Embracing vulnerability at work
Embodying core values when things aren’t going well and holding teammates accountable — that’s what can be hard.
So many design firms, or companies for that matter, claim to have a growth-centered culture that’s equal parts challenging and supportive — one that encourages you to bring your whole self to work and creates an environment where that can happen. They publish a blog post about it, blast in on social media, and the resumes come pouring in from people who want to be a part of it.
I hear these loud proclamations of core values very often, but rarely do I speak to someone and hear them confirm the implementation of those values throughout the course of their work. After they’re hired, there’s all the beer and Kind® Bars they could want, but no opportunity for growth. It wasn’t what they signed up for, not even a little bit.
More often than not, said values are quickly brushed aside when it feels like time, client needs, or budget does not allow for the practice of these values. But at Moment, people mean it when they say that growth is central to the work that we do.
When I heard our CEO, Brendan Reynolds’ remarks about our core values of Openness, Collaboration, and Empathy at a company-wide meeting earlier this year (published here), his words resonated with me. As I’ve encountered difficult projects at Moment, I’ve had people around me to support me every step of the way. Which is something I recognize not everyone has in their professional life, so I hope I’ve risen to the occasion.
Culture and embodiment
It’s easy to say we embrace those core values of Openness, Collaboration, and Empathy. They sound great. I’m in favor. Two thumbs up. But to embody these characteristics when things aren’t going well, to bring them to team meetings when you don’t believe in the direction a project is going, and to hold your teammates accountable for doing these things — that’s what’s hard to do consistently.
Among other reasons, I joined Moment because of the company culture. I wanted to constantly be surrounded by people better than me to help me grow. After all, the best way to improve is to surround yourself with people who expect your best and help you rise to the occasion.
I got what I was looking for, but consistently pushing myself outside of my comfort zone wasn’t and isn’t easy.
I’m coming up on a year at Moment and while some of my coworkers only get to experience one or two project teams in that amount of time, I’ve been lucky enough to work on several projects with a range of talented people across the company. Some engagements have gone smoothly from start to finish, while others have been less predictable. There’s a certain amount of ambiguity in every project and, typically, a little friction between your vision and the client’s. All of this creates challenging moments, but what makes all the difference in the end is that you and your team have each other’s backs.
For me, this year kicked off with a project that challenged every one of our core values and I found myself holding back when I needed support from my team. Instead, I was quiet. I scheduled time to talk with a team member, but when circumstances caused our one-on-one time to get canceled, I hesitated to follow up. I figured I’d let it pass since the project was coming to a close, until suddenly, it wasn’t—the project went on for much longer than any of us initially thought. We didn’t stop to reevaluate how we were working together, and I didn’t speak up soon enough to let my team know I needed changes. We weren’t being open with one another and we weren’t holding each other accountable. It made for a rough couple of months and I was glad when it finally ended, but I was worn out, miserable, and questioning my communication skills. Brendan’s remarks on our core values came soon after that project ended. It was a time when I really needed the reminder.
When my next project started, I knew I needed the dynamic to be more open. I wanted to be a team member who voiced my needs, and I wanted to be held accountable by my team. So I took steps to ensure Openness was present and up front, and as Brendan noted, that comes with a healthy dose of vulnerability. The project had a short timeline, only four weeks, including time with the client to sort out what we were going to be able to deliver, and then to deliver it. There were days packed with synthesis sessions that took every last drop of our team’s brainpower, and a few late nights on top of that. On days when we had been powering through, we definitely needed the extra wisdom from all of our team members. When I was mentally exhausted from my task, I still had the energy to bring a fresh approach to my team members’ work. In return, team members reciprocated by offering their mental energy when I needed it most. We would not have gotten the project done in that short of a time if we were not able to ask for support or to offer it to one another. When we evaluated our team’s performance at the end of the project, we all called out how important it was to establish that Openness and Collaboration early on and communicate our expectations. Those moments of vulnerability paid off and our team was stronger for it.
The next project I worked on was even more challenging. The client was remote and the goal of the engagement kept changing, so when we were in the same space with them, there was an intense pressure to make the most of it. After a long day of travel and meetings at the client’s office, I found myself drained and struggling to get a word in edgewise. Over dinner that night, my team member noted how quiet I had been and said I should speak up more. I have always been better at listening than speaking, so I told him I found it hard to join in when he didn’t allow any pause in the conversation. We agreed it was a mutual responsibility — he needed to allow more space in the conversation, and I needed to take it upon myself to contribute without hesitancy. The next day we both held up our end of the deal — more voices were an active part of the discussion and the meetings were more productive for it. Collaboration couldn’t happen when one person was dominating the conversation. It couldn’t happen when I wasn’t participating. But when we recognized each other’s strengths and allowed for them, we were stronger as a team.
On vulnerability and finding strength
These conversations with coworkers can be uncomfortable. They take time and energy. But when we approach our work and our teams with our core values of Openness, Collaboration, and Empathy, when we’re open to the growth that comes from being uncomfortable, we become better and stronger as individuals, as team members, and as a company.
It has taken many years to learn that vulnerability is, in fact, a form of power. I am surrounded by incredible coworkers who allow me those moments of vulnerability and empower me to be my best self. I am lucky to work for a company that actively works to bring more incredible people into the mix. I’m in the thick of it. There are moments when I reflect on all of it and question whether I am giving enough back, but mostly I am grateful to find myself here.
This post was originally published on Moment’s Medium publication, Design Intelligence.