This is the companion piece to a Mission Paradox blog I reposted on June 5th. That was Part 1 “Breaking Away from our Parents” and this is the culminating article from the Mission Paradox folks.  You will see that there is a link below to the first article so you can check it out first if you did not read my earlier blog.

I was really jazzed to read what he has to say in this second part of his caution about the future of nonprofit arts. He lays out an argument for shaking things up so that your institution can be a conduit for change. We all know that the sand has shifted under our feet and that nonprofit arts organizations must address new challenges that have come forward in the last decade.

I have recognized that and I think it is an opportunity to do something radical within our arts institutions. In the last five years we have been attempting to do that. In particular, thinking of what he discusses in the last blog, we have tried to move towards the organization of the future that he describes here. It has been hard won on our part and it is gratifying to see someone talking about it from their point of view in this article.

Passe Muraille is governed in all of its decisions and interactions by one thing. Does it fit with our values and vision. We are not an hierarchical organization where orders are handed down a chain of command. And yet we do have a leadership that sets the values and vision for the staff. The staff is then empowered to make decisions on their own because they can test their decisions against our values and feel confident in their choices. So a lot of the work in our office is chaotic…as individuals or groups break off and take responsibility for one job or another. We have tried to remove the silos that come with some job descriptions and also with narrow job responsibilities, in favour of a structure where the entire staff is responsible for moving our institutional fortunes forward and for promoting our theatre to the world. This is working for us at the moment and we are thriving on the organized chaos that is the TPM office. Now we have a new challenge. Can we meet “The Good Idea Test” that is laid out below. It is what we are striving for.

Andy McKim


Posted: 11 Jun 2012 06:35 AM PDT

Part One is here:


Allow me to quote myself, from Part 1

The first nonprofit arts shadow is a strong, institutional resistance to change.  This is by design.  Hierarchy, structure and change do not mix.  The world is filled with groups that either couldn’t see the world evolving or couldn’t summon the will to deal with the change.

We have to consider our structures and how we can remove the natural barriers to change.


All Part of the Plan

Certain classes you always remember.  For me, it was a class on organizational design.  Our professor spent weeks hammering home this fact:

Nothing is an accident.

The way an organization is structured (designed) creates the outcomes.  The way a theatre, orchestra or dance company is designed can stimulate innovation, it can improve morale, it can increase productivity.

The reverse of that is also true, poor design can shoot all those good things in the proverbial face.  This is true even if the place is filled with well meaning people.  People respond to their organizational environment.  It can bring the worst (or best) out of people.

He also hammered home this point:

Design can be changed

Organizational design is a set of decisions.  Some spoken.  Some unspoken.  They are a set of decisions about how information flows, how power is shared, how quickly change happens, or whether change happens at all.

If you change the decisions, you change the design.

If you change the design, you change the outcomes.


This is such an important point to consider because we make so many assumptions about how a nonprofit arts organization must function.

We assume that the Boards of Directors have to operate in a certain fashion.

We assume that vital functions such as marketing and fundraising have to be based toward a certain audience and have to be staffed by certain types of people.

We treat these assumptions as if they are sacred law delivered by a guy stepping down from a mountain.

By contrast, the thriving nonprofit of the future will understand that every element of their organization structure is a decision.  It isn’t law.  It’s a choice.

The thriving nonprofit of the future will spend as much time considering the design of their organization as they do sweating their revenue generating operations.

They will understand and embrace the idea that nothing is an accident.


The Good Idea Test - For an example of how this may look in practice, consider the “good idea” test.  Instead of seeing your organization as a series of departments or functions, think of it as a place where good ideas thrive or die.

Now imagine that a really good idea has popped up in some area.  Maybe it comes from an intern, maybe the Executive Director.  Now consider the place in your organization where that idea dies.  Is there an unhelpful committee structure that kills the idea?  Is there a particular meeting where the idea would be swatted around but no action would be taken . . .  which is the same as killing it?

Consider that moment.

The principles of organizational design tell us that you can increase the chance of that good idea surviving by making a new decision about that moment.

Maybe you change the committee structure.  Maybe you put in a new set of rules in that previously idea killing meeting.

New decision.  New outcome.