Culture Isn’t Found in a Bean Bag Chair
Note: this is a post I wrote for the MESH Blog Cabin. MESH is the creative agency that I work for based out of Baton Rouge, La.
Workplaces are obsessed with culture. Of course, everyone wants to create the feel of the Googleplex or TwitterHQ — those brands are cool and innovative. In an effort to mold our workplaces to adopt the cultures of these behemoth organizations, we throw beanbag chairs and chalk walls at the problem not stopping to think about what makes a specific company culture work.
I’ve been at MESH for seven months and in this relatively small amount of time I’ve discovered things that (at least for us MESHites) shape our culture. They’re not just cool toys and modern aesthetics but proven operating practices that push us to outdo ourselves with each successive project.
A surefire way to ship low quality work is being unwilling to scrap your beloved idea even when you know it won’t work. Sometimes, we won’t uncover a problem until we’re hours or days into a project. Are we willing to start over from scratch? Not long ago, our team went through two fleshed out creative directions for a client. For each one we developed and designed the concept but later discovered a problem. Rather than just hope it would work, we shelved the idea and started fresh. Go ahead, call it insane. We call it quality.
I absolutely love those moments when a team member walks to the center of the creative space and says, “alright everybody, pull up a chair. We’ve got a problem to figure out.” The creative work that leaves MESH is the product of a team of creative minds tackling creative problems. Designers, copywriters, photographers, business developers, account managers, interns and management all have a say. Because every mind is unique and every mind approaches problems in their own way. We embrace that.
Creative people have this incessant need to own their work. To manage it and have some say in the creative direction. It’s just who we are – you know what I’m talking about. At MESH, we’re often given a project with some direction (the byproduct of a team brainstorming session) and then told to run with it. Sometimes it’s more strict due to client concerns; sometimes it’s more relaxed. But overall, we’re tasked and trusted with churning out great work.
When I got hired on, I didn’t really have a title… I guess I still don’t. I mostly work on photography, UI design and copywriting but I’ve done work in social media management, graphic design, creative direction, storyboarding, blogging, email marketing and more. The best part? It’s not just me. Nearly everyone in this company has at least three titles and probably could tack on a few more without stretching the truth. Everyone gets their hands dirty. If they can show up and produce great work, they’re a candidate to tackle the project.
The Two C’s
Coffee and chocolate. Let’s be honest… this is key.
“Yes!” (wo)men agree with everything. Even if it sucks. They don’t speak up when they have a concern with the creative approach. Nor do they speak up when an idea is obviously bad. They just say yes. The problem with “Yes!” (wo)men is that they aren’t contributing to the overall growth of the team. You know the old adage that two heads are better than one? It’s true! Because each mind thinks differently, we help fill in the idea gaps. It’s not a bash against someone’s idea – it’s refining it and turning it into gold.
We’ve been building sites on a particular platform that is incredibly versatile. After building 14 different sites with it, we’ve grown familiar with the in’s and out’s. It would be an obvious choice to stick with it for several more years, however, we stumbled upon a new platform that gave us an immense amount of power that we don’t have with our current platform… so we decided to learn. Who knows what will come of it — maybe we’ll end up sticking with the first one — but at least we’re giving it a fair shot to give our clients a higher-quality product.
In the months after I joined the company back in January, I steadily learned about Illustrator to a point of fair competence. But nothing more. One evening after work, one of our designers, Chase, and I stayed behind at the office. Over cups of coffee, he taught me some pro-tips in Illustrator and I ran him through some compositing secrets of Photoshop. Neither of us HAD to know those extra details to do our jobs yet we knew that learning more about adjacent skills in the industry creates a team of hybrid-creatives, strengthening the company as well as the individual.
One of the things that I find myself looking forward to each morning is opening up my email inbox (no one ever says that, right?). I know that at least one of my co-workers will have found a cool article or funny video the previous evening and made a point to blast it out to everyone for the next morning’s inspiration.
One morning The Head Honcho called a team meeting and discussed Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why. At the end of it, he encouraged the team to all go purchase a copy and send in the receipts for a reimbursement. He saw the value of good ideas and chose to intentionally make those ideas readily available to our team in a very practical way.
Culture isn’t about how many amenities are available, it’s about how well a team can function together to produce stellar results. These 9 elements of our culture may cross over to yours, but you may very well operate differently. It’s your call. Whatever the case, the goal is to help everyone MESH.