Tale Of Four Staff Refrigerators: Making Peace With A New Work Culture

Moving from cramped quarters into this much larger, state-of-the-art facility was a welcome quantum leap. In the other building we worked practically shoulder to shoulder. Always into each other's business. Able to read each other's mail and each other's mind. Every department, including the Clinic down the hall, shared one communal refrigerator in the sole staff break room. Patients' medicines on the top shelf. Our lunches on the shelves below.

To say the least, we all anticipated the big move. What we hadn't anticipated was how the new work environment would forever change our work culture.

For starters, the spacious building had four staff break rooms. One for each department. Each outfitted with its own refrigerator.

  • The division accountable for the numbers began stockpiling low-fat, low-carb, low-calorie meals in the freezer section of their refrigerator;

  • A department populated by right-brained folks filled the second fridge with gourmet leftovers, remnants of cooking exploits from the prior evening;

  • Refrigerator three, pressed into service by a time-sensitive team, was packed with regimental rows of bagged lunches;

  • The fourth refrigerator was assigned to a group that began eating out frequently. It remained empty.

In hindsight, we began forming subcultures around those four staff refrigerators.

Our big move had other consequences. Used to working within earshot of each other, departments were now scattered right and left. Upstairs. Downstairs. North wing. South wing. Interaction by proximity was history. We noticed routine operations and systems were off-kilter. It was taking longer for us to coordinate, correlate and cooperate.

Managers still huddled for a weekly meeting. But down halls and behind walls the work silos began rising. Each department's communication shifted inward. And was growing insular. The subcultures formed around the four staff refrigerators reinforced it all.

Once on to it, managers spent time and energy trying to reconnect and reestablish rapport between departments. One consultant advised: "Tear down the silos." Another recommended forced interdepartmental communication. Others explained the complexities and nuances of change management. It was time to forge an updated work culture that worked in our new work space. We finally resolved that the days of the communal refrigerator were long gone. Four staff refrigerators were better than one.

#ChangeManagement #Communications #NonprofitLifeCycle #StrategicPlanning #WorkCulture

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