Tag Archives: newcomers

Workplace Culture & Team Dynamics

Canadian employers mention in almost every job description a preference towards someone who is a ‘team player.’ In turn, this is mentioned so often in a resume, that it got moved to a few buzzword lists in 2013. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop displaying our ‘team player’ abilities in our job applications; it only means we should describe these abilities via specific examples or explicit results. In Henry Ford’s words, “Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success”. In a classic definition, successful teams are made up of effective individuals, who are open to address various problems and are action oriented. Now, for a team to be successful, its members have to be able to give and receive feedback in a comfortable environment where they can communicate honestly and openly. Sounds a bit like a fairy tale, eh? Well, don’t be so surprised, this theory is applied and actually functioning well in many work environments. For that reason, when we are new to a workplace culture, the best way to spend our time would be by learning and adding to our knowledge of that local workplace culture. Ideally, we should get to the point where we can actually understand the dynamics of a team working in its specific culture. Yet many of us just take things for granted, thinking about what we know already, about all the countries we visited so far, about all of the experiences we’ve had, and so forth. Instead, we should really ponder the missing pieces of this puzzle. A successful team player is focused on the future steps, on what was omitted, on what needs to be done to cover the gaps. In contrast, nostalgic team members will usually focus on the past. It is said that teams are often divided into high performers and low performs – see more on this topic in Mark Murphy’s book Hiring for Attitude1231

By now, my cherished reader, you’ll be ready to argue that the entire philosophy is coming down to the leadership style. By all means, an effective team leadership will ensure a collaborative climate and will build confidence of team members, managing performance through relevant, constructive feedback. Many times, team members will need to learn more about the team dynamics. Or as new members they will need to quickly integrate into the existing team and team building activities will come into play to help it move from the ‘storming’ phase back to its ‘performing’ stage (Bruce Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development may provide more context into this topic). Western workplace culture loves these activities and they are meant to improve how the team works together. Team building is not the equivalent of ‘team recreation’ (which consists of activities that are purely recreational) and should be regarded as a set of activities that will benefit team members’ self-development, positive communication, and the ability to work closely together as a team to solve a problem. To learn more about team building activities specific to our west coast workplace culture run a Google search and I promise you’ll have plenty to learn about. You may also take a look at Lawrence G. Fine’s book on Team Building.
How can a newcomer learn more about a new workplace culture? Volunteer. Participate in all kinds of events. Conduct Informational Interviews. Make friends outside your close circles/ communities. Bristle at prejudices. We’ve heard many times people mentioning the ‘Catch 22′ situation, where job seekers have a hard time to obtain that very first job because of the lack of local work experience, and how are they supposed to get that local experience if nobody gives them a chance. Yet experience tells us that all of us did eventually get into that first job. Some sooner, some latter. Some will move up fast, some will do it slowly, and some will just stay there. And again, experience tells us that this usually comes down to preparation levels. Commitment. Consistency. It comes down to “are you really ready to perform in this job?” A combination of good knowledge of Canadian workplace culture + excellent presentation skills + self-confidence + unpretentiousness will eventually get you that first professional position. It is well known that many newcomers think it takes technical skills + knowledge + intelligence to secure that position and they bid everything on this particular skill set. Unfortunately it is not the card we want to play. With all the excitement that follows an interview invitation, we forget that this is a meeting where 10 or 5 other people (the number is irrelevant, since there is just one position) are invited to, and they have the exact same technical skills (or very similar). We forget that the interview will primarily assess our soft skills, our ability to be part of a team – a team we don’t know anything about. Because we did not consider taking the time to do the research or because we did not know it was available to us. And this is why, with a poor knowledge of the local workplace culture, with the habit of making assumptions, when a candidate has the unique chance to meet with an employer, instead of selling apples (which is what the employer expects), s/he will sell oranges. Beautiful, shiny, ripe ones. Only it is not what the employer is looking for.

(by Magdalena Mot – initially published on http://skillsconnect.wordpress.com)

Arriving to Vancouver

CDC-March06-024

Flying for the first time to Canada, to Vancouver more precisely, was, for each of us, a different type of experience. It happened many years ago. For our son, who’s age was still counted in months at the time, was just one of those regular trips, he didn’t really get all the fuss around him since he was on the go from day 1 of his life, so this trip was no different. To me… I was literally trying to enjoy it, as much as a young mom could, but as I have been only minimally involved in the trip planning itself, there were simply too many things I didn’t know, not to mention all the things I didn’t know I don’t know. So about that specific emotion “you’re changing your life forever”…  I can’t remember. To my husband… well, that is a different story. He was watching the Rockies as we flu over on a beautify sunny day, and I could see he was barely breathing. To see the Rockies was one of his big dreams. It was the first day of May. I didn’t understand much at the time. The plan was to come here, so we were coming. It was quite simple for a side watcher. All the wheels turning behind the entire mechanism din’t seem to be one of my troubles at the time, and I should say I have rather failed to consider this arrival a life changer. But it was.

We landed at about 3 pm. My hubby would know exactly, I am quite sure he still remembers. Went through the landing immigration paperwork quite fast as he had it all set and knew everything step by step. A friend from North Vancouver was waiting for us at the airport. The airport looked cute, but small. We’ve loaded our luggage into the minivan and left. Buildings looked funny, many seemed unfinished, with no roof, nothing like in Europe I thought, and I was rather disappointed. People were nice and smiling all the time, but as I didn’t speak any English I didn’t quite get why. Once in our friends’ apartment I felt better, even though many things looked funny there as well, the toilet was full of water (first time I flushed I thought it will overflow), the bathtub was really low, and our friend, holding a green smoothie, was happily explaining how great this is for your health. But there was a gorgeous view of the Lion’s Gate bridge from their balcony. That – I loved! As the night settled, we were definitely jetlagged, so I stayed on the balcony and looked at the sparkling view over the gulf for a long time. A myriad of tiny stars made room for themselves, one near the other, just to add more glamour to the whole picture. sheridan-lakeTwo days latter, we moved our luggage into a rental car and embarked on a two weeks trip around British Columbia – our first discovery journey. The plan was to stop for the first night at a hidden in the forest cottage on the Sheridan Lake,then a few days in Prince George as I had to see the UNBC, then move on to see Jasper National Park, 3 days stop in Edmonton, then Calgary, followed by a stop in Banff for a few days, we drove up on the Ice Fields Parkway towards Mt. Athabasca, did some hiking, came back to Lake Louise (which I fell in love with forever), Yoho National Park, Revelstoke, Kelowna, and back to Vancouver. I still remember pretty well many of the amazing Bed & Breakfast locations we stayed at throughout this trip. They have added local flavor to the breakfast time, when we could learn more about people, listen to their stories and try to understand what makes them Canadians. It was an amazing trip, helped us see how huge, how beautiful and how delicate British Columbia is, and we even didn’t go past Prince George… some day I should come back here to write more about certain parts of it.