Most traditional organizations are not setup to foster independent action or even collaboration. Teams, hierarchies, and silos can inhibit employees from realizing their full potential. There are often legacy systems and a labyrinth of company processes, which can prevent teams from working together.
I am very thankful that here at SME Digital things work differently than most consultancies or agencies. For starters, our entire team works virtually, and we see each other (in person) only a couple of times a year. Also, we lack set work hours and don’t even have a vacation/PTO policy…well at least not like anything you have ever heard of (learn more here.) And in my time here, I have noticed certain attributes in our employees that help us thrive.
SME Digital operates Lean (but never mean)
Our concentrated nature enables us to function like a concentrated laundry detergent; a little group can go a very, very long way. On the one hand, what we do and how we work is not for everyone. We are not trying to be different or break any molds. We just know what works for us, we understand what doesn’t work with our methodology, and we have translated that knowledge into our culture and how we manage our client relationships.
On the other hand, for many our setup sounds like a dream come true. My coworkers and I squarely belong in this hand. But, like any workplace, there are specific skills and qualities required to work here. The lack of process, structure, and rules are actually challenging for some personalities. Couple that with the increased responsibility in the scope of work and to your teammates, and it becomes a more intimidating workplace.
Seven Key Attributes
If you’re interested in making the leap from one hand to the other, here are a few key attributes to consider. Some might seem a tad redundant, but they are worth repeating, so let’s go with it.
When I first started with SME Digital, I was unsure of how I would perform in an unstructured environment, given I have such a penchant for structure. Fortunately, I had what was needed: a ton of self-discipline. I know how to craft a schedule that ensures optimum productivity. I know how to put my head down and crank when I need to. This environment is actually perfect for my Type-A personality. Lucky for me, I work with several other overachievers, and we all get along fabulously.
You have to leave a lot behind working here. The concept of promotions, titles, or even the corner office has no place here…unless your home has a cozy corner. If status and brass rings get you going, this is not the right environment for you. We all recognize each other for our respective achievements, but that recognition is earned and not gratuitously handed out. Your value to the organization will not be demonstrated in a traditional workplace dog and pony show. It will be demonstrated by what you achieve as a team.
You may have picked up that there is a great deal of freedom and flexibility handed out here. We are all adults, and the expectation is that we can all act accordingly. We expect that we can all operate ethically and responsibly. We do not have mechanisms in place to validate those expectations. You are given the trust of the team from the beginning, and it is up to each of us not to lose that trust.
A significant secret of our success is that we have professional parity. We need each other to achieve collective goals. We rely on each other. Our respective expertise is appreciated and respected. Collaboration is the lifeblood of what we do. Playing well with others, communicating effectively, and diplomacy…all super important and easy to spot when it’s out of alignment.
I get to make decisions. In fact, it’s very important that I make decisions quickly and without hesitation. We are not a large group and we each own an area of specialty, and subsequently, responsibility. There is no manager to double-check my work. No higher-up to prevent me from making a call. This is awesome, but it’s also “on you” when you make that decision. Being accountable to those decisions can be tough for some people. Which conveniently leads me to the next one…
You need to be able to be accountable for your decisions. Sometimes we are going to make the wrong decision. It happens. The important thing is to not deny the issue or try to shirk responsibility. Here, we all are accountable, not only for our decisions, but also to each other. It’s not just about accepting responsibility for what you do; this is also about accepting responsibility for what you cannot do. If you cannot fulfill a professional obligation, the way to be accountable is to raise your hand and admit you are in over your head.
Our performance reviews consist of two simple questions: 1) Are you WOWing the client? 2) Are you WOWing the team? If yes to both, it’s aces. If there is a no in there, you’re out. At first glance, that might sound mean; however, to circle back, we’re all adults, and it’s the epitome of all of the above attributes: Disciplined, Humble, Trustworthy, Collaborative, Decisive, and Accountable. A two-sentence review? It’s Lean, and it works.
I am consciously working on all of these attributes on a daily basis. Believe me, they don’t just come naturally. But it’s what I’ve learned about succeeding in an outside-the-box company like ours.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of traits needed to work non-traditionally, but it’s a start. If you are thriving in an unconventional environment, what would you add?