paradoxes in association management, which I defined as counter-intuitive practices that we must embrace if we want to be successful. Here's one:
Organizational alignment flows more easily from decentralized decision-making than command-and-control bureaucracy.
This one might be the most counter-intuitive of them all. If you want organizational alignment, after all--everyone in your organization doing the right thing at the right time in service of your organizational mission--don't you pretty much have to tell them what to do and when to do it? You need a "command and control" management style, because otherwise the people under you will go off and do what they want. Right?
I've found the better approach to be to decentralize as much of the day-to-day decision-making as possible. Empower people to make their own decisions as close to the point of impact as possible. And if they bring decisions back to you, don't make them for them. Instead, use the interaction as an opportunity to discuss and reinforce either your organizational mission or the strategic priority most closely related to the issue at hand.
Because in a decentralized structure, those are the things everyone has to be consistent on. This is what we're here to do (mission), and these are the primary ways that we do it (strategic priorities). Every situation we encounter and decision we have to make is going to be unique, so if we're not on the same page with regard to what we're seeking to accomplish in the big picture, we'll wind up making hundreds of disconnected and potentially contradictory decisions.
It doesn't always work from day one--especially if you're trying to switch from the "command and control" to the "decentralized decision-making" model--but it does work, primarily because it forces the organization to talk about and to clarify the things that really matter and that correlate with its overall success.
Most people, in fact, don't like being told what to do. And most bosses, in fact, are juggling too many balls to consistently make appropriate decisions for the challenges met by their staff people. Dedicating the same amount of time to talking about mission and strategic priorities winds up saving time and building a more effective organization in the long run.
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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.