Can Two Work Cultures Marry Each Other?
By Karen Tang
Client Technologies’ Customer Service Training Program Builds Interpersonal Bridges to support OIT’s Transformation.
We all have different personalities, and each work place has an individual culture. Prior to marriage, a couple must build trust and respect. This is similar to uniting work places. Sam McKeeman, the Department of Transportation’s Director of Organization Development (OD), thinks trust and respect are also needed in the workplace for colleagues to work harmoniously and effectively together. This is especially true since OIT is in the process of uniting twenty-two divisions to serve thirteen thousand customers.
Agreeing with Mr. McKeeman, Sheldon Bird, Director of Client Technologies Services, observes that OIT’s transition further challenges managers to communicate visions and goals, so employees can understand and act on them. There are also challenges faced by employees. For example, some need to set aside preconceived notions such as “my way is the best way,” and seek collaborative solutions with new OIT colleagues.
To face these challenges, Sheldon partnered with Sam McKeeman, who has 25 years of experience teaching OD, to design and present a training program. The goals of this program were to improve interpersonal and team-work skills, enhance awareness of self and others, and explore different ways of viewing people and work. They chose to offer six half-day sessions over three weeks to the new Client Technologies Services team (53 employees).
At the beginning of the program, participants learned about self and individual learning behavior through an evaluation called the Learning Type Measure (LTM). It provides guidance in situations where learner differences play a role in communications and human interactions. One significant outcome was that 70% of the group turned out to be Type Three Learners who tend to meet deadlines, like directness, and value self-sufficiency. They are usually the go-getters and the people who prefer to work by themselves. This is a high percentage compared to the 19% of Type Three Learners found in the general population.
Since so many were Type 3 learners, this group got advice on understanding how to adjust their learning behavior toward cooperation, knowledge-sharing, and consensus-reaching to support the OIT transition. Besides increasing a worker’s self-awareness, this assessment also contributes to a manager’s perspective, as Tina Turcotte from Department of Professional and Financial Regulation points out: “Managers can better understand how to take advantage of an individual’s character traits and place them accordingly in the structure; it could help make us more successful.”
This program was interactive. Participants discussed current OIT issues and common organizational change challenges. They explored ways to solve challenges as a team. Emphasized topics included morale, professional work relationships, and customer service.
Four key concepts McKeeman wanted people to take away were:
- We can’t be great if we’re working with strangers. One needs to know individuals and build relationships in order to approach people.
- “Speak Truth to Power”—Managers need to know the truth.
- Without trust things will not work. Building trust with each other means that we need to be both trustful and trustworthy.
- Give and expect respect.
Tuesday, June 6th, marked the end of the program but also the beginning for further personal growth, predicated upon the above four concepts.
This training program achieved the important goal of allowing employees to meet, interact, and collaborate with each other. Janet Saxton from the Office of Natural Resource Helpdesk says that “the walls are taken down. We really worked with each other. [The instructor] made us move around from chair to chair, table to table, to meet other colleagues…who came from different areas that I didn’t know.” Jason Tourtelotte from OIT also indicates that this program “[builds] a sense of team…we’re all in this together.”
Several participants indicated the importance of organizing similar types of programs in other OIT divisions, and not only within, but also across, departmental affiliations. In doing so, we will no longer work with strangers. Barriers between “your team” and “our group” become blurry as we come together.
Trust and appreciation for each other’s differences prepare us to face new challenges together, just like married couples do. With those values, the sense of OIT as one big team can then truly be realized.
"This training is important because the organization, and later the work we do, is changing. In a changing organization, often personal change is required to be successful. What was successful yesterday may not be tomorrow; what was unsuccessful may become successful." - Sheldon Bird
"The number one reason why [this program has made me more confident] is because the managers are involved as well, not just the technical support…I trust them more…that they want to listen to the ideas we have and [try] to make [OIT] better." - Tina Turcotte
McKeeman’s recommended links and readings: