Apologies for the three week hiatus here, life away from the office has been vacations, officiating a wedding, and moving to a new apartment. Not that there hasn’t been work as well – disjointed and sporadic maybe, but I’m still earning my hours for the program.
In my first post I mentioned there were six of us interns with Wake County – three in Community Services, one in Budget, one who splits time between Budget and Planning, and me in Housing. It seems this summer for all of us has been a true internship experience – chock full of learning. During the school year we studied the theory of organizational operations, which prepared us to wear different hats, or switch deftly between different frames – budget, legal, internal structure, external network relationships – within our positions. What I don’t think any of us were really prepared for was the “on the ground” realities of working for government, working in a government office. The revelations we’re having everyday don’t point to an academic weakness in our MPA program, though, but highlight the richness and importance of having these summer internships bridging our school years.
Our conversations in society about government seem to have streamlined recently, because of our trite/concise forms of communication through social media, the polarization of our politics, and the necessity of having to take an immovable and clearly defined position to project legitimacy, honesty, individuality. I think all six of us at Wake County however, would say government, even one county government, even one office of a county government, cannot be described simply. We work theoretically for the same employer, but our offices and work are remarkably different for being under the same nominal umbrella.
It’s been fascinating to tease out the internal office politics, and intra-departmental dynamics, as we swap stories over lunch or at site visits. Budget is completely silent, where employees almost comically stereotypically don’t even stop assessments for lunch, whereas Parks and Rec (within Community Services) supervisors lounge inside doorframes, positing new mental models that they want their interns’ to approach their assignments with. Planning is almost entirely men, but Housing is full of women, a bizarre gender segregation to me who is going into the Planning program at UNC next year. The UNC program requires students to choose one of a handful of specializations and I am curious to see the gender breakdown between Housing and Community Development (my choice) versus the Land Use and Environmental or Transportation Planning.
These office dynamics seem to in part reflect the work that we are involved in – Parks and Rec drawing the more gregarious and indulgent introspectors, while Budgeting attracting the more structured and straightforward. These organizational personalities have a huge effect not only on what we do, but how we do it, as the connections between our office coworkers and supervisors change and are changed by what we collaborate on.
For me, my particular role in Housing in looking at the division broadly and the internal connections and blockages between teams and programs has both used skills I’m entirely comfortable with and pushed me to exercising weaker ones. I’m very secure in my org theory, my ability to break down larger systems and analyze interrelationships. This kind of analysis though has placed me everywhere and nowhere in the organizational chart, putting me outside of a typical team and supervisory dynamic which I typically crave and thrive under. Moreover, our office has been swamped by a housing crisis and the budget season, while also orienting several new employees. To top it all off, my project involves assessing the division’s strengths and weaknesses and proposing re-orientations of teams and programs to make our services more efficient. It’s been disorienting to be both totally new to the division, yet almost fully self-directed in the day-to-day, checking in with my supervisor weekly for course corrections and updates. But that freedom is probably exactly what I need – to build confidence in my own analytic abilities and intuition about reorganization, and to cement my discipline and self-organization.
The internship experience, I think, for all of us at Wake County has taught a lot about organizational culture, and the fluidity of relationships between different components of an organization, whether departments or employees. We’ve had to attempt to organically become a part of our offices, and pick up the work of those offices, while also trying to understand the network of interrelationships that affect how our work is done. It can be at times overwhelming and anxiety producing, as well as satisfyingly challenging – pushing ourselves to grow personally even as we contribute to the development of our orgs. Even the smallest interactions within an office can radically distinguish it from another organization, and this is equal parts maddening, confusing, and fascinating. In all parts though we are learning, which makes this summer fantastic. That and we have the weekends off. And we get paid. And we have free parking.