While I’ve had a variety of internships and jobs, one thing remains consistent between them all: no job description or interview can ever prepare you for exactly what the position entails and what situations will arise on a daily basis. My summer internship at the University of Delaware was no different. In fact, this position has further highlighted the inherent unpredictability of human nature, which has challenged my ability to plan and set effective lines of communication in place to be ready for whatever situations arise.
The effective lines of communications piece brings me to one of my primary goals set forth in my personal plan paper. To clarify, in my personal paper I stated, “I must also set up an organized line of communication so that I transmit information when I receive it instead of falling into my tendency to absorb information and thinking I’ll share it when the time comes.” At the time this seemed like a good blanket statement for any position involving event planning and housing coordination, especially in a university setting where various departments are involved in day to day processes. What I did not realize at the time was how many students workers I would be in charge of, which made my original statement more vital than even anticipated. From the very first week, I learned that every time I did not communicate clear instructions to the student workers, it resulted in more work for me; whereas, taking the extra time to communicate properly created less confusion for the team and less work eventually for me.
I feel like the improvement of my communication and overall planning skills can be seen in the way I handled situations differently at the start of my internship as opposed to a situation that occurred later in the summer. For example in the beginning of the summer, I looked at things from a day to day perspective and would let the summer student staff know their tasks as the tasks arose. This created an unnecessarily stressful environment for both me and the summer staff. They would come to work not knowing what they would do for the day and then I would scramble to assign people to the various roles we needed to fill for that day such as a camp check in or a dorm walkthrough. As time went on, I learned it was best to look at our schedule from a more long-term perspective which allowed to match the skillsets of the student workers to the tasks we had ahead of time instead of scrambling to fill those roles the day of. For instance, when we had a camp check in, I would look at who was on the schedule and match my more outgoing workers with that role, whereas when we would have a building walk through, I would assign one of my coworkers who preferred manual labor.
The advanced planning allowed me to not only effectively communicate with my student workers ahead of time, which created a much more efficient workplace for all because everyone knew their roles for the day. This better preparation and communication on my part also fostered better interactions between my coworkers and I. When I would assign things last minute, my coworkers had no input and would just have to rush out and fulfill the task: whereas, when they saw their schedule ahead of time, many felt comfortable telling me which roles they preferred. This change indicates that when communication improved on my end, it fostered better communication overall and gave my coworkers their own voice.
In terms of my second goal, which was the more concrete improvement of my computer skills, I would not say I maximized my improvement in these software tool areas. While, I did have the chance to interact with excel and sheets, I felt myself occupying my time with tasks that did not include work on these computer programs. Upon reflection, I think my lack of knowledge in these areas perpetrated a cycle where I got scared to ask my bosses what I was supposed to do because I felt like they were far more advanced than where I was. This seems ridiculous because I could not have expected to learn when I was too scared to ask the questions that it required to improve but at the time it seemed logical because I had a safety net because I knew the work would get completed by my knowledgeable bosses.
While I did not fully achieve my goal in this realm, I did have one task using Excel where I was charged with organizing our check-ins by dates, times and locations, which not only challenged me but also provided me an opportunity to jump right into the computer programs without much assistance. I have definitely learned that I gain the most though hands on learning because I have to be self reliant and to think critically in order to find solutions. For this particular excel task I often had to google answers to figure out how to organize the spreadsheet; while this may seem ineffective or tedious, I actually believe it was beneficial to me. I could see the benefits of my expanding Excel knowledge because when a coworker asked me some of the same questions I previously had, I could teach them directly from my own learning experience and search techniques.
Aside from aiming to fulfill the goals I set forth in my previous internship reflection, I also got to both watch and experience leadership unfold in various capacities throughout my time at UD. As I previously covered in a blog post, I was surprised by how quick I built Idiosyncrasy credit in the Conference Services department. The expectation from the start was that I would have a lot of responsibility, but I still had to build trust and prove my commitment to the role before I felt I had any room to deviate. In my previous post, I did not elaborate on any specific examples, but as I reflected, I think the way I streamlined the departments communication process reveals the biggest display of my idiosyncratic buildup. Previously employees and primarily supervisors were expected to communicate rule changes and systematic updates as we encountered them with whichever employees were working at the time. This informal procedure created major room for miscommunication and lack of transparency because some employees were being told about policy changes whereas others had no idea what was occurring. I suggested to my supervisors, Cathy and Matt, that any time we were changing our check-in procedures or other department policies that we send a message in our WhenIWork app or via Gmail. I even offered to write the messages or emails regarding the policy change as they occurred so I did not burden them with more work. I think they appreciated this feedback and were willing to change their ways because they saw how I committed to the traditional practices of the department for many weeks and earned their trust because they saw my commitment to doing what was best for the department as a whole.
One thing I did not touch upon in my blog was the two different styles of leadership, task-oriented versus relationship oriented, that I witnessed between my two bosses. Matt was extremely relationship oriented, often times to the extreme where I worried if his closeness to his employees was potentially hindering his ability to stay on task and serve our department the best. For example, I often found him chatting with employees in his office about non-work related matters, which I think is important because I saw how employees were willing to work harder or felt more comfortable with Matt when they were valued beyond just what they brought to the work setting. Yet, I also saw the downsides of Matt’s close relationships when a majority of his conversations became non-work related and thus, people took him less seriously because they did not see him necessarily a supervisor but more as a friend.
In terms of Cathy’s leadership style she tended to lean towards the task-oriented side which was beneficial to keep our department focused and to make sure all of our check-ins were run efficiently and to ensure the dorms were ready for the next groups to move in. Given the high expectations of our guests and strict university procedures, this task-oriented style often was critical to our survival and ability to meet the needs of our summer residents. The only downside to Cathy’s rigid task-oriented leadership was the fear it created among some of my coworkers, who were often overly anxious that they would not fulfill Cathy’s expectations. I think they lost sight of the fact that Cathy was a human and would be willing to understand mistakes or if they were struggling with something personal. I think Cathy’s laser point focus on the department needs often created an environment where employees merely saw themselves for what they could do for the job and not what they brought to our department as individuals, which sometimes hindered their ability to contribute their own ideas to our department.
Overall, it was beneficial for me to experience two very different leadership styles between supervisors who worked well together. It was helpful to see the leadership dynamics play out and actually contributed to what I would say was a balanced work environment. If anything, Matt’s relationship-oriented leadership style versus his Mom’s task-oriented leadership style revealed the importance of having both types in a work setting and how things can go wrong if one is too dominant over the other. It is important for team members to see their value as a human but to also remain focused on the goals at hand.
Upon final reflection, I am appreciative for my time at UD and the chance to experience the fast-paced nature of a University summer housing department, specifically as their first ever intern. I learned a lot about my ability to lead others and more specifically how to balance asserting authority while also aiming to create meaningful relationships, which was especially difficult as I tried to manage my position of authority among student workers the same age. I think that balance will be a continual challenge in navigating relationships with future coworkers at any level, in addition to experiencing the various relationship dynamics that form in a work setting. I consider myself lucky that this internship provided me some early exposure to the challenges of leader and follower dynamics and the importance of navigating office relationships wisely.