I’ve been surprised by how different the work culture is here. Facebook groups instead of mailing lists, and indeed facebook messenger as a supplement to work emails is obvious (I’ve been surprised to discover I find writing a work facebook post that’ll trigger a notification for my boss slightly more stressful than just cc’ing the same boss into an email).
The whole office sitting down to lunch together at 11:30, anyone who doesn’t actually have a couple more hours work to do leaving around three, and the lack of resentment displayed by the people staying till close is also pretty noticeable.
Icelanders are also far noisier in the office than Brits. They gasp a lot, which was initially a bit unsettling but seems just to mean they’re bord. They also make little growling noises while focused on their computers, say ‘eyea’ a lot and hum to themselves. It’s a little bit like working with a bunch of guinea-pigs, an impression Icelanders’ thick hair, round faces and little eyes do nothing to dispel, but luckily I find the noise endearing.
The real difference though is the lack of strategic oversight and a mechanism to ensure its achieved. I report to Þ, who’s great, on projects, while my fundraising stuff goes to H. Neither of them have any equivalent to KPIs, one to ones or quarterly appraisals. I didn’t notice while I had these, but they turn out to be really useful. I don’t think we’d have ended up with Þ, whose project reports point out that he doesn’t know whether he is supposed to be making a big difference to a few people or a small difference to lots of people, not knowing if he’s aiming for depth or breadth if he had KPIs. I told him I think this is the key question, and its been dodged at every step of the command chain. He wasn’t entirely joking when he said I’d decide.
If he had appraisals H would know how much money he raised last year, and how much he needs to make this year. His rather lax approach to fundraising is more understandable once you learn that we, Search and Rescue and the Icelandic equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous own the company that operates Iceland’s slot machines. Our core costs are covered by our vast gambling revenue, but the company, which is operated at arm’s length, is Iceland’s second biggest scandal this week; it has worked out it’ll be more profitable if it makes its games more addictive, and has taken steps to achieve the dream. My colleagues think running slot machines is wrong, but I don’t think they understand just how many of them would be out of a job if we relied on kids with tombolas, which seems to be our second biggest revenue source.
Not speaking Icelandic has only been a minor inconvenience on getting up to speed with the office gossip. The failure to understand why we’re struggling to achieve whatever it is we’re doing has a lot to do with my presence here. Þ was worried about managing someone, and thought someone without much project experience or a grasp of the language would be useless, but his boss decided I was the solution and that was that.
Initially when I said clever things in the meetings that now have to be held in English Þ looked at me with the mixture of relief and gratitude I use for horses that didn’t behave as badly as I thought they would. Two and a half weeks in its hard to beleave we haven’t been a team for ages, and are doing a whole load of evaluations together. I get to do more of what I want because he is so grateful I’m not the nightmare he expected.
On the other hand H wanted the most experienced fundraiser he could find, but now he’s got me he feels threatened by that experience. Work clearly comes third to the master’s degree he’s doing and his role on the board of the party that brought down the government last week (our biggest scandal). He told me to put fundraising ideas into a word doc before he left for the field trip he’s been on all week. I think he’s going to be a bit surprised to get a SWOT analysis and fundraising strategy, with more ideas than you can shake a stick at, including recording donors and taking time to think about what worked before. He has gone further out of his way to be welcoming to me and the other non-Icelandic speakers than anyone else. I’m confident I’ll get him to agree to at least some of my ideas, he just doesn’t want to admit that anything is wrong.