Imagine a community service organization with no explicit policy manual on customer communications. Yet somehow, whenever the phone rings or someone walks in the front door, whichever staff member is in the office stops what they’re doing to provide immediate assistance, regardless of that person’s role in the organization. How does this happen? How does a particular pattern of behaviour become consistent across a diverse team?
Organizational culture has a tremendous influence on the work of your organization, and the impact your team has on the community. Culture can be understood as the practices and behaviours that permeate all of your work as a team. How do you behave with each other? How do you talk about and organize activities together as a group? What have clients, funders, and partners come to expect of your organization when working together? What do you want them to expect when they work with your team?
For some organizations, a culture of open sharing and communication is critical. For others, it may be more appropriate for team members to minimize interruptions from one another. Ideally, the culture of your organization should align with the work that you do. Think of the impact you are looking to have on the community. Is your focus on accessible services for a particular age group? Do you provide a safe space for creative artists to incubate new ideas? Is education or advocacy your focus?
Different cultural practices will impact each of these activities in different ways. It is important to think about how your practices and behaviours will support your intended impact on the community your organization serves. Culture does not change easily, but explicitly acknowledging your team’s cultural practices can reveal new opportunities to work together differently.
In your next team meeting, ask your colleagues some of the questions above. The answers may surprise you, and will serve as an important reminder of how much impact each and every one of us can have on the work of our organizations.
Mark Friesen is the Director of Capacity Development at Vantage Point, where he assists not-for-profit organizations throughout BC with strategic planning, governance, and capacity building. Mark excels at assessing governance structures and finding democratic solutions to organizational challenges...