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 Attitude.
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)