Creative labor is a strange beast, relying as much on a good muse as it does organizational acumen. Balancing these often contrary tendencies requires a corporate culture that supports and enables a dynamic, flexible, noisy, and committed team. As Shawn Parr has reminded us recently, businesses with performance-oriented cultures that empower passionately and actively engaged employees enjoy “statistically better financial growth, with high employee involvement, strong internal communication, and an acceptance of a healthy level of risk-taking in order to achieve new levels of innovation.”
With this in mind, we would like to share five pointers we have developed internally to describe the culture of the office here at Undercurrent. While we recognize blowing a horn about our own culture immediately makes us uncool (cool never talks about how cool it is), we present these principles as an invitation for critique. So, without further adieu, here’s what it takes to work at UC.
1. Pants, not jammies.
The work we do can be done at home, but that work wouldn’t be as good as if it was done in the office where collaboration is high and exchanges encouraged. When you’re here, have a purpose for how you work, individually and with others. Work is not just a series of tasks lined-up, one after the other. It is a creative practice designed to achieve an outcome, each and every day. Have an objective for meetings, worksessions, and presentations. Share that purpose with your colleagues and clients.
2. Not all days are built the same.
Johanna Beyenbach points out the difference between “Manager Time” and “Maker Time”, and that they require different types of time. Whether you’re meeting with the team, hosting a worksession, or just writing emails, decide in advance how you’re going to spend your time. Once you decide how you’re going to spend your time/shape your day, stick to it.
3. Schedule, rhythm, and flow.
Particularly when it comes to client interactions, schedule these at the in-person kick-off of the project. Brief weekly checkins and longer presentations should be in their calendar from day one. This establishes a rhythm and a plan from the start of the project. This rhythm is also helpful for organizing the flow for the whole team.
4. Have a bias towards action.
The result of your time with each other and with clients, in informal conversations, worksessions, and meetings, should normally end with clear action and a mutual understanding of who’s going to do what next. When creating to-do lists, each task should be an actionable item (for example, replace nebulous terms like “consult with, deal with, handle, manage” with more concrete action oriented terms like “call, email, draft, talk to”).
5. Meetings are a specific activity.
Meetings, Worksessions and Presentations are distinct activities, each with their own goals, rhythm, and flow. Meetings are a collaborative device for making tactical decisions about a very specific topic, or for coming together around a broader issue to develop a plan of action for this broader issue. Worksessions come in many shapes and sizes, and are for working out strategic decisions, making progress on an argument, or opening and locking down mental directions. Presentations are for delivering work to the client, and should correspond to the statement of work. If you’re leading the project, it’s on you to make the presentation the best possible experience for the client.