Uniting Church

Helping Uniting Church in Australia (Vic & Tas) better respond to modern day demands

[Our] structures, relationships with agencies, institutions and schools, perspectives on mission … and expectations have remained substantially similar to those that existed [40 years ago]. Our need to match the expectations of the old systems and structures with the new context has created significant stress

2016 Synod report

This was the challenge facing the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Formed over 40 years ago, it had seen considerable change: membership was ageing and declining, governance requirements were increasing, demand for community services had increased, the structure of the sector had become more complex and engagement with religious institutions had changed.

The challenges

Despite these changes the Synod itself had only undergone small, incremental adaptations and had failed to keep pace with the increasing demands of the modern world. Its structures and systems of governance remained complex, finances were stretched, a culture of custom and practice had developed, and the Synod lacked a clear and cohesive strategic direction.

The Synod recognised it needed to change in order to become a sustainable and thriving institution.

Changes were required across the whole organisation but there were difficulties to navigating these:

  • The Synod’s complex governance system comprised a series of interrelated councils that relied on consensus decision-making, requiring multiple approaches to engaging with people.
  • The Synod’s organisational structure had evolved over time without a single cohesive approach to strategic direction. Substantial change was needed but with minimal disruption to staff.
  • There were resourcing constraints, with more needing to be done with the same funds.
  • There was a growing realisation of the operational risks being faced by the Synod but often without an understanding of how to address these and how to ensure they did not impede growth.
  • No clear strategy to address business complexity and the changing context of the organisation. There was no focal point around which to create change.
  • There was a culture of custom and practice – where decisions were based on ‘the way it has always been done’ rather than seeking new ways. The culture needed to embrace change, not resist it.

The solution

Graphite i2i was engaged by the Synod to create a roadmap for change and address the challenges identified. Managing Director Dr Jason Talbot led the team of Graphite i2i consultants and Synod staff undertaking the work. With the help of Graphite i2i’s highly innovative business assessment framework, 6C Framework, Jason and his team undertook:
  • A comprehensive review of all activities of the Synod – congregational, governance, community services, schools, funds management operations, resourcing to identify sources of complexity, performance constraints and areas of change that needed to be prioritised.
  • An environmental scan and assessment of emerging trends to identify the range of strategic options available and support more robust choices.
  • An organisational structure review to establish a structure better aligned to purpose and enable more effective strategy delivery.
  • A risk management review and resource options development to improve financial sustainability.
  • A governance structure review and reorganisation to align the various facets of the Synod, clarify accountabilities and enable smoother decision making
  • An assessment of the current and desired culture to identify the direction and scope of change required to support a culture change program.
Jason and his team ran several vision and strategy planning workshops to connect to core purpose in a renewed way, set priorities and establish a strategic framework for the Synod. These workshops also helped to build engagement for changes across a diverse membership and employee group.

Jason provided leadership grounded in best-practice principles and processes, coupled with innovative, and ‘over the horizon’ thoughtfulness and processes, which added significant value and creativity to the outcomes of the project.

Rev Dr Mark Lawrence, General Secretary

The benefits

The work resulted in a range of recommendations that were agreed by consensus by the c.300 members of Synod. Jason then led the team to implement these changes over a two-year period.

While the full impact of these changes will only be fully realised over many years, the benefits so far have been considerable. They include:

  • Creating a clear purpose which is at the centre of the strategic direction and priorities of the Synod
  • A governance structure with clearer lines of accountability that support simpler decision-making processes
  • Simplified and standardised governance structure documentation making roles and obligations clearer`
  • A new structure with greater strategic alignment, fewer divisions, more focus and more clearly defined roles
  • A range of alternate resourcing structures and options for enhanced financial sustainability
  • A clearer sense of desired culture where there is greater trust and an openness to change

The Synod now has a much more cohesive and smooth functioning operation which will enable it to better face the challenges of an increasingly complex, uncertain and rapidly changing future.

Through Jason’s leadership, the aims of each of our projects were fully realised. Throughout his engagement; Jason was able to apply his considerable consultancy and organisational development skills in effectively engaging with executive staff, Board members as well as volunteers ... With wide ranging project deliverables taking effect on a variety of context, Jason and his team consistently achieved designated timelines and have always been on budget. His work has engendered deep confidence in his ability to achieve the desired overall outcomes.