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Part One: Office Picnic is no picnic!

Text overlay by Franke James, MFA.; business women in field ©istockphoto.com/René Mansi

Dear Office-Politics,

I need some insight in figuring out what type of workplace culture I’ve joined. I joined a new company in April.

At first it seemed friendly enough. I wasn’t looking for perfection nor to assume that my co-workers would become my “friends.” Though I’m at a loss to define it. It’s a very quiet, busy, cubicle environment (only mgrs have offices) and most everyone (including my team) keeps to themselves, except for the occasional happy hour. I’ve been at my new job since April — I have observed that even the managers do not associate or collaborate with each other — their doors stay closed a lot.

Functionally, we’re all in the same group. So… a week ago we had our annual group picnic – it was about fifty of us. The picnic was slated from 12-3. Most of the women were dressed business casual, a few were casually dressed, and a couple of business suits – with flip flops or tennis shoes. Mind you, the picnic notice had pictures of volleyball, softball, etc. No — we didn’t play . It was very awkward and strange to me — we all sat down to eat — conversation was minimal — and I noticed that even the other departments did not really talk to each other — it was like sitting in the company cafeteria. There was no music as well.

I thought it weird because I learned most of them have worked together for 5+ years – some have been there 10-15 years together. While I ate, I struck up a conversation with a woman I’d just met, and those immediately next to me. When I finished eating, I looked up…. more than half of the people had left the pavilion, including every one of my team members, and my boss. Some were walking down towards the lake, and some were standing in the parking lot next to the pavilion. I don’t know where the others went. Twenty min later (and just a bit irritated), I found my team and a few others on the putt-putt golf course. As each team played, conversation was very minimal, a joke or two, and more disturbingly, my boss (I was adopted to her team after showing up alone) and another woman stood apart from our team, giggling and whispering to each other the whole time — like teenagers. When the game was over, the scores were announced and we all headed back to the pavilion. A few people went straight to their cars and left. I followed the rest of the group back to the pavilion. It was 2:30 — the pavilion was empty, the food had been packed up and everyone else was gone. There were only 8 of us left. My boss looked around and asked “who was going to stick around.” All said “not me” She said okay…and said ‘See you tomorrow.’

What am I missing? There’s definitely an undercurrent — not totally unpleasant — but I can’t put my finger on it. No one seemed hostile towards the other, but the picnic seemed like a company of strangers… or do I just feel like I’m on the outside?

Thank you

Cultural Misfit

christine comaford-lynch

Dear Cultural Misfit,

Play this game with me….

See yourself as an anthropologist exploring a different culture. What are its tribal customs? Costumes? Rituals? Seems like the culture at your new job is unlike any other you’ve experienced before. Do you want to join this culture? Can you be comfortable in it?

It appears that your colleagues are fine with the culture. It appears that everyone treats their job as such — a job — not a place to build relationships and connection. That’s ok.

My main question is can that be ok for you? I’d give your job a good solid 90 days simply so you can explore this new culture and find colleagues you resonate with. Out of fifty people I’m confident you’ll find some. If not, you may want to do some soul-searching to determine if there were signs in the interviewing process that you may have missed. If so, resolve to look more closely into the culture and human dynamics during future job interviews. And if the culture genuinely is affecting your work performance and overall happiness, start your quest for a new job.

Thank you for writing to Office Politics.

Best regards,

Christine Comaford-Lynch, Author, Rules for Renegades

cover of Rules for RenegadesNew York Times bestselling author Christine Comaford-Lynch is CEO of Mighty Ventures, an innovation accelerator which helps businesses to massively increase sales, product offerings, and company value. She has built and sold 5 of her own businesses with an average 700% return on investment, served as a board director or in-the-trenches adviser to 36 startups, and has invested in over 200 startups as a venture capitalist or angel investor. Christine has consulted to the White House (Clinton and Bush), 700 of the Fortune 1000, and hundreds of small businesses. She has repeatedly identified and championed key trends and technologies years before market acceptance. Christine’s popular column on www.BusinessWeek.com/SmallBiz launched in January 2007.Christine has led many lives: Buddhist monk, Microsoft engineer, geisha trainee, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. Her triumphs and disasters are revealed in her New York Times (and USA Today, Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, and Amazon.com ) bestselling business book: Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career, and Revel in Your Individuality. The book is available at all major retailers, the Office-Politics bookstore, or via www.RulesForRenegades.com.

Christine has appeared on CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, FOX Business Network, PBS, CNET and is frequently quoted in the business, technology and general press at large. Stanford Graduate School of Business has done two case studies on her and PBS has featured her in three specials (Triumph of the Nerds, Nerds 2.0.1, and Nerd TV ). CNET has broadcast two specials covering her unconventional rise to success as a woman with neither a high school diploma nor college degree. Christine believes we can do well and do good, using business as a path for personal development, wealth creation, and philanthropy.

(Video bio at: http://www.mightyventures.com/bio.php )

  1. One Answer to “Part One: Office Picnic is no picnic!”


    Thank you so much for the advice from both authors (Jennifer and Christine). It gives me some things to think about, particuarly within myself – about my expectations and perspective.

    Coming from different environments, (including a military background) the culture is definitely new for me. I admit some of your comments also surprised me – I’m sometimes good at digging beneath my own surface, but hearing your perspectives made me realize I may not be viewing things as postively as I could…..and maybe viewing the new job and people through how I think things should go….ouch 🙂

    To answer the performance questions, I’m still learning the policies and expectations, etc but whether performance or objectives suffer—I can’t tell yet. It’s a contract environment – so focus and quiet are part of the package. I can say that so far, the other functional groups and technical people work differently together (separation + more top to bottom dissemination) than I’ve experienced (more collaboration between depts). I’ve had some frustrating moments—but now have to re-think why.

    I’m willing to give it a try – and willing to try the ideas too, as well as adjusting my expectations/perspective and see where it leads. I have alot to think about.

    Thank you!!!!

    By Letter-writer on Jun 11, 2007

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