Category: writing

Culture = habits? … Blog #101

Sunday evening, church services were done, and the sitting room was all set up ready for company. Mom had been preparing for our visitors over the past couple of days, and the spread she presented was nothing short of front-cover-cookbook ready. The sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles, the scones were the perfect three bite size, ready to be lathered with Devonshire cream and homemade strawberry jam. Mince tarts, chocolate fudge shortbread, ‘plain’ shortbread, and Victoria Sponge cake were all part of the fare, served on a triple layer cake plate. Now, with the fireplace blazing, the room provided a warm and welcoming atmosphere for some good Irish craic with friends.  

If you think Mom put on this spread for a special occasion, you’d be greatly mistaken; this was a normal, regular, and most enjoyable cultural entertaining norm for a family in Northern Ireland, right up to when we immigrated to Canada in 1970. People would feel free to drop in anytime, knowing the kettle was boiled and ready to ‘wet the tea’ and let it ‘draw’ for the appropriate amount of time. As well, the pantry always had a tea treat at the ready for those welcomed guests who would simply drop in for an unannounced visit.

This was our ‘habit’ each Sunday evening. Similar times were enjoyed at my grandparents home in Annalong, Ireland. I have fond memories of sitting around the fire listening to my granda, with his gentle Irish brogue, recite stories and poems from years gone by, while granny cooked up her delicious tomato soup in the tiniest kitchen possible (I’ve no idea how they raised six boys in that tiny home!).

When our family immigrated to Canada, we expected those habits of culture to continue for us. Dad and mom expected neighbours to drop by anytime for a visit, they expected Sunday evenings after church to be times of visiting with new friends. Sure, my parents still invited people over, and guests were delighted by the table spread before them (albeit, with a greatly reduced salary the fare was more simple, though every bit as delicious), but such visits only happened when intentionally planned for. No one dropped by for a visit and a cup of tea. Mom waited, but no knocks ever sounded on the front door. It didn’t take long before her confidence started to crack; did people not like her? Was she an inadequate hostess? Would she ever have close friends again? It was a devastating turn of events for this accomplished homemaker who freely expressed her love and appreciation for others through hospitality.

Culture was not a topic of conversation back then. People were people. We didn’t encounter folks from other countries on our small island (the cultural landscape of Ireland has certainly changed over the years…a lovely thing to see). In our new home called Canada, we knew things were different, but had no words to describe it, only expressions of sadness, hurt, and longing for what had been.

Eventually, as a result of a heart attack, my dad met an Irish doctor who opened our eyes to the ‘Canadian way’. Dr. Mark quickly became a family friend, and provided our first lessons on cultural training. Who would have thought it would be considered an imposition to drop in for a visit? As time passed we would soon discover not only the differences in our cultures, but also in our common words of expression. Apparently it wasn’t a good idea for a student to use the term ‘stupid ass’ in class. Nor was it a compliment to tell someone their home was homely. (We learned that ‘homey’ was the complementary word we were after.) Another cultural practice, or habit, was drinking tea. Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with tea…it is still a pleasure to be enjoyed by young and old alike, no matter where they call home. 

However, our habit was to have tea first thing in the morning, mid-morning, before going to the market, when we came home from the market, with lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and of course supper (the snack we had just before bed). Not until my then boyfriend (now husband) came into the family did we realize this was not the norm. 

Culture is a beautiful thing, but even some cultural practices, or habits, can be a barrier to fully enjoying the many wonders of life and living. Let me share this example. As a young woman I was suffering with constant headaches. I saw one specialist after another, and none of their brilliant minds could figure out the problem. Until one. This doctor was an eye, ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT), but most significant was his heritage: he was British. In our first consultation, he inquired about my tea drinking habits. When I recounted a normal day, we added up how many cups of tea I was actually consuming…more than ten cups a day, well beyond the recommended daily allowance of caffeine! His prescription was for me to stop drinking tea for a period of time. I did, missed the tea desperately, but did not miss the headaches that magically disappeared at the same time I cut out my tea drinking rituals. 

Our culture, our habits, were so ingrained in who we were, we had no idea others would not share the same. Growing up, I had no exposure to other cultures, our family travels were mostly to the South of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, and just before immigrating we visited Ibiza and Canada. There is a great difference between visiting a place and residing in a place. Marriam Webster offers this as a definition of reside…’to be present as an element or quality.’ How long does it take to move from simply living to residing in a location? I don’t know…but I certainly hope that being in a place for four months (as we are in Portugal and then Spain) will afford us some of the cultural insights that are unique to these areas.

The idea of culture being habits, has created a bit of a mind shift for me over the course of my current research.  Organization culture or team culture is a topic of great interest in these changing times. We read articles and books about adapting to culture, learning culture, creating a culture, or embracing culture, among other topics, but the challenge seems to be most apparent when we start looking at changing culture.

“Culture will not change by propagating different values. Culture can only change by changing habits and behaviours. These in turn will change values, plans, procedures, and norms and finally the ‘stories we tell ourselves about ourselves’ regarding our bottomline assumptions and beliefs.”  

Jutta Ekstein and John Buck, experts in the ‘Agile’ space.

While changing my behaviour around drinking copious amounts of tea may not revolutionize an organization, it was a change in my habits, my culture, that certainly brought healing and growth to how I live my life. And, opened up a whole new world of coffee (decaffeinated of course!)

We continue to live in a time of change, change that often calls for a re-examining of organizational culture. Is it possible that such an examination might reveal some habits that, if changed, may be the first step in shifting a culture towards one that more realistically aligns with the values, plans, procedures and norms aspired to as an organization? 

The Cambridge Dictionary defines a catalyst as ‘someone or something that causes a big change’. Is it possible that individuals within organizations could be the catalysts for a necessary cultural shift in an organization by intentionally changing one habit at a time? I wonder what some of those habits might be for your organization?

Praia da Oura Leste, Albufeira, Portugal

Tea cups photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash English tea service photo by Sebastian Coman Photography on Unsplash

Portugal…here we come! Blog #97

It’s finally time!

As I write this blog, we are on the first leg of our journey from Canada to Portugal…I can hardly believe it has now become a reality. Just a year ago my proposal for an Extended Study Leave was granted, and our plans for the year began to take shape. There have been changes, adaptations, and many workarounds, but we did it; our eight month adventure in Europe has officially begun.

Looking back over the past year, we have had many hurdles to overcome. The original plan was to be in Europe for 12 months, visit at least 5 countries, and basically live life as digital nomads while I researched and interviewed around the topic of leading hybrid teams. You know the saying…the best laid plans… Well the goal remained the same, but the plan changed. A combination of the pandemic and kidney failure (for my husband), greatly tested our resolve to step out on this journey, but here we are! For the next 8 months we will split our time between Portugal and Spain, with a short visit to Finland, and perhaps…? Some plans are still fairly fluid.

Besides the many things I have already learned from my research (I’m setting those learning aside for this blog), I have a whole new appreciation for people choosing to travel and live abroad for an extended time. We watched our son and family pack up their 6 children and make the move to my home country of Ireland, and as a young teenager I immigrated with my parents and siblings from Ireland to Canada. I had, at least I thought I had, a good understanding of the process; was I ever wrong.   

It turns out there is no guidebook for what we are doing. Nor are there people in certain levels of governments who can give you the playbook for travelling to another country for 8 months. Don’t get me wrong, most of the folks I interacted with wanted to be helpful, and even tried, but nothing seemed to be as straightforward as one would think. 

 Born in Ireland, living in Canada, I have both an EU passport and a Canadian one…very handy. Early spring it was brought to our attention that my husband needed to have a visa to travel to Europe because of the length of our stay (I was even told that I needed one as well…hmmm). So we started the application process. Do you know how difficult and frustrating it is to find information on a website from a country that’s not your own, nor shares the same language? After many emails and phone calls, a lovely person at the Portuguese Consulate finally looked at the site and admitted, “Oh yes, that is rather confusing, isn’t it?” You see, there isn’t an option for our situation. I’m not going to Europe to work, my husband is retired, we are not travelling for medical reasons, I’m not providing training and development, we aren’t going to volunteer, nor am I going to further my education. Without making a selection, you don’t get access to the portal where the necessary documents can be uploaded and an appointment made. So, I had to choose something, and they would ‘fix’ it later. To make a really long story short, after a trip to the Consulate, more conversations, it turns out my husband didn’t need the visa we were seeking, but rather has to go through a totally different process once in Europe. We laugh about it now…but then, not so much. I do want to say that the young gentleman we eventually worked with at the consulate was great…it was certainly a learning process for all involved.

Covid also presented many challenges for travel, all also overcome. I never realized how many people you could call to find out the proper process, testing, timing, locations, without finding anyone who would give a definitive answer. Again, easy to laugh at now…but I can assure you, my Irish came out full force at times.

The other hurdle we were forced to deal with was my husband’s newly diagnosed need for on-going kidney dialysis. We are overwhelmed with the support provided by his medical team, our local hospital (Kelowna General Hospital)), solution provider (Baxter), client support, and government funding for the treatment Rob has received. Mind blowing to say the least! However, traveling overseas when one is required to hook up to dialysis each and every night is not a common practice. This, we learned, is new territory. Not to be defeated, we started asking questions, reading, seeking input, making phone calls, and came to discover that, while not without great effort, it is possible. So with dialysis cycler and transformer, extra solution for ‘just in case’, way more suitcases than our previous ‘carryon only’ travel mode, here we are.

Without the help and support of an amazing family, great friends, a fantastic medical team, and the opportunity to take time away from teaching at Okanagan College School of Business to entrench myself in research, we would not be 30,000 plus feet in the air, filled with excitement for what this adventure holds.

I hope you’ll follow along with our journey.

PS We are now safely in Lisbon…unfortunately our luggage didn’t make it! Decided it wanted to stay in Toronto 🤷‍♀️. Stay tuned!

And so the new research journey begins…blog #93

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”

– Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet (1887)

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

It’s been a long time coming, but it’s here! I officially started my extended study leave, great thanks to Okanagan College for the privilege of such an opportunity.

When I began planning for this back in February 2019, never could I have imagined how life would have changed by the time I flipped the calendar to August 2021. Every area of our lives have been touched with both joy and sorrow. We’ve laughed, cried, shaken our fists, embraced, accepted, and are learning how, on a daily basis, to not let circumstances define us. The ‘us’ is my husband of 43 years, and myself; together we are embarking on an exciting journey, unsure of what all will unfold, but ready to embrace the unknown.

As many of you may know, I am a business professor, and a ‘remote work’ consultant. I have appreciated the privilege of adapting a form of ‘work from anywhere’ for most of my professional life. In my early career, I was fully supported by my employers to work either in the office, or from home, whatever was needed. I have enjoyed having a co-located office, as well as a home office, teaching amazing students in face to face classroom settings as well as fully on-line, working from amazing coffee shops in North America and Europe, all the while ensuring that the way I work reflects the high work ethic I was raised with. These opportunities have been the impetus for my focus on exploring the people aspects of working from anywhere.

Now, as I embark on a new research project, I am excited to learn, relearn, have my opinions challenged, and in return contribute my findings to the many individuals, teams, and organizations who are facing challenging and exciting transitions in how and where work gets done. The first research, conducted with my son Nathan Sawatzky, focused on Competencies for Success in Remote Workers. This led into a research project with Ian MacRea as we looked at Personality Traits of Remote Workers. Looking back on this research released over the past couple years, never would we have predicted the importance and impact of our learning for a time of such disruption. 

What’s next? Where is my current focus? The overarching question I am seeking to find answers to is “What does it takes to lead successfully in a work from anywhere context, ensuring proximity equity for all”. I want to hear stories from both leaders and members regarding how they have experienced proximity equity, especially when discussing access to resources (support, training, data, promotions, collaboration…). And, as we all know, there is also much to be learned from those who fall victim to proximity bias, so those stories are also of great value. Many are still in the early stages of these new working contexts, while others have been living in a more hybrid or work-from-anywhere format for some time…the common denominator is people. As leaders we need to talk responsibility for self-leadership, while ensuring our members are supported and equipped to be the very best of who they can be.

So, vaccinations received, accommodations reserved, flights booked, my husband’s visa application submitted (I get to travel on my EU Passport as an Irish National!), all the biggies taken care of. The plan is to work from our home in Kelowna, BC, Canada from now through the end of October, then hop on a plane for Portugal to saturate ourselves in the Portuguese culture for four months. Next stop Valencia, Spain for another four months. Before heading home at the end of June, we will spend a bit of time with our son and his family in Finland. Of course, this is all dependent on the skies remaining open for travel! Knowing this may be a possibility, plan ‘B’ will still allow my research to continue, all thanks to the opportunity technology provides for working (or researching) from anywhere! 

However, our first choice is to experience first hand what it means to truly work from anywhere, and live in cultures not our own. I love this quote from Interactive Design Foundation (IDF):

“Research can be compared to interacting with the ocean. On the surface, we may see calm beauty or turbulence; however, we can only fully understand the bigger picture once we submerge ourselves and go much deeper. In order to gain a holistic, empathic understanding of [those impacted] and the problem we are trying to solve, we need to question everything, even things that we think we know the answers to.”

I invite you to follow along with, and participate in, our journey. I have a list of books to read, literature to review, podcasts to glean from, and most important, interviews to conduct with the experts…those of you who are living the reality of work from anywhere contexts.   

If you are interested in a conversation please reach out to me, Roberta Sawatzky…I would love to hear your stories!

Time out to take in…blog #92

It’s June. Something about the start of summer that requires one to slow down, create space for down time, and recharge. At least that’s what it means for me.

The past 18 months have been a whirlwind, filled with events and happenings that have pulled every emotion out of me. The full spectrum! I know I’m not alone in this. Taking time to think, to create, to breathe, has been pushed to the back burner.

But, it’s June, and it’s time. I wrote in a past blog about the excitement of my upcoming, one year, Extended Study Leave that officially starts August 1, 2021 (big thanks to Okanagan College for this!). I’ve planned for this, looked forward to it for quite some time, and find it hard to believe that it is only two months away! It will be a time filled with learning for me: reading, writing, interviewing, reflecting…repeat. By the way, the focus of the research and inquiry will be on Proximity Equity in Hybrid Teams. I’ll be looking to chat with both leaders of hybrid teams and team members to hear their stories. If you are interested in a virtual chat, please reach out to me at rsawatzky@okanagan.bc.ca. COVID willing, November will find us heading to Portugal and Spain to fully experience working from anywhere while continuing the research.

So that’s August, this is June. Part of me wants to jump in with two feet, to just get started with the research. But a greater part of me gently suggests that it’s time to wait, to pause, to let transitions happen, to watch, to take in, to let my mind wander, to allow it to create, to write, to reflect. For once I have decided to listen to that quiet voice, to prepare, and be ready to hit the ground running!

This past semester, I had Rowena Hennigan (virtually)speak to my third year business students…her topic was psychological health. Rowena, message heard and received! 

So what does this look like? Hmmm, well, it for sure includes making time to read for pleasure, for walking, biking, spending time with family and friends, taking in the beauty of this amazing part of the world we live in, and perhaps even sitting doing nothing!  It also means taking a bit of a social media break (talk about FOMO!), but I’ll be there, on the sidelines, just taking a peak at what my colleagues across the globe are learning and experiencing…but more as a spectator than a participant.

So for now, at least until August, I’m signing off. But I’ll be back, full of excitement and energy to start this next leg of the adventure. 

Have a fantastic summer…and be kind to ‘you’!

The power of words…blog #73

“One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can’t utter.”
James Earl Jones

There are times in life when I so desperately want to have something profound to share…like right now. You know what I’m talking about…some way to offer comfort or encouragement to family, friends, neighbours, or colleagues. Those whose experiences during these days vary from sadness to fear, despair to frustration, from loneliness to exhaustion, appreciate to being totally overwhelmed. Some are even expressing gratitude for the forced slowing down of life. Even the simplest comforting touch or high five is not an option. All we truly have to express our love, concern, empathy, praise, appreciation or whatever, are our words.

All we have is words? All we have? Perhaps we need to remember how powerful words actually are. Remember the old saying’ “Sticks and stones my break my bones but words can never hurt me.” So not true. How many of us have been hurt beyond measure by the words spoken by friend or foe? Then again, how many of us have been ministered to by the power and beauty found in a thoughtful, genuinely crafted message offered in a time of need. Words have the power to hurt, yes, but more important, they have healing power that goes beyond what we can imagine.

“Beautifully crafted words have the power to captivate the mind of anybody.” Sam Veda
“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.” 
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” George Herbert
“Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.”
Lawrence G. Lovasik
“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” William Wordsworth
“Go inside where silence is. Stay there. Let words bubble up.” Maxime Lagacé

Words are powerful. When time is taken to connect with what we want to express, to identify the feelings, the emotions, then paint a word picture that expresses those deep thoughts to someone who needs to hear them, the outcomes are nothing short of magnificent. What’s more, the beauty of the written word is in the reading, and re-reading, prolonging the joy or affirmation received by the ‘other’.

I’m not a great orator, nor am I capable of orchestrating a magnificent symphony with words, but I want to learn. Not for self-edification, but to put into words–spoken and written, what I have lived, what I feel, what I am learning, and offer them up as a gift to bring meaning and edification to others.

Perhaps together we can create verbal touches and virtual hugs offered to others through the sharing of  thoughtful, genuinely crafted words, seasoned with a healthy measure of empathy.