SoCal Grantmakers aspires to create a vibrant internal culture founded on strong relationships and collaboration that advance our mission, vision, and strategic priorities. In 2016, SCG formed the Culture Committee to understand its organizational culture and implement new opportunities for connection and joy.
The Culture Committee includes nine self-selected staff members invested in building an internal culture where every team member feels heard, valued, and empowered. The Committee has learned that “culture” is dynamic and requires constant attention. Since its inception, the Committee has dedicated time examining culture’s many forms, including communication styles and norms, emotional health and intelligence, team wellness, collective and individual achievements, and many others.
Examples of Culture Committee activities and projects include reimagining SCG staff meetings, developing team-wide professional learning opportunities, implementing annual staff experience surveys, recognizing staff achievements, and hosting SCG’s social functions. Amid the COVID pandemic, the Committee doubled down on its efforts to keep our remote team connected and physically and emotionally well as we all continue to navigate unprecedented circumstances.
Below, you’ll find an overview of the Culture Committees’ priorities for building a supportive and equitable internal culture at SCG.
Fostering open and authentic communication
Positive interpersonal communication is the foundation of a thriving organizational culture. Beginning in 2019, the Culture Committee prioritized creating opportunities for SCG staff to build a common language and skills to support effective communications, which kicked off with an all-day staff retreat and continues with monthly practice sessions. Staff learning has focused on engaging in authentic sharing and active listening, building trust and increasing connection, better understanding your own and others’ communication styles, and checking the assumptions that can cause miscommunication and conflict.
Creating a safe channel for feedback
SCG firmly believes that an organization cannot grow without the voices and contributions of all its members. However, the Culture Committee has learned that just asking for honesty and input isn’t always enough. Being open about their experiences can feel risky for some staff members, especially people of color in non-leadership positions who have larger concerns about power and positionality. Amid the pandemic and the sharp pivot to remote work, the Committee decided to rethink its annual staff experience survey to create a secure channel for the team to share their feedback and challenges. In 2020, the Committee launched an anonymous Staff Pulse Check Survey that eliminated all questions that collected staff member information. By removing staff information from responses, we hoped to create a survey that would encourage transparency, reduce fear of retaliation, and ensure that all the data was weighed equitably. We also hoped the survey would prompt staff to reflect more deeply on their personal challenges, well-being, and needs. Once the Committee collected all the survey responses, we synthesized the answers and shared high-level trends with our management team and staff. The Committee replicated this survey model in 2021.
Optimizing our collaborative time together
In 2019, the Culture Committee decided to refresh the structure of our weekly all-staff meetings to optimize our collaborative time together as an organization. After a series of evaluation and feedback sessions conducted by consultants and staff, the Committee proceeded to form a subcommittee to formulate a new structure, purpose, and cadence for the meeting. The revitalized all-staff meeting created space for SCG’s team to reflect on their work and share learnings with the whole team. We also incorporated committee activities into each of the staff meetings to advance our equity and culture work. While the new meeting made an effort to elevate and recognize every team member's contributions to SCG, there is still more work to be done to improve our time together. In 2021, the Committee used responses from our Staff Pulse Check survey to further refine the structure of our meetings to allow teams to dive deeper into their work. The Committee believes that a culture of continuous learning and iteration is vital to the strategic development of SCG.
Supporting staff during moments of crisis
SCG recognizes that there are times when staff members are dealing with situations that impact both SCG’s communities and members and also their own families and loved ones. During times of intensified stress and crisis, our staff’s physical and mental health is a top priority. At the start of the 2020 pandemic, SCG implemented an indefinite work-from-home mandate and allowed staff members to create flexible schedules to help them navigate and cope with a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. We believe there is not a “one size fits all” solution to supporting staff members. Instead, SCG is committed to developing responses and resources that meet the individual needs of each staff member as they balance professional responsibilities and their personal situations. As we prepare for re-entry in late 2021, we will continue to work with staff members to implement the organization-wide policies and expectations that make sense for SCG moving forward.
Encouraging individual + collective wellness
As an extension of our work to support SCG’s staff through crises, the Culture Committee has adopted wellness as one of the top priorities in creating a healthy internal culture. At the pandemic’s start, SCG implemented a Half-Day Friday policy to give staff members more space and time to take care of themselves and their support networks. In addition, staff members have been encouraged to prioritize their mental and physical wellness during the workweek, which has led some staff to incorporate activities like walks or yoga into their schedules. The Committee also proactively incorporated wellness into our All-Staff Meetings by requesting that all team members share a monthly wellness commitment publicly. We hoped that having staff members articulate a commitment would help them prioritize their wellness and hold themselves and their team members accountable to self-care. Lastly, SCG is proud to offer all staff members access to mental health subscription services such as Whil and Headspace to provide another avenue to practice mindfulness.
Finding time for joy + connection
The Culture Committee believes that forging positive relationships with team members is vital in building a culture of trust, collaboration, and community. We believe that staff members shouldn’t have to find time outside of work to connect (although we encourage it!) but that SCG has a responsibility to create spaces and moments for internal connection, celebration, and joy. Over the years, the Committee has led a variety of staff social activities, including Quarterly Staff Outings/Activities where the entire team takes a trip to a museum, participates in virtual wine or coffee tastings, or happy hour; our Annual End of Year Celebration that commemorates our accomplishments before we head to winter break; and the occasional staff happy hours. These social activities are built into the workday to emphasize that building community and connection are crucial components of our collective work together. In our current remote work environment, the Culture Committee’s Quarterly Outings have shifted to virtual activities. While some staff members have reported experiencing “zoom fatigue” or a general lack of interest in virtual social time, the Committee believes that creating opportunities for relationship-building is more crucial than ever. Now, the Committee has shifted to hosting optional connection opportunities, such as our “water cooler time” meant to emulate the low-pressure and non-transactional conversations that often occurred organically in in-person settings. As we look ahead to re-entry, the Committee is determined to continue prioritizing staff connection time and experimenting with new hybrid models for building community.