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Nothing New: Adaptive Organizational Change!

Posted by Arlen Vernava on July 29, 2012

"By the 1840's, the structure of the American Jewish community ... had produced a religious revolution that overthrew the synagogue-communities and replaced a monolithic Judaism with one that was much more democratic, free, diverse, and competitive."  (American Judaism, Jonathan D. Sarna, pg 61)

For all the attention adaptive organizational change receives these days, it's nothing new. Jewish immigrants to the American colonies during the 17th and 18th centuries established the practice of the Judaism of their fore-parents:  everyone in a geograhic community found their common home in one place of worship.  Synagogue life equaled community life.  By the first quarter of the 19th century an American born - post Revolution - generation agitated for what Sarna calls a community-of-synagogues.  By the Civil War a city like New York City had dozens of synagogues peopled by Jews who chose to practice their faith by gathering in separate communities.

What caused this sea-change?  Sarna names the American Revolution itself and the unique grace of a Nation where government did not and would not give special preference to some religion: all religion was free to practice and all persons were free to practice, or not, also. Now a close reading of history nuances this legislated truth but when push came to shove an American born Jewish generation discovered they did not need to organize their practice of faith beholding to the dictates of a parent synagogue.

What caused this sea-change?  Time, a perfect intersection of events, fresh perspectives.  What caused this sea-change?  A fervent desire to reform, rejuvinate, reclaim and/or restore a vibrant practice of the faith.

rainstorm swim chile

Adaptive organizational change bubbles up.  It emerges out of want and need.  It desires reform or rejuvination or reclaimation or restoration.  Adaptive organizational change takes emotional and spiritual time:  it's arc looks more like the process of growing up than it does a to-do punch list.  It will have it's way.  Where curiosity, generosity and hospitality are more highly valued than perfection, rules and purity, adaptive change will flourish.  When leaders do not lose courage or only measure success by chronological gain, adaptive organizational change will flourish. When trying, failure, experimentation and the long-view are celebrated as difficult but foundational practices, adative change will flourish.  When collaboration weds with purpose, adaptive change flourishes.

So your organization has been around for a while?  It's been doing what it does in the way that it does it for long enough that leaders, process, and policies are taken for granted?  Long-time leadership has moved on? Promising leadership stayed only long enough to springboard into something "better?"  New programs, fresh policies, better material resources and hiring a new Leader has created "change," but not with hoped for outcomes? 

"'Certainly,' Joseph Lyons wrote in his diary in 1833, 'a synagogue, as it exists under the present organization, will not be found in the U.S. fifty years hence.'" (Sarna, pg 75) 

New life can flourish through well attended adaptive organizational change.  Nothing new about that!

-Arlen G. Vernava

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Topics: faith-based community