Before starting my first full-time job at Google, I had no idea what I wanted to do for 2 months post graduation. I didn’t have the privilege of traveling nor did I want to stay home because I knew how unproductive I could get if I did that. Luckily, my professor reached out to me about how his design studio was launching a summer program and encouraged me to apply.
A few weeks later, I was chosen to be one of the eight design fellows to be apart of a program called The Future Cognition Collaborative. The FCC is a speculative design lab organized by an open community of diverse creators with the goal of creating intelligent systems that are understandable and usable to the general public. With a combination of research and working with clients, the primary emphasis was building exploratory prototypes for distributed cognition systems (human thinking + A.I.) that are human-centered and emotionally/socially responsive.
I primarily worked with a team of three, and with the guidance from our clients, other fellows, domain experts and supporting advisors, we explored the future of personal data. We generated ideas, and prototyped interfaces that helped our clients understand emerging technologies and how to apply them into their business. The final product was a reward payment platform to help people repay debt through generating metrics to help people make better financial decisions. This data would be used to inform the product and humanize the overall collections process.
It was an intensive but fulfilling experience, but the insights I gained have given me more perspective to working in the industry, and are things I can bring to my work moving forward.
Work is more structured with set deadlines
From previous experiences working in corporate companies, the work I was “supposed” to do was more ambiguous than in consulting. I was expected to drive my own project by creating deliverables that I thought would be the most effective way of communicating my ideas, and deadlines weren’t too rigid as I was the one mostly in control of them.
With the limited amount of time I had in the fellowship, I received an agenda of what to expect with the design phases, and what deliverables to make and when they were due. This made the process more set, with the emphasis on creating and communicating on the clients to make sure we were all aligned.
Working in consulting is like design school. You are given a brief, client and expected deliverables with a set deadline or schedule. You might end up following your own process or it could be based on the design process your consultancy uses. When you work in a corporate setting, you are expected to drive your own project by defining the brief, client and deliverables through mapping out your own process and deadlines.
In the fellowship, we were given main roles as a better way to distinguish our primary skillset (I like to call them “superpowers”), and I was assigned the director of collaboration. Some of my responsibilities, besides the more nitty-gritty design tasks, included facilitating group discussions, setting deadlines and goals, keeping track/creating documentation and ultimately making sure we get work done well.
Collaboration in group settings is a skill I am constantly trying to improve because I believe the best work is done with multiple people. In order to work effectively with multiple people, you need to make them feel comfortable, set expectations, encourage them and provide them opportunities to learn. One way to do this is trusting them to do the work on their own, holding them accountable, rather than constantly checking up on them.
I have had a tendency to micromanage (you can read about my previous experience here), because I thought that I wasn’t doing enough as the designated leader. From this fellowship, I have learned to trust my teammates more because we established clear roles, expectations and goals before working on the project. In turn, this has given them lots of initiative to come up with things they want to contribute to the project.
When we are given room to assign our own tasks to get work done, we feel empowered by the impact we can contribute on our own to a bigger goal. We trust each other to know what we are doing.
Delegating outcomes allowed my team to be aligned on an overall goal and the “why” to the tasks we would have to do. When I had assigned tasks in the past without mapping out clear outcomes, people would ask me why I assigned the task or would end up losing motivation because it felt like they didn’t understand the purpose. Establishing outcomes makes sure the tasks we do are relevant to the bigger goal and empower teammates to come up with their own tasks.
Communicate early and often
Reach out for feedback before you finish a final version of something. Getting buy-in ensures support to keep making because people recognize the work you are doing as something important to them. Every week, we would have at least two design reviews where we would do a share out of our work to our advisors and other peers. These reviews allowed us to present our rationale behind the work and get feedback from different perspectives.
People don’t know what you are thinking.
Communicating with teammates and aligning on a goal prevents miscommunication and misunderstanding on the goal. There were moments my teammates and I didn’t completely understand each other, but by alleviating issues in the beginning, it made work go more smoothly because we knew were working towards a central goal.
By communicating with teammates on a daily basis, there were instances where it was hard to be entirely in sync and it was frustrating at first because I hadn’t encountered this. In the beginning of the project, my teammates were talking about different approaches but they couldn’t agree on one. As a facilitator, I listened and clarified with each teammate to make sure I was understanding them clearly, and proposed an approach that took consideration of both of their perspectives. I learned that we all come from different backgrounds and hold different perspectives on how we should do things. This means I needed to let go of the expectation of “my way is right” but instead be open to understanding and learning from my teammates to create tangible direction.
Attitude influences team dynamic
I love getting work done. Often times I like getting into a flow state, the feeling of being immersed into what I’m doing and feeling like I’m on top of the world because I’m getting closer to my goal. When I worked, my body language didn’t make me come off as very approachable. I was talking to a peer and one of them mentioned that whenever he would pass by me, he thought I was angry. A teammate who I worked with on previous projects said probably not, but that my expression tended to look very focused.
A tradeoff I found myself making throughout this work experience was that sometimes there wasn’t enough communication or alignment because the focus was taking on tasks and getting them done. Because we already had a brief with deadlines mapped out, I assumed that we didn’t have to communicate unless we absolutely had to, but communication ensured alignment and reassurance which was something I should have expressed to my team more.
All these things influence the team dynamic which determines how the team works and interacts with one another. If you want to create a collaborative team setting that takes consideration into everyone’s needs and how they work, you need to set that example and take initiative. I set the example of owning the work you do, prioritizing what needs to be done, and eventually more sync ups based on the project and what my team needed.
Taking ownership over the work
From work experience, I learned that no one has responsibility over whether or not you take on tasks. You decide on whether or not what you are doing helps you meet the bigger goal and take on the work needed to get there.
By sharing your perspective, you are showing people the value you can provide.
I come off as more of a listener than a speaker. This is to make sure I don’t jump to conclusions and deliver work that addresses said assumptions. But in conversations or team settings, I find myself listening too much to the point I don’t share my thoughts and that’s scary because as a woman, I feel passive by default, I subconsciously put myself down, and I’m continually perpetuating the behavior of being underrepresented. I want people and myself to recognize the abilities I can contribute in situations I know can be made better if I just SPEAK UP and take ownership of my point of view.
Some tips for me to drive ownership on a project is to drive team discussions. This means making sure what we talk about is focused on the goal of said discussion, we give and receive the feedback we need and provide actionable steps at the end to make sure everyone is aligned on the same objective and tasks. This would enhance collaborative but improve my confidence to speak up and OWN IT. No one can do that except myself.
In a design consulting environment, there was a culture centered around work. I would sometimes skip lunch because I was so busy, or before a big deadline, we would stay later than usual to finish up work. It felt like I couldn’t stop working because everyone else was working, and this made me feel discouraged to take breaks.
A lack of work-life balance made me feel burnt out at times and demotivated to work. Afraid that I would exhaust myself, I took breaks. I would leave the room to have fresh air. I would focus on something not related to work. By giving myself time to recharge, it made me more productive and energized to take on work that was originally sucking up my energy. I was able to approach work with a different mindset that ignited my curiosity and penchant for solving problems.