Working in a “NO” Culture

I’m not really a huge fan of Jim Carrey (especially in this decade), but Yes Man was actually a pretty decent romp. I haven’t seen it recently but the idea must have been incepted (inceptioned?) into my mind… or, it may have just been a recent post by Craig Groeschel that got me thinking (specifically, about “That’s-not-my-job” mindsets).

Now I have these questions : does the thought of asking a colleague for help on a project make you nervous? Is it like pulling teeth trying to push positive changes through your staff meetings? Do you feel the need to aggressively defend your creative ideas?

If these ring true for you, then you may be working in a “NO” culture.

In many organizations, there is a grand pendulum that swings from the entrepreneurial, freedom-granting, creative “YES” culture to the rigid, policy-centric, structured “NO” culture. Both have their merits, and both aren’t without flaws; too much freedom in the workplace has chaotic potential, and too much structure poisons creativity and productivity. This is especially true for larger churches, where the size of the staff and the volume of ministry programs demands an appropriate balance of these two extremes. Many healthy churches simplify their ministry output as they grow and find focus, and that can sometimes lead to the dreaded culture of “NO”:

  • “Can we talk about our awesome upcoming mission trip in this weekend’s service?” “NO”
  • “Can I use that awesome community software for my group that meets at Starbucks?” “NO”
  • “Can I rent your awesome million dollar facility?” “NO”

The key symptom to watch out for in a “NO” culture is a general lack of good reasoning behind each declined request. Once “NO” becomes the normal response to people outside your staff or team, then it is only a matter of time before it becomes the normal response to colleagues and team members:

  • “Can you help me with this project even though it’s not really your area?” “NO”
  • “Do we have anyone who owns XYZ?” “NO”
  • “Can I implement this change?” “NO”

After that, the lack of collaboration, communication, and teamwork – and the addition of territorialism, silos, and disrespect – can become a deadly virus that will cripple your mission and purpose.

Now, I say all of this not as a personal complaint – Pantano has a good balance of staff players on both sides of the yes we can / no we can’t fence. This is simply a reminder to others in ministry that there is hope, and it can start with you – the next time you feel the urge to say “NO,” surprise yourself (and others) and say “Why yes, yes I can do that, and I’d be glad to.”


Photo by nathangibbs, via a CC license

3 Replies to “Working in a “NO” Culture”

  1. _Yes Man_ was a fun movie indeed, and I felt the same way after watching it. Reading your article, I thought it would be an interesting discussion to compare a NO to an overly-high YES culture. Yes-men have resulted in “groupthink” which can end in things like the Bay of Pigs. I don’t think they’re the same, but there’s clearly a middle ground where an optimistic attitude and willingness to help are countered by critical thinking and a willingness to question authority. Perhaps the key is to trust those you work with, but occasionally question their judgement.

  2. That’s absolutely right, Neal. A balanced workplace is the goal. Mutual trust and respect between colleagues allows for crazy creative ideas to be brought to the table, and also for those ideas to be filtered and critiqued without people taking it personally.

Comments are closed.