Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast and Why This is Critical for You

Why Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast and Why This is Critical for You

A well-known quote from Peter Drucker is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.  Success of organizations are more tied to the organizational culture than developing correct strategy.  But many organizations, (churches, mission organizations, non-profits), pay little attention to developing culture.  They are focused on vision and strategy instead.  I love vision and strategy, but there is something much more fundamental to success – culture.

What exactly is culture?  Without getting technical, we are talking about the way people behave while on the mission of the organization.  Have you ever been on mission with people that worked well together in such a way that you loved to be with them and shared in the joy of doing something great together?  If you have you probably can identify what made being part of that team so great and effective.

I remember being part of a team like that while planting a church.  We were not the best at preaching, music, or organization.  What we were good at was developing a culture where people enjoyed working together to accomplish great things.  Together, we experienced the joy of seeing miracles happen as we worked together in unity – empowered by the Holy Spirit.  You probably remember being a part of a team like that.  It stands out because the culture of that team is rare.  It just doesn’t happen by itself.  It is developed intentionally and includes the same things that all effective cultures have in common.

Effective cultures have four things in common according to the International Leadership Institute.

  1. Encourage Transparency and Accountability: Few things are more damaging to a team than secrets and gossip. The best teams function as loving families where everyone is known and knows others.
  2. Delegate Decision-Making Authority: I remember the frustration of having been given responsibility without authority to make decisions on the matter. Empowerment means giving every person the autonomy to make decisions within the scope of their function.
  3. Listen and Value Every Opinion: Sometimes the best solutions come from unlikely people, precisely because they are not bound by the “way things are done” mentality of experts.
  4. Encourage Cross-Departmental Communication: A few years ago, someone helped us to see how different departments at ILI were operating in silos, isolated from each other. The simple decision to share information has done wonders to improve the culture among our staff.


Let’s unpack those four essentials for developing an organizational culture. The common ingredient in building an effective organization culture is building strong relational intelligence.  Corestrengths training is foundational to releasing relational intelligence of your organization.  Each of the four things listed above is about being able to work together relationally.  Understanding what is most important to each of us at our core is foundational.  Understanding why we do what we do and why others do what they do enables us to work together more effectively.  We learn to understand each other, accept one another, appreciate each other, grow in grace, and work effectively together.

  • Encourage Transparency and Accountability: This only happens when you serve with people who love each other.   Transparency is only displayed by people who know they are cared for and loved.  They know they are not going to judged and put down. Accountability is not the same as judgement.  Judgement is about doling out punishment.  Accountability is about recognizing the value of each person’s contribution and valuing them.   There is care for the wellbeing of each person.  People believe the best about each other and know each other.  As a leader you can shape this kind of culture.  Be open and transparent about what is happening and allow questioning and interaction from others.  When someone messes up, they don’t cover it up, but acknowledge the problem.  In love, they bring about accountability, and encourage them as you would a family member.  Being known and knowing others at a deep level allows this to happen.  Members appreciate their design and recognize they need others who are different from them.
  • Delegate Decision-Making Authority: The key to developing a culture of effective delegation is trust.  Trust is built by leaders who are first trustworthy.  They do what they say they will do.  They allow others to fail rather than rescue them by taking back responsibilities.  When you rescue people from failure, you tell them they aren’t to be trusted.  Trust is absolutely required for any organizational culture to achieve great things.  Leaders not only trust others to make decisions, but they believe others have better ideas and are needed.  People have learned what each team member is good at doing.  They trust each person to do their part without controlling each other.  Leaders who understand this intentionally and systematically help their people discover how God has created them and they draw out the genius God has placed in them (gifts of the Spirit, personality, strengths, and talents).
  • Listen and Value Every Opinion:  Listening skills are developed by those on the team.  The leadership models how to listen well.  They value each person and their opinions.  But they do more than that.  They also engage in equipping their people to do the same things.  They know this doesn’t happen all by itself.  They organize their culture in such a way that there develop listening systems, so communication is not just from the top down, but travels from the bottom up.  They recognize people when they make contributions showing they value each person.  An example of this is a church where the board communicated everything they were discussing and praying about with the small group leaders.  The small group leaders were asked to communicate these things to their groups and pray together about them.  They were then asked to share their own ideas with the small group leaders who would then communicate back to the board.  In this way, there was a communication system established by the core members of the church where opinions were valued, transparency was evident, and the best ideas were brought forward.
  • Encourage Cross-Departmental Communication:  Organizations tend to develop walls and silos where people work in their specialty and don’t listen to those who are engaged elsewhere.  They may even become protective of their area and forget about how they related to the whole organization.  This spells destruction of the organization.  The ideas and solutions that are needed are often found amongst those who are looking in from the outside.  They can often see the issues more clearly as they are not personally invested.  Build an organizational culture that allows and even encourages everyone to listen and communicate with care and grace.  Establish formal ways where this can be done and foster avenues for different viewpoints.  To do this well, people need to be equipped to carefully avoid conflict triggers.  Understanding what is most important to others will enable better communication so we don’t inadvertently step on others.  Leaders who understand this will equip their members about how to communicate when things are tense, and conflict is possible.

Build the relational intelligence of your people utilizing the SDI 2.0 and relational workshops.  The discovery of God’s design of your people will lay the foundation for developing a organizational culture where your vision and strategy can flourish.  As Peter Drucker stated, “Any strategy that doesn’t take into account the culture of the organization is likely to fail.”  Culture not only eats strategy for breakfast, but it may also eat change agility for lunch and innovation for dinner.  What are you doing to build relational intelligence into your ministry or organization?

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.