligned with mission and strategy and, therefore, more able to engage in collaboration. Here are a few guiding principles of the model.

First, the enterprise model recognizes, even assumes, that the current systems in place are often dis-integrated. That is to say that meeting structures, communication practices, decision-making processes, and assumptions about the role and purpose of staff/faculty/board members are not integrated with each other in a common organizational system. Rather, the assumption is that organizations tend toward silo-thinking, inefficient systems, protectionist practices, and dis-integration.

As a result, the enterprise model invites the entire community within an organization to begin identifying areas of dis-integration. Every voice in the community is lifted to a point where the concerns of the entire system are heard and valued equally. It is through this empowerment of voices that dis-integration is brought to light. In most cases, institutional practices have been formed by years of dis-integration. Therefore, the work of integration can take time and must be done in an ongoing and unending change process.

At all times, the community must be reminded of the institution’s espoused values, mission, and strategic direction. Over time, as strong consensus is built around these items, the culture within the organization moves toward trust-based collaboration. This trust-based collaborative governance system leans into the ongoing and iterative nature of organizational development and change. It embraces values-driven decision-making and brings the concerns from across the entire institution to bear on day-to-day tasks.

In this way, the enterprise model can be very disruptive to a more traditional model of organizational development: one in which only certain voices are empowered in particular decisions. The elevation of concerns and voices that are often not heard or listened to in decision-making can be perceived as diminishing the concerns and voices of those most often heard or listened to in a traditional organizational model. This can be unsettling at the beginning of the change process. It is also disruptive because once the trust-based collaborative culture and governance structure has been created, the traditional processes for including voices become antiquated and harmful. New processes for including voices must be developed, and these new processes will, in turn, liberate the institution from the bondage of silo-thinking and protectionist practices.

Finally, the commitment to an ever-deepening embodiment of institutional values, mission, and strategy leads to a learning posture wherein the institution is continually becoming aware of the ways that its practices are not formed around the institution’s values, mission, and strategy. This learning process can be confusing, difficult, even painful, so members of the organizational community undergoing this change process can expect all of the attending responses. Clarity comes by doing. As the organization lives into the enterprise model, it will become more comfortable with this way of being. In fact, it may simply be better to refer to the “enterprise model” as the “integrative system.”

As an integrative system, everyone begins to experience what it is like to “let things go,” thereby creating a system in which partners are empowered to steward followers of Jesus who flourish in their vocations. Janet Stauffer, Dean of Students at Evangelical Seminary, recently referred to this as a kind of “spiritual discipline of letting things go.” It is a daily opportunity to seek the leading of the Spirit as we discern what God has in store for each of us as individuals and for the collective Kairos community. By leaning into integrative practices within the organizational system, we let go of power and invite broad collaboration as co-workers in the vineyard.

In doing so, we become part of a global network of theological education that functions as a platform for (rather than the source of) a participant’s journey of discipleship. Instead of trying to build or control every aspect of one’s journey, we partner with churches, nonprofits, ministry training organizations, and other kingdom-minded ministries to create an integrated system of theological education in which all components enhance the others.

Yes, that means we might ‘lose’ money that might have otherwise come our way. Yes, that means that participants in this journey might be exposed to something outside of our traditional approach to a given theological discipline. Yes, that means that other organizations might take advantage of this approach and seek to exploit it for their own benefit. Yes, that is what we think it looks like to give away power and control. Yes, giving away power and control is part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Join us next week as we continue to explore the foundations and practices of collaboration.

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