Community Impact and Culture – Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Culture: People First
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by | Aug 1, 2017 | Blog | 0 comments

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.


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Mark Friesen

Mark Friesen is the Executive Director at Columbia College, Canada’s longest established International not-for-profit college. He currently facilitates a monthly peer network of leaders dedicated to reimagining governance in the non-profit sector, and currently serves as Interim Chair of the Our Place Inner City Assembly. Mark has served as a volunteer, association founder, and an executive director, and has led fundraising, strategic planning and program development efforts in the sector for over 20 years. During his time at Vantage Point, BC’s leading not-for-profit capacity builder, Mark shifted his focus to governance; working with groups to enhance or redefine organizational decision making. Working with the Crown Agency Board Resourcing Office of BC, Mark guided the province to shift the governance and training material of BC’s public sector organizations away from shareholder accountability and towards governance in the public interest.

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