Global Policy Studies & International Security

Published on July 10th, 2014 | by Rachel MarKowitz

Realizing the Team

I’ve had a lot of internships. I’ve had a lot of jobs. I’ve also done a lot of volunteer work. One thing I’ve learned is that organizational culture matters. There are settings where the team is supported, motivated, and inspired, and then there are those competitive, difficult settings where you can’t wait to leave. Most organizations probably fall in the middle of those two extremes.

At Search for Common Ground (Search or SFCG), the organizational culture is on the positive extreme. From my experience with various staff from the Great Lakes region, and in the office I’m working from in Rwanda, this group is particularly communicative, driven, and supportive. I think my colleagues literally held my hand five times in my first month here.

I recently had the opportunity to explicitly ask some of the Search team about how they feel their offices function. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and not in the “I have to say something nice or I might get fired” sort of way. My new colleagues were all certain that Search has a horizontal, team-oriented structure that makes their work not only more effective, but more fun. And we’ve known for some time now that a positive work environment leads to greater productivity.

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SFCG-Rwanda staff discussions projects during a staff meeting, 7 July 2014,Kigali, Rwanda

That’s exactly what I’ve seen happening for over a month at SFCG-Rwanda. Everyone is important and included, from the person who serves tea to upper-level management. We have weekly staff meetings where we explain what we did last week and what we plan to do this week, and everyone is welcome to ask questions or provide suggestions, even if the project doesn’t directly concern them.

For example, a couple weeks ago one of my colleagues who produces a girls’ radio program told us at the staff meeting that some of the girl journalists were ageing out of the program, so they would have to be replaced. After the meeting, I approached her and asked whether there was anything we could do for those journalists as a sort of “exit training”.

She was highly receptive. We put our heads together and now I’m planning to spend a few hours with the journalists before they leave so we can provide CV feedback, tips for finding jobs, interview rehearsal, and other career guidance. All this because the team atmosphere here allows for collaboration.

As another example of collaboration, last week I traveled to Gisenyi, near the border with the DRC, to play Ultimate with petty traders. WHAT, you might ask? Well, I love Ultimate and I believe it can be an effective tool for community building, especially in conflict-prone areas. Search has a project working with small-scale traders on the Rwanda-DRC border and was looking to use sports as a tool for engaging the different groups.

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Petty traders after the Ultimate activity, 3 July 2014, Gisenyi, Rwanda (photo courtesy of SFCG-Rwanda)

So all it took was a couple of conversations with my office mate, and Voila! Not only did she like the idea, but she came out to play one night in Kigali, and then she pitched it to our supervisors who gave us the go-ahead.

Even though I’m only an intern, thanks to the horizontal, team-oriented dynamic at Search for Common Ground, I am trying out my dream project. Of course, we’re taking it one step at a time – first we had a short workshop with the Rwandan traders, and now we’re planning a larger-scale event with groups from both sides of the border.

Of course there are challenges to team dynamics no matter how cohesive and inclusive the group; I’m not saying this team is 100% efficient and complementary all the time. But I haven’t seen this type of opportunity happening at every organization. Search is exceptional in the way it supports and motivates its staff at every level. And that’s the way we make progress in any field.

To apply for an internship with Search for Common Ground, visit their website.

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About the Author

Rachel MarKowitz

Rachel Markowitz is an MGPS student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally from Kansas, Rachel spent most of her adult life in Morocco, where she worked in international development and education. She is currently interning with Search for Common Ground in Rwanda as a Crook Fellow.



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