Sometimes it can feel as though you are a faceless cog in an engine called team at work. Individual passions and objectives are of no import, only what the team achieves and contributes. To those on the outside looking in, the team is one, even though it is made up of different individuals with differing skills and contribution. When I think of a well-functioning team who are operating as one, my mind always goes to the Mercedes Formula One Team. They are known collectively by their brand. Yes the drivers are seen as individuals and celebrated as such by their fans but the team, often the hundred of faceless individuals behind the scene who have worked to develop the car that the driver then takes and makes waves on track are the true heroes of the day.
Within the team, those individuals who make up the whole are celebrated for their expertise and those who need to know, know about their contribution. Not everyone plays well together and we need to be conscious of this, especially when we recruit individuals to be an individual contributor then force them to operate as part of a team. Being faceless can be ok, if individuals are given the recognition they deserve within a team structure. Where it becomes an issue is where the team is dysfunctional and some members are contributing, whilst others are not, yet all are rewarded the same or where there are clear divisions in terms of objectives and values.
When you type the word culture into Pixabay, one of the largest images site, it returns a range of pictures showcasing well known sites and scenes from countries all over world and weirdly quite a good range of pictures showing garlic. I am still trying to figure out that one! What this showed through the use of images is that culture is not something that is easily defined and differs greatly from one country to the next. The images also highlighted that it is not something one can necessarily touch but experience.
Miriam-Webster.com defines Culture as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.” From an organisation‘s point of view Culture is defined by the same source as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” The use of the word “shared” when used in this context had me thinking about how culture is formed at organisation level. At a social group, religious or racial level culture is easily understood and perpetuated.
As a Black Caribbean woman of African descent, I grew up feeling, breathing and living my culture which manifests and displays in many tangible and intangible ways. I was taught our way of life at my grandfather’s knees. The values of respecting your elders; putting God first in all things; cooking, laughing and dancing together as family and friends; being ambitious for yourself and others; being open and honest in your dealings with self and others; working hard, always having a clean home and the list goes on and on. My culture is so much an ingrained part of me that it is like breathing. I didn’t truly understand this until I left the Caribbean and moved to the UK. Talk about a culture shock!
At an organisation level Culture takes on a different context in my view. Different racial, religious and social groups have chosen to come together to work at a common goal. They bring with them all their different cultures and we have what I like to call a culture cocktail. The inherent problem with this is, with so many mixers involved, how then does an organisation maintain and define what it wants its culture to be and how does it ensure this is what all these different groups are perpetuating when they are with them?
I think in very simplistic terms it is very akin to how you parent a child. You set the ground rules ( not many, keep it simple and relevant). You reward compliance; you call out non-compliance and ensure there are consequences to behaviour which breaches the ground rules. You also leave enough space for the creative spirit to manifest itself and bring new things in that enhance what is already there.
When it is time you also provide the opportunities for your child to spread their wings and take flight to forge their own journeys and create their own subcultures. Similarly within any organisation for the culture to remain a thriving microcosm, some will need to leave and others will need to arrive and bring their experiences to bear.
Working from home to quote the queen Beyoncé “can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare”. For some reason I now want to grab the imaginary mic and sing the full song. Tempting but I am not sure you would survive my rendition. This question has been on my mind all week due to “the Beast from the East” storm that rolled into the UK last week. I was snowed in at home for over 4 days and what is usually a dream became a beautiful nightmare!
Now don’t get me wrong I was glad that unlike other employment I have had throughout the years, my employer is very flexible and encourages working from home, so I didn’t need to take holiday or unpaid leave as I was able to and fully equipped to work from home. To understand my predicament you need to understand that given the choice, I would never choose to work from home unless I had personal appointments which meant I needed to be closer to home than work or I was having work done at home which required me to be present.
I applaud and encourage employers who offer this flexibility but for me personally I like going into an office and interacting with others. I like walking into a train station and getting my morning coffee. I like putting my headphones on and tuning out everyone on the train while browsing emails and the news. I like walking out to get lunch and debating what I should eat that day. I love being stopped by colleagues in the corridors and having impromptu conversations. But what I also love, is being able to sign off for the day, whatever time that is and putting on my coat and catching that train home. Work is done for the day unless there is emergency and that ability to stop and go home is essential to me, in enabling me to manage and have a good work life balance.
Working from home while great when it is convenient for you, I found this week was almost unbearable as there were no other options. I literally wanted to climb my walls! maybe it was the endless white of the snow outside or the cold or the feeling I had of being trapped inside! to be fair I wasn’t literally trapped I could have chosen to go for walks outside in the snow, but why? I mean its wet and cold! I grew up in a tropical country, unless I have no other choice and I always have a choice, I do not choose to be cold or wet! What this brought home to me is that employers should offer a variety of options for employees to choose from in their flexible working offer.
One size definitely does not fit all, consider asking your employees to be involved in suggesting what is on offer. Do not put limits rigidly on what is considered suitable or desirable. Be open to different ways of working and understand that what one employee will consider a good option for them will not fit someone else.
What this week also drove home to me, is how we engage with employees whose normal location is home. Are they in danger of becoming the forgotten workforce?