Our CAIS team members talk a lot about culture in our schools. One of our most popular modules at our Leadership Institute is Faculty Culture, lead by Hal Hannaford; we introduced School Culture Focus Groups on this year’s accreditation reviews; and we always include the latest research on culture in our Top 12s.
I like what Angela Duckworth recently had to say about creating culture:
As [Seattle Seahawks head coach] Pete Carroll said to me, ‘it’s not one thing, it’s a million things.’ But there are some themes. One is language. It’s important to have a vocabulary that’s used within that organization, and not to use synonyms. The second is rituals: you can ritualize things like working on your weaknesses — at the Seahawks, they call it ‘Tell the Truth Monday,’ so it becomes a routine. On Mondays, we look at the things we’re doing wrong. Tuesdays we do something different. I think that’s helpful. The third is that in group psychology, you basically create an identity. When people who work in a very strong culture identify themselves, they often use a noun form, such as a West Pointer. Or at KIPP, the charter school, you call yourself a KIPPster — they will actually say out loud — ‘I’m not just a student, I’m a KIPPster.’ When you break down what a culture is, it’s reinforcing an identity of ‘this is who we are. It’s different from the way other people are, but you’re in this group — not their group.’
So at our staff retreat last month, knowing that we would be hiring a new Executive Assistant, (we are so sad to lose Lynne Turnbull but wish her all the best with her move to Europe!), we tried to capture our culture at CAIS. We wanted to be able to say: “This is who we are”. Here it is:
- We believe in better. We challenge our schools to be better through PD, accreditation and research; but we also challenge ourselves to be better in everything we do.
- We are direct with each other. There is high integrity, kindness, and trust, but that only comes from feedback: we praise publicly and criticize privately. There are no surprises on our team. When you work in a virtual office, and even when you don’t, you have to speak up with confidence.
- We deliver client service beyond expectations. We are a nimble team and everyone works hard to respond to member needs. We love to hear that members are surprised by what we accomplished for them.
- We listen to our members. Although we also work hard to understand their needs by researching and observing schools, we are at our best when we can say that we heard you say this, so we did that.
- We believe that everyone supports everyone on our team. We are results-oriented, which means that we prioritize our time according to the needs of the organization at the time. We are a small team, so we all have to pitch in on projects when needed.
- We are background people. We understand that when you work for a membership association, your job is to make others look good, especially volunteers.
- We presume good intentions. That’s just a simple rule for us.
- We play to our strengths. We know each other well and strive for a model that leverages our capacity.
- We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We work hard but we also laugh and pursue interests beyond our jobs. We know we are a bit quirky, and we like it that way.
- We are comfortable with the unpredictable. Okay, we try hard to be comfortable with the unpredictable and may have to remind each other of this one! Working as a virtual team can be messy, which is why the previous belief is so important.
Full disclosure: Our strategic advisor suggested we model our approach on Google’s Ten things we know to be true. But at least we didn’t review Google’s until after we worked on our own. I hope your team might do the same!
One last point: The cover of this month’s Harvard Business Review is Managing the 24/7 Workplace, which explores the problems with today’s work environment like ours. We read this with great interest… here’s the conclusion:
What defines our CAIS culture?By valuing all aspects of people’s identities, rewarding work output instead of work time, and taking steps to protect employees’ personal lives, leaders can begin to unravel the ideal-worker myth that has become woven into
the fabric of their organizations. And that will enhance employees’ resilience, their creativity, and their satisfaction on the job.
At a time when people seem to be criticizing the high intensity workplace, our team seems to have it figured out. Always good to have Harvard on your side…