Teenage Groups in Adult Organizations

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No one becomes a mature adult without passing through the often challenging stage of development that we know as “being a teenager.” The final part of that stage is the typical college years from about age 18 into the early 20s. It is the time when many major life decisions are made about one’s independent identity and distinct place in the world. That reality is what makes the traditional undergraduate collegiate experience at Fresno Pacific University inspiring, challenging and truly satisfying for everyone involved. Several hundred wonderful teenagers recently joined the Fresno Pacific adventure. In a few years they will be adults who understand the stages of human and organizational development.

Organizations, including churches, businesses and various groups of all sizes and kinds also go through stages of development. Ideally they keep moving toward increasingly healthy maturity. But the reality is much more complex, because, like people, organizations can skip stages, jump forward or backward or have arrested development and get stuck in a stage, sometimes permanently.

Fresno Pacific is actually a huge collection of smaller organizations: schools, departments, programs, divisions, committees, caucuses, senate, teams, task forces, cabinets, councils, boards in seemingly endless variety. Some of them are formally recognized in the organizational structure and policies, and some are informal. Each contributes to the life and mission of Fresno Pacific University, and as we move ahead, all these different sub-organizations must constantly adapt. Helping everyone move forward in the same direction at roughly the same pace is one way to define the primary responsibility of leadership. It is an imperfect art, especially on those occasions when one of the subgroups of the organization gets stuck in teenager mode.

Teenagers believe that their parents and pretty much everyone else in the world exists for their welfare. The teenager wants to do what seems right or attractive or pleasurable, and not be bothered by intrusions or questions from the people who are supposed to support them. In teenager stage the group believes that the larger organization of which it is a part exists for the welfare of the members of the group, not that the group exists to help the larger organization achieve its mission. The teenager group wants the larger organization to support them and validate them and tell them that they are wonderful, and then leave them alone to do the important things God has given them to do. They demand a high level of autonomy with a low level of responsibility for contributing to the success of the whole organization. They want their spending allowance with no requirements to do anything to deserve it. They say, “take care of me and leave me alone.”

Some folks view God this way, as though God exists to make them happy, and anything less than their happiness is obviously God’s fault. It looks just as foolish when it happens in an organization. Fortunately teenager groups are rare and normally short-lived at Fresno Pacific. If they are equally rare in your church, school, business or community, be glad and thankful. But if you should happen to experience a teenager group, do them and the whole organization and the kingdom of God a favor. To help them become healthy adults, just be certain that they experience the full measure of the results of their behavior.

Healthy adults and healthy organizations must make constant progress. Progress requires change, and change requires every part of the organization to step out by faith and contribute what they can to the welfare and progress of the whole. In healthy and highly effective organizations, all sub-groups understand and enjoy the unique contribution they make to the success of the whole enterprise. And nobody remains a teenager very long.

  • wha

    Did the leadership of the university intend to condescendingly paint an unnamed number of its own employees as impetuous, greedy children?

  • JMD

    I believe he is describing a phase of human & organizational development that we ought to be aware of in order to avoid such tendencies. He is not, as you suggest, painting university employees in particular in this way (although I’m sure some of them could be categorized in this way). A quick look at his previous writings will show that he often uses organizational principles to educate and challenge university employees. Consider trying not to immediately assume the worst next time.