This chapter covers the following topics:

  • why you need to scan your environment
  • external environment (level 1) – keeping tabs on what’s happening in the external environment
  • organisational environment (level 2) – making sure your work group supports your organisation’s goals
  • your immediate environment (level 3) – tracking your work group’s achievements and culture.

Why You Need to Scan Your Environment

Understanding the different levels of your work environment will help you to:

  • recognise and explain the inter-relationship between your work, your team’s work and the organisation’s role and purpose
  • identify and pass on relevant information to your team
  • develop vigilance and the agility to respond to changes
  • develop a strategic perspective that helps you respond to complex issues.
Figure 7. Your work is affected by your environment – consider the different levels of influence



 External Environment (Level 1)

To develop an understanding of your environment you need to be able to zoom out to see the ‘big picture’. Broadening your focus can assist you to:

  • look beyond the here-and-now and anticipate what is on the horizon
  • communicate with your manager, peers and team ahead of the need to react to emerging issues
  • plot a course of action that can achieve results in light of complexity, opportunities, obstacles and change.

Environmental scanning helps you identify the external events, trends, or issues that will affect your organisation’s goals. Factors to consider include government policy, economic conditions, community concerns, legislation, and demographics.

They may represent current trends or future threats. You may also need to consider issues and trends that would impact on professional or occupational practices relevant to the services your team and organisation deliver.

A tip for building awareness of the broader environment is to follow media and other information sources (e.g. news reports, periodicals, professional/industry journals), by attending seminars and participating in networks. Make sure you are on the distribution list for any relevant circulars, bulletins or other pieces of regular information that are circulated in your organisation.

One simple tool a manager can use to assess the potential impacts of any environment on their team is a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a way to consider the strengths and weaknesses of your team or workgroup within the context of the opportunities and threats of the current or future environment.

See Appendix E. It provides more information about a SWOT analysis.

Organisational Environment (Level 2)

Understanding the organisational environment helps you make sure your team supports your organisation’s goals. It also provides the opportunity to understand and influence issues and activities that may affect your team.

To understand your organisational environment try to develop an awareness of:

Formal Processes

  • changes in your organisation’s senior management team, organisational structure, systems, budgets or location
  • organisation design and reporting lines
  • administrative processes and key functions
  • priorities and key strategies.

Behaviours and Relationships

  • how people treat each other
  • how your organisation treats its clients
  • how your organisation interacts with other organisations (e.g. public sector, same industry sector, regulatory or operational agencies, suppliers).

Your evidence may come from a range of sources such as:

  • corporate and business plans
  • annual reports
  • employee and client surveys
  • people metrics (e.g. separation rates, absentee rates, recruitment source breakdown)
  • benchmarking reports
  • employee exit interviews and discussions
  • minutes of executive meetings
  • your own observations.

Suggested Activity

List the sources of information available to you on your organisational environment.

When collecting this information you should be looking for insight from events that might affect your team’s work (e.g. changing administrative processes that affect how your team operates, budget changes that affect your team’s resources).

Being aware of these things will help you to prepare your team, and may even enable you to shape a situation to suit your team’s needs better (e.g. providing feedback on a new client management system to ensure it takes into account the way your team delivers services).

Your Immediate Environment (Level 3)

For most new managers, understanding the immediate environment will be the priority in the first instance. By building a deep understanding of your current situation, you will be better positioned to develop strategies that will be relevant and meet the priorities agreed with your manager.

As with level 2, understanding your organisational environment, there are multiple sources of evidence. Additionally, keep in mind that social functions and informal conversations over coffee are also valid ways to build awareness of your immediate environment and the politics of your office.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Suggested Activity

Increase your understanding of your workgroup by answering the following questions:

  • Why does our workgroup exist? What is our purpose?
  • Where are we going? What is our vision? What does our future look like?
  • Whom do we serve? What is expected of us?
  • What are our goals and priorities?
  • How do we track performance?
  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are the major risks to our ability to successfully deliver our work?
  • What is our improvement plan?
  • What other work units do we work with most closely and why?

You can also use a synopsis of this information when representing your group to others.

Understanding Culture

Every organisation and workgroup has a culture: one that the people within it may not be able to describe directly, but will certainly be able to show you, if you pay attention. The culture of your team can be one which contributes to its success and resilience; or it can be one that hampers performance, reduces productivity and gives your team a poor reputation, internally and externally.

A team’s culture is exemplified by behavioural patterns that often follow unwritten rules. To see the culture of your workgroup, observe team members’ habits and patterns of behaviour. What do you hear them say when they discuss work, clients, other departments, or management? How do you see them behave in response to requests?

Does your team sound and behave like this? Or do they sound and behave more like this?

‘I put in the extra effort because it makes a difference.’

‘My manager is great. I can speak to her about anything, anytime.’

‘We can do it. We’ll just need to lobby to get it to happen.’

‘By 4.30 I can hardly wait to get out of here.’

‘The only time we see management around here is when we’re in trouble for something.’

‘We tried that five years ago. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.’

Managers can also monitor culture by examining data from:

  • employee opinion surveys
  • 360 degree feedback
  • exit interviews
  • people metrics (e.g. retention rate, absence rate)
  • other workforce data sources like the People Matter Survey administered by the VPSC.

You can also generate additional data and insights using techniques such as the quick-check tool in the VPSC publication How Positive is Your Work Environment?

Suggested Activity

Talk to your manager or HR representative about the availability of these possible sources of data in your organisation.

“Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organisation is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” – Frances Hesselbein

It is important for you to build a culture in which people can work to their full potential and feel safe to express their honest and constructive views; a culture of high expectations and standards; and fair treatment for all. It won’t simply happen through good intention.What can you do to influence culture?

Managers influence culture through their actions – and inaction. For example, a manager who ignores constructive advice from staff may notice that staff develop a habit of ignoring issues raised by clients.

While important, simply identifying a set of ‘values’ is not enough. To have real meaning, values need to be understood and defined in terms of behaviours.

Managers can change and shape team culture by modelling desired behaviours and encouraging team members to do the same. Managers can continue to calibrate team culture through individual and team feedback, team building activities and by the skilful use of performance management and development plans, and job design and recruitment.

Suggested Activity

Talk to your team to identify what things they would expect to see (i.e. behaviours) when your organisation’s values are being applied. For example, what do people need to do to ‘demonstrate accountability’ in their day-to-day work?

Recommended Further Reading and Resources

Why You Need to Scan Your Environment

External Environment (Level 1)

  • About the Victorian Public Sector. This page provides an overview of the organisations and entities which comprise the Victorian public sector. It is one of a series of fact sheets available from the VPSC website which give an overview of the public sector
  • About the public sector: an overview of how government works in Victoria; key institutions; role of the public service and public sector; and mechanisms for finance, accountability and employment
  • Victorian Parliament website. Provides links to a wide range of publications including Victorian legislation, Hansard, and committee reports. Also provides live broadcasts when Parliament is sitting
  • Australian New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) conducts a range of short courses and seminars that help build a more strategic perspective . The VPSC co-ordinates ANZSOG seminars which are open to all public sector employees.

Organisational Environment (Level 2)

Your Immediate Environment (Level 3)

  • How Positive Is Your Work Environment? Offers a means of determining priorities for change by taking a quick check of an organisation’s culture from three perspectives, across 10 elements