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3 Functions Within Life Cycles of an Organization

There are life cycles of every organization. Over time an organization will likely have many separate cycles.

But I have also observed another dynamic within life cycles. In each life cycle, the most successful organizations I have been a part of had a team skilled at three separate functions.

The three functions within life cycles are:


Starting involves those who can dream, vision-cast, and recruit people to follow a new idea or initiative. These are the people who embrace change and are always ready for something new. (BTW, this is the group where I typically fit.)


Maintaining involves setting up and managing systems in an effort to continue the progress usually begun by others. These people may be slower to embrace change; valuing things which are organized, structured, and understandable. (BTW, every team needs these people to be successful.)


Finishing is different from starting or maintaining, because it’s not beginning new, nor is it staying the same, but it involves taking an established idea and carrying it to the next destination. It could be to improve things, close them gracefully or transition things to a new season of leadership. These are people who have the ability and desire to make existing things better and to finish things well.

Here’s why this matters in an organization:

In my observation, people tend to lean towards one of the three, and may be comfortable in two of them. I have found it rare for someone to be gifted in all three. But on successful teams, all three are operating together within a life cycle.

Personal example: I love being a starter. Since I was in high school, I’ve wanted to start clubs or initiatives, alter the direction of something, or stir up some intentional change. It is one reason I’m consistently tossing out new ideas to our team. (It’s also how I frustrate them most.) I can live in the finisher role for a time if it involves development or innovation, but I always drift back to starting something new. And I burn out very quickly in the maintaining position.

One goal of a team could be to balance the strengths of the team members around each of these, so the team is always starting, maintaining, and finishing. The most important thing is that the team and leaders recognize that each of these functions of a life cycle are equally important.

Every healthy life cycle requires all three.

Which one are you wired for best?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Jim Pemberton says:

    Good thoughts. I have two or three points of context here: 1. Manufacturing, 2. Church, which could be broken into local church and missions, which may differ somewhat in leadership and teamwork structures.

    I might change the name of the last category from Finishers to Transitioners or Transformers. That is, most things that end result in a new thing, even if that new thing isn't obvious. Manufacturing is typically very intentional in this life cycle. We have people whose sole purpose is to direct market research and new product development requiring product designers and purchasing to develop new supply lines that might be required, accounting, IT, manning models, etc. Product development involves manufacturing development and requires various kinds of manufacturing engineers as well as leadership from managers, supervisors, and team leaders whose job it is to direct the labor. Old products become obsolete and are replaced by new product lines. The factory is reconfigured in some ways to accommodate this change, the same people who worked on the old products are trained to produce the new products. After the new products are initiated, the labor leadership turn to improving the original manufacturing processes to improve the processes for quality, safety, and efficiency.

    So a church works a little differently, but there are some things that correlate with the manufacturing process. The different departments I mentioned above may be handled by the same people, subcontracted, or even subsumed under one person. Leadership is heavily idea-driven instead of driven by sales and revenue. It's one thing to gather a team that you will be able to pay handsomely because you can anticipate sales and another to develop a ministry because it's a good idea. This is where what motivates us brings the two together. Where we night develop kinds of departments in a church is in the use of committees. As long as the committees aren't allowed to become stuck on maintenance, they can be transformative, closing one chapter of ministry and opening a new chapter of ministry. For example, my church is in the process of moving away from a deacon model to an elder model. We aren't getting rid of deacons, but transforming their role. The teaching statement to help the movement along is, "Congregation-ruled, elder-led, deacon-served." We have committees working on teaching and developing the by-laws that will guide how we do this, and we have wide-spread support because we are transparent and deliberating. All good principles. But the point is that while it was driven by a few good leaders, involving leadership in different areas is important to not doing it in a ham-handed way that will generate opposition.

    So I don't know whether I would say that I'm a Starter or a Finisher, but I would certainly be a Transformer or Transitioner. But I'm also a Maintainer in other ways. From manufacturing, in the areas I lead in the church, I try to implement some of the things I have learned in manufacturing: 5S, 6 Sigma, Lean Principles, and 8D. There are things I also bring in from my Marine Corps days, like the 5-paragraph order: SMEAC. I lead audio production in the church and I have a partner that leads video production. We are working with our integrator right now on updating our systems. This involves new production processes to develop and train volunteers to do. So we are doing Transformation (Finishing and Starting), but after the refit is over, we'll be also doing the Maintaining. It's helpful to understand how our roles change as leaders in each of these stages.