The least collaborative organization is changing its structure.
Which organization? Well, here are some of its characteristics. This global enterprise pays a few people to make decisions while everybody else follows orders. The CEO’s direct reports act like a royal court and compete for face time. Senior leaders often live lavishly and consume conspicuously. Headquarters micromanages satellite offices. Bureaucracy and formality reduce efficiency. Internal competition runs rampant. The command-and-control organizational structure quashes dissent.
Sound familiar? This description fits many global corporations and government entities. This particular multinational spent $170 billion in the United States in 2010, according to The Economist. The organization is the Catholic Church and, more specifically, the Roman Curia, the church’s centralized administrative operation.
Like many corporations, the Catholic Church suffers from an obsolete organizational structure that is compromising value. And like many corporations, reform-minded leaders have tried introducing a new approach. But entrenched interests and a centralized bureaucracy rife with intrigue, fiefdoms, and Machiavellian motivations has frequently derailed change.
Enter Pope Francis setting the stage for change by wearing a simple white robe and black shoes rather than the regal vestments and ruby shoes of his predecessor. He has washed the feet of inmates and has opted to live in a guest quarters rather than the Vatican’s deluxe papal apartments in the Apostolic Palace. There are signs the Pope’s frugal tone is rippling across the Church. In March, the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst of Limburg, Germany who spent the equivalent of $43 million on a new house and office complex. In April, the Atlanta Archdiocese announced that it would sell Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s $2.2 million mansion.
Beyond Pope Francis’ rejection of the trappings of office, he is taking steps to adopt a more collaborative structure in the Roman Curia and in the global Catholic Church. The Pope has chosen a “working group” of eight cardinals from outside the Curia to collaborate with him on changing the structure.
Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio heads the Vatican department that writes the church laws that will codify reforms. The Religion News Service quotes Cardinal Coccopalmerio as saying “The big change is the emphasis on collegiality, on collaboration.” Now Pope Francis, Cardinal Cocopalmerio and other new church leaders are focused on breaking down barriers among silos so that information flows around the organization rather than from top to bottom. Cardinal Cocopalmerio has proposed naming a “moderator of the Curia” to identify inefficiencies and cut through red tape.
Pope Francis participates in meetings without dominating them and embraces broad input. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. recently attended one such meeting at the Vatican about appointing new bishops. Typically, popes never attend such meetings. Pope Francis reportedly stayed for three hours. “We’re all sitting around the table, and he comes in and pulls up a chair,” Cardinal Wuerl told Fox News. At another similar meeting, a senior cardinal asked the Pope what he thought about the topic. “If I told you what I think, you would all agree,” Pope Francis responded according to Cardinal Wuerl. “I want to hear from you what you think.”
Perhaps most significantly, according to Cardinal Wuerl, the Pope has repeatedly advocated a collaborative process through which “the Holy Spirit can be heard.” And the Holy Spirit isn’t going to be heard if just one person speaks. “He wants all of us to be speaking with him so at the end of the day he can say this truly was the fruit of the work of the Spirit.”
Hallelujah. Many corporations in multiple industries including United States government agencies can learn from the Pope’s example. It takes more than window dressing and a desire for change to create value through collaboration. The only viable approach is changing the organizational structure which, in turn, shifts the culture. My research on collaboration indicates that changing the structure requires seven steps—plan, people, principles, practices, processes, planet and payoff. Pope Francis has demonstrated that making progress through these steps requires that a leader set the stage for change so that others feel comfortable participating.
In essence, The Bounty Effect has hit the Catholic Church. The Bounty Effect happens when exigent circumstances compel companies, governments and organizations to change their structures from command-and-control to collaborative. For the Catholic Church, exigent circumstances range from sexual abuse scandals to corruption and cronyism at the Vatican. And it’s The Bounty Effect that led to the election of Pope Francis and the structural change now underway.