You need to update a coworker on a joint project. The information isn’t particularly urgent, but there’s a fair amount of detail. Do you send an e-mail message? Make a phone call? Or would you drop by the office and talk in person? Does your answer change if you need a reply by tomorrow morning?
When I joined MnSCU a year ago, it wasn’t the big things that caught me off guard, it was the little day-to-day realities of functioning in a new place. I was moving from one institution of higher education to another, and much of the organizational culture was the same. But people in MnSCU call each other on the phone all the time! At my previous workplace, email was the preferred communication vehicle. People would even email each other to set up phone appointments. In my new workplace a phone call is much more effective. I still have a hard time picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue, but I’m learning.
Understanding the cultural context in which the work is happening is another aspect of this month’s leadership competency, knowing oneself and others. It allows us as leaders to communicate effectively, and also provides an opportunity to help others be successful. I recently met with an employee who was new to higher education. She asked me to describe three aspects of higher ed culture that she should be aware of. That was a challenging question, and the resulting conversation was valuable to both of us. Even so, upon reflection I realized that I still hadn’t gone deep enough to surface some of the hidden assumptions that drive our work.
Understanding what it means to be part of the local culture is also important. Our workplace is located in Minnesota. If one of our blog readers from Japan, India, or the United Kingdom ever visited in person, they would undoubtedly find cultural differences, both big and small. My friend Jerilyn had that experience when she moved here from the East Coast, and my friend Corey helped her talk through it. Together, they’ve created a fun and useful web site about Minnesota Nice. Check it out. You may find it a valuable resource next time you work with a transplant to this area.
How can knowing your organizational and community culture help you be a better leader? What steps can you take to learn more?
Dee Anne Bonebright