The Blueprint

I have a background in construction and I have been a part of different groups and organizations at varying levels of leadership. In a recent conversation a thought emerged that combines those experiences in a way that is new to me.

This organization is a church that is growing rapidly and needs to do some restructuring as the current structure is not scalable for them to move forward. We have had multiple meetings and they have been working on this for some time now. The struggle is the typical org chart is too complex for what is needed in this situation. In a conversation, the thought occurred that a blueprint is a better approach than a typical linear flow chart.

The thing about churches and many non-profits is they are primarily volunteer staffed. Yes, there are paid leaders and staff, but the majority of people on the org chart are volunteer. The other thing that happens in a church is there are often at least a few people filling multiple roles. Beyond that, there is a lot of cross over among departments and functions that is hard to draw out in a linear flow chart.

Blueprints, however, are not linear. Blueprints are layered. Blueprints include an overview look that shows what the end product will be. Turn the page and it starts to show the details, system by system. A building is not made up of stand alone pods. Everything is interconnected. Each system relies on the others. From electrical to plumbing to HVAC there must be coordination in order for the building to be built properly. Yet to see that, each contractor must have a page that is theirs. However, if they don’t also have the pages for the others, something will be missed or placed in the wrong place.

A while back, I was on a commercial construction job as the finish carpenter. I could not do my job until the other contractors had done theirs. I had to work with the electrician to be sure that the structure of the cabinets and counters we were installing allowed for him to add access where it was needed for the equipment going into the space. As I was installing some cabinets, it became obvious that something had been missed along the way. The design called for a sink with water and drain in the middle of the freestanding cabinets. However, there was no plumbing accounted for in the blueprints. The sink was there on my page, the plumbing was not shown on the plumber’s page, though there was a note on the page from the architect. The real problem was there needed to be a passthrough in the counter for employees between the sink and the source for the plumbing. This meant that the plumbing pipes couldn’t simply be run inside the cabinets. As some back and forth took place between the client, the general contractor, the plumber, and the architect, I was at a standstill on that portion of the project. Some blame was being passed around. What happened was a simple lack of proper communication. It started because the blueprint didn’t fully account for the equipment on all the pages. It continued because the plumber didn’t read the full set of blueprints. The general contractor didn’t catch the oversight before the trench in the floor was filled in. I had assumed that it was all covered.

The whole thing could have been avoided at multiple places along the way. Ultimately, if each person involved had made sure to know how each system interconnected, it would been caught while the plumbing could be run in the trench in the floor before the concrete was poured.

We came up with a solution that involved running plumbing across the floor and me having to build a step over to protect the plumbing.

While that was a glitch because of lack of communication and proper use of the blueprints, it was the blueprints that caught the error and allowed us to come up with a solution that worked and didn’t delay the job or adversly affect the opening or operation of the business.

I share this story to highlight the importance of a proper blueprint, but also the importance of knowing it.

As this church works through its reorganization of structure, it is vital that the proper blueprint is put into place. It is also vital that all the leaders involved are familiar with it.

Blueprints are like air to a construction project. They breath the life into it.

Blueprints are effective because they take something very complex and break it down into simple pages by layer so that each person can know what they need to do and how it connects with the whole.

For an organization, a blueprint structure can account for the non-linear aspects and crossover flows among departments. A blueprint drawing of the organization can also give a proper overview of where the organization is headed and what it wants to become. Thinking of it in terms of a blueprint over a typical org chart can also break it down into manageable and scalable chunks so that each one knows what needs to be done as well as how they fit into the whole.

If you are trying to draw out a complex system or structure, maybe stepping back and looking at it as a blueprint instead of a chart will be the exact approach you need to take.

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