Communication and Organizational Culture

I apologize for being sophomoric, but hey, it works.

A lot of people will tell you that, with regard to teamwork, communication is key, and that’s true. Thing is, people stop there most of the time. What does that mean? What does communication unlock?

Through all my adventures in Corporate America-land, I’ve seen the same patterns over and over. Granted, I’ve only worked for a small number of companies that fall into the category of corporate America, but I’ve gone a lot of places and seen a lot of things.

I’ve always been very observant and analytical. A byproduct of my way of viewing the world around me, outside me. An introvert who wants nothing more than to mix and mingle with the masses. I’ve always tried to figure out just what makes everyone else tick, so I can emulate their actions through understanding of their motivations. To be honest I think the biggest motivator for most people is fear. Fear of not having enough for tomorrow, a lot of the time not even enough for today. Fear of being alone in a sea of alliances. Fear of pain and death and fear itself. Fear of the outside world.

I’m afraid too.

The reason I touch on this is because, through my attempts to grok my fellow humans, I’ve developed a strange sense of protectiveness toward them and I really just want people to live better lives.

I don’t fit in, and I doubt I ever will, but that doesn’t mean people who think like me can’t, it’ll just take some time.

I’m sure people are wondering why I’m bringing a discussion about leadership to this level. You can’t have a fortune-cookie course on how to do it better. You’ve got to really connect with yourself if you want to be good at anything. It takes an honest assessment of your abilities, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, if you ever hope to help others do the same.

The pattern I see most often is the pass the buck mentality. People think well hey, I’m doing great, so fuck this other guy who isn’t doing so great. I’m confident that, no matter your specific station in life or your background, we’ve all been in a position to rely on another for support. Sometimes those others have come through and helped propel us to success, and others they never did and we may still be dealing with the repercussions of failure. Either way, none of us exist independent of each other.

It is tempting to take the solipsistic approach, to believe that you are the only agency around and that everything is centered on your needs and desires, but that’s lazy. Even if I’m just a figment of your imagination, if all I do is complain because my needs aren’t met, doesn’t that infringe on your right to be left in peace? When the group is happy, the quality of experience for the individuals in the group invariably increases.

Communication is key with regard to teamwork, leadership, command, execution – whatever you want to call it. But what to do with that key, if you will think metaphorically with me for a moment? Do you take that key in hand and have it magically make everything better? No, you put that key into a lock, that’s what keys do, right? That lock is culture. Once you open up your team’s culture, you will see things start to happen that you haven’t previously even considered.

I have seen it so many times, one bad bottleneck and everyone downstream starts to dry up. Organisations, again with some metaphorical thinking, are just like living organisms. They have multitudinous parts, one single overarching objective, with lower order sub-objectives and functions that can be broken down all the way to the individuals working there.

The organisation I work for, and have for the last seventeen months, has nothing resembling a positive organisational culture. I come in to work everyday, oftentimes not knowing what my objective for the day is until I get on the clock, work at least ten hours and usually between twelve and fourteen. At least two days a week I get a text message around seven PM telling me that I need to come in before four am. I am placed in a lot of stressful situations, given minimal resources and expected to outperform my counterparts, and offered no support. When I come to my supervisor with a question or a concern, I get brushed off as if whatever I’m saying has zero value. When I ask for help I get asked in return if I’m saying I can’t handle the job. If I make a simple and very common mistake I am spoken to as if I am the most incompetent and worthless human being ever to have lived. I never get told thank you, or given any feedback or advice on how I can improve. I see my supervisor treat the majority of my co-workers the same way, save a select few that, I’m sorry to say it, share a similar demographic and socioeconomic heritage as himself.

I don’t want to focus on what’s wrong, I believe the only way to achieve any meaningful results is to focus on what’s right, what can be improved and, most importantly, the why behind both.

I strongly dislike my supervisor, until I catch myself feeling that way and then redirect myself. He is very young and inexperienced, both in business and life in general. He’s led a vanilla existence and never really faced adversity or outstanding success. I can’t hold against him the fact that he’s never been given an opportunity to learn, never had a role-model or mentor. I really feel bad for him, he does nothing more than relay information from his boss to his subordinates, he is given zero responsibility and is treated the same way he treats us. One thing he’s got going for him is his ability to maintain his composure, there have been many times when I’ve seen him take a big one to the chin and not even flinch, as the expression goes.

Several months ago we were bought out by a bigger corporation. In the ensuing time we’ve lost what little culture we had. We used to know that, despite all the stupid shit we had to deal with, the bullshit that came down from boss man, we were the very best at what we did. That little bit of knowledge went a long way. It was something to take pride in, a little boost on those long days that felt like they would never end. We had a culture of ownership. Taking ownership for everything. If I did something good, I was told so. If I did something bad, I took responsibility for it and was given the opportunity to learn from it, offered training and support. Now if I do something less than perfect there is a chance that I will be spoken to as if I’m a defective piece of secondhand yard equipment. If I had a good idea I would be listened to and given a chance to implement it. If I had a bad idea I was listened to and given guidance. If I had a question I got a relevant answer. Now if I speak up about anything I get written up for having a bad attitude, I’ve got the paperwork to prove it. Meanwhile several of my co-workers openly discuss their job search, talk shit and genuinely have bad attitudes, but because they never speak to boss man they are never addressed, aside from when I say something to them.

Again, I don’t want to just complain, but all of these things are examples of culture, and how not to have one. If people feel like they are on an island, beset by hardship with no support, they act as such. If people feel like they are part of something, part of a shared struggle, part of a team who faces down their enemies as a united unit, they will perform up to their full potential.

You cannot just sit there and think Oh, all I have to do is communicate basic information, everything will happen from there. You have to understand that communication is a tool, is a prerequisite for something bigger, something essential, something that takes maintenance but pays dividends.

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