Blog - Grasping Vocation
Turning Work into Ministry: Part 5, Building CommunityThursday, February 21, 2013
God’s "to do” list for us, seen in Genesis 1 and 2, includes communing with him, building community, and stewarding the earth. This is the fifth in a series of blogs that explores how we can carry these out in our daily work. For Part 4, click here.
Last week’s blog on building community raised a question for a reader. Beyond practicing good manners, she wanted to know, what should go into seeking to build community and shalom into the workplace. In his book, Joy at Work, Dennis Bakke has identified one important community-building element. Bakke co-founded and served as the CEO of Applied Energy Services, a Fortune 200 global power company.
Strange as it may seem on first hearing, a major way of building community in the workplace has to do with who gets to make the important decisions. Bakke quotes the Matt. 25 parable of the talents, calling attention to the words heard by two of the servants: "enter into the joy of your master” (NASB). Then Bakke focuses on "the absence of decision making by the Master. God is not a typical boss,” he says. "All the stewardship decisions were delegated to the servants.”
The three servants received not only the money (talents) from the master but also the authority to decide how to invest those funds. Each had to answer for the outcome of his decision. Even the failure to invest the money came from a decision made by the third servant. By entrusting the servants with this kind of decision-making authority, the master was recognizing their God-given potential to take on real responsibility. This, says Bakke, opens the way for employees to find real joy in their work.
How does this relate to building community? Along with the authority to make decisions comes the responsibility to seek advice before doing so. From peers, subordinates, bosses, and even outsiders with expertise. (Think of how differently Jesus’ parable would have ended had the third servant asked advice from the first two.)
Bakke has just published a second book, The Decision Maker. Written as a novel, it traces the story of MedTec, a fictional medical device manufacturing company. Tom Anderson, one of the owner partners, sets the firm on a course of giving to those doing the work the authority to make decisions concerning that work.
Although the plot takes Tom through many obstacles and objections, one of the resulting benefits is a whole new experience of company community for everyone. One who had been skeptical says, "I’ve never seen people this engaged or happy at a company before.”
And Tom’s partner, also reluctant to adopt the new way, finally tells what it means to him: "Creating a company where people know they’re part of something important. Treating them like people, not machines. Giving them a chance to contribute and learn. Seeing how they want to come in every day. Knowing that they’re actually happy to work here. . . .That’s the bottom line.”
In his Introduction, Bakke writes, "The Decision Maker is founded on the idea that all of us can make good decisions. So this story is not just for people who currently lead organizations. It’s for managers at any level who want to unlock the full potential of the people around them.”
Jesus’ command to love our neighbors surely includes our workplace neighbors. Building community by releasing those neighbors to make significant decisions is one vital way to do what Jesus said.