Ask Amber: How to decode organizational culture

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

When starting a new internship or job, it’s incredibly important to observe and adapt to the organizational culture in place. The trick, however, is determining what makes up the company’s culture. Because culture is not always something explicitly stated in the employee handbook, use the following tools to learn more about your organization’s culture and how you fit can fit in. To learn more about what organizational culture is and how to shape it, click here.

 Take lots of notes

In your first few days or weeks at a new job, you will likely want to take notes on policies and procedures, but you should also take personal notes you can refer back to later. If your supervisor gives recommendations on things to read, events to check out or coworkers who have expertise in areas you will be working in WRITE IT DOWN. Jot down names of coworkers, who they report to, and descriptions of what they do and how you will be interacting with them, because names and roles can be easy to forget when you are meeting a number of people for the first time. Anything that may help you later and isn’t already in the handbook makes for noteworthy tips.

Go out to lunch with a coworker

Sitting down with someone familiar with the organization is a great way to get some of your work-related questions answered. For example, if you notice other employees dressing down on Fridays, ask if there is a collective understanding that casual Fridays are acceptable. If you notice that a majority of your coworkers are personally involved in a particular movement or event, consider how that relates to your organization’s mission and image. Get the specifics from someone you trust and respect about common events in the office so you can start participating. Asking questions of your coworkers and superiors shows that you are genuinely interested in contributing positively to the current environment and that you value their opinion on how you can be a team player.

Be flexible

It’s best to expect that in any job you will be asked to perform tasks that are not in your formal job description. As new projects are created, new tasks will arise and being willing to take on those responsibilities demonstrates your commitment to going above and beyond to ensure quality work. Immersing yourself in different projects will not only help you develop your own skill set, it will also help you develop your knowledge of the organization you work for and all of the programs it provides.

Organizational culture includes the work you are expected to do, the way your coworkers interact and the values that your company holds true; by consistently trying to exude those behaviors and values you become a constructive member of the organization. Don’t ever stop observing your company’s culture—just as you will grow and change in your new position, so will your company.


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