National Church Institutions

Discover how collaboration was forged from diversity

The Church of England is a highly devolved institution, but the seven National Church Institutions administer core functions that are most effectively handled at national level.

York Minster

The National Church Institutions of The Church of England consists of seven distinct organisations, including the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners for England and the Church of England Pensions Board. Each NCI has its own leadership team and culture. This sometimes causes tensions, and there are cultural barriers to overcome – notably where newcomers to the business are not from a church background.

The ‘worldly’ side of the business includes lawyers and property managers, wielding a huge portfolio of buildings, land, gilts, equities, stocks and shares. The ‘spiritual’ side involves clerics and academics, many of whom have no prior experience of people management or business leadership issues.

Although there is a hierarchy within each NCI, corporate management structures have traditionally never been used, with a line structure that has evolved over time to include many different roles with different remits. As a result, academics are frequently posted to positions of senior leadership with no grounding in people, leadership or teamworking skills.

The Myers-Briggs Company was called in to help drive the necessary cultural change through a leadership development programme. On justifying the choice, HR Director Su Morgan commented: “It was one of the things that [The Myers-Briggs Company, formerly OPP] specialised in, with its work in behavioural areas. Our issue wasn’t just about competence – it was a cultural change that we needed. The sessions would involve independently minded intellectuals who might initially be resistant, and who would be quick to challenge. [The company] was well able to handle that.”

With resources short, a wider range of skills and experience was vital to the NCIs. Like any organisation, it needs to make money. As Su points out: “There is an inherent tension when trying to make as much money as possible in an ethical environment. But in order for the Church of England to survive, it has to be economically viable and growing. Much of the money still comes from people giving donations in church on Sundays, and fewer people attending church means fewer donations. There has to be a more entrepreneurial approach.”

The Myers-Briggs Company designed a four day leadership development programme, part of which included the MBTI®, the TKI™ and 360 feedback.

The first day focused on raising the awareness of each leader about their leadership strengths and challenges, through MBTI and 360 feedbacks. There were 10–12 participants in each group, representing the diversity of the organisation, for maximum effect. It was useful having these different perspectives: mutual but potentially conflicting interests found common ground, and diverse groups recognised how they could be of use to each other.

The following sessions looked at personality styles, decision-making and managing change. They also focused on leadership behaviour under pressure, and how this impacts on decision-making. It was demonstrated how always avoiding conflict – almost a ‘rule of thumb’ in the pastoral care that defines much of the C of E’s work – is not just a cultural response, but arises when people lack the skills and confidence needed to take an alternative approach. The TKI helped to plug those gaps, redefining what conflict actually means, and providing a mechanism for using conflict constructively to achieve more positive outcomes.

In addition, the final day focused on how to ‘unlock the potential’ of individuals within the organisation, using The Myers-Briggs Company’s own model to introduce the leaders to a range of coaching skills.

The sessions have given the NCIs a context in which to talk about organisational challenges. They also allowed the disparate strands of the organisation to meet, interact and understand each other.

The work done so far has been a stepping stone, a vital means of looking into the future and identifying development needs. The Church is letting opinion, roles and expertise mingle and broaden.

As a follow-up, people are receiving further training as coaches; leaders are involved in an ongoing leadership development programme; and the institution is considering development activities. A junior level of management has been established, to champion leadership skills and spearhead the culture of positive change.

“We are now able to do and deliver things more, not just think about them”, says Su Morgan. “There is some recognition that a glossy academic treatise on a subject is not enough. We need to go out and actually deliver the changes.”

The revolution does not come overnight, though, and there is still work to be done; but a genuine change in management is underway at some levels, and development is no longer a taboo issue.

“We are no longer locked in the old isolationist structures”, says Su. “We are bringing in a greater variety of viewpoints and working in a less compartmentalised way.”

The NCIs now look at how projects should be managed, setting up forums where issues can be discussed and developed. Coaching, learning and development have become central issues in moving forward positively, constructively and effectively.

The TKI session was very, very interesting. It showed people how to avoid trigger-points. There had been a culture in the organisation of avoiding conflict, but the sessions revealed how this is not always the best approach. It taught people how they might deal with conflict by managing it.

Su MorganDirector of Human Resources for the Archbishop’s Council of the Church of England. National Church Institutions