Last week, in preparation for attending the Grid program in Vancouver, I had to describe the characteristics of an ideal work culture. As I stared at the empty page, I thought about how pleased Hal Hannaford would be with this exercise. For those who don’t know Hal, he often stresses the importance of faculty culture and developed a popular Leadership Institute module.
I began by writing this: An ideal culture should be shaped around immutable values.
But then the fun began. What do I value? What does our team value? We have published CAIS values as part of our Strategic Plan, and I love them, but I was focused more on our team’s working values on a daily basis. I realized that we have a pretty defined culture. I came up with five values pretty easily, and then I made this exercise an agenda item on our staff meeting. Within minutes, we brainstormed phrases we often use with each other that we believe are representative of our values. Here is a distilled CAIS Team Top Ten List:
1. Well, not rushed. We say this often to each other and it always inspires us to work harder and get it right. Whether it means searching for another CAIS Top 12 article, or editing the newsletter one more time (ugh!), we use this term to push each other.
2. We are in the business of asking good questions. We serve independent schools that have independent boards who know their schools best. So we will never prescribe the “best” way to do anything, but we do challenge schools by asking good questions. Through our accreditation process, we can contribute to whole school improvement when we ask our schools to answer two sets of questions: first through the Internal Evaluation, and then through the Visiting Committee on-site questions.
3. We don’t use adjectives. I thank Bob Snowden for this one, as he used this phrase during the development of our last strategic plan and it stuck with us. We strive to have a CAIS writing style in all of our communications, and we agree on this rule. For us, it symbolizes our desire to be authentic and open to judgment.
4. Be a bud. Only four of us work in the office at Ridley College; the rest of us work from home offices across Canada. But we care about each other and do a lot to support each other professionally and personally. When I was in Mexico City this week, because Sarah was in Russia and England, she thanked me for being where she would normally be. The subject of the email was this: Thanks for being a bud.
5. That’s sexy. Yup… I meant to say that. We use the term when we are brainstorming, and we keep the ideas coming until we land on the best idea. We also use it when we have finally approved the content of a document, and we turn it over to someone for branding… But we also remind ourselves – if you have to tell others you’re sexy, you’re not. Think about that.
6. Big rocks. We have a lot going on, and so we begin every staff meeting with each person on the team sharing their three biggest projects that the team should know about. Those are the big rocks. It forces us to stay at the strategic level and not get caught up in too many details. It also forces us to have the courage to deal with important issues. We use the question – do you know what lives under a big rock?
7. Idea lamp. I have this habit of paper clipping pieces of paper with good ideas to my lamp. So now, whether we schedule time to brainstorm, or we find ourselves excited about an idea, we call it idea lamping.
8. That’s for the box. We like to laugh at work. Similar to the idea lamp, the best jokes end up on little pieces of paper in a box in my drawer. Sometimes we get out the box and review the funny moments. Here’s one: Val’s son once stood on a scale at home, looked down at his feet, and said, “Yup. I’m still three years old!”
9. We serve school leaders. There is no shortage of good ideas, so we use this phrase as a filter. If something can be better done by the regional associations, we don’t proceed. If something can be better done by the schools, we move on. But if we can save time for the leaders of our schools – through research or PD – we will act. When I worked at LCC, the strategic plan used a similar litmus test: students come first.
10. We like healthy tension. Our whole team is almost insanely passionate and hard working. We also think we are right. So we have developed a culture where candour is not only accepted but expected.