“Embrace ambiguity to create clarity.”
This year, we entered Factory Week with a list of big questions (What will SmallBox look like in the future?), an open mind, and not much else – quite a contrast to our typical laundry list of projects big and small. Though purposefully vague, the beautiful big table in Laurel Hall’s library immediately gave off the right vibe: we were all in a room with purpose, a place to think big and share knowledge openly.
The Past Is The Source Of The Present
The week opened up with two days of value-oriented exercises facilitated by Jeremy Houchens. Specifically, we dug deep into SmallBox’s origin story, which went all the way back to when Jeb & Joe were operating as a two-some to build a site for NUVO Newsweekly. Since our team nearly doubled in size in the last couple of years, parts and pieces of this history were new to many of us.
The team also detoured through a wide range of Mountains and Valleys (or, highs and lows) that incorporated specific project experiences, workplace happenings, client issues, and more. These really shed light on experiences that were both really great...and full of crud, exposing them to the whole team at once. By discussing these experiences, we pulled three values out of the muddy depths and the snowy heights, values that were lacking in our valleys, and planted like flags on our mountaintops: Courage, Collaboration, and Persistence.
Another high point was a deviation from the plan. We went around the entire room and let team members speak on each individual’s gifts as a team member and person – not only was this incredibly affirming, but it hit that magic mixture of funny, touching, cool, and just-plain-nice that is often hard to achieve in large-group gatherings. I mean, imagine doing this at your next family reunion!
Refining Our Mission & Process
Wednesday was a visionary day full of vigorous debate about our collective future and ways to improve the big-picture way that we work. Though there was semantic disagreement (which the English major in me can’t help but love), we were definitely hot on the trail of the scent. Language that we converged on included a new rallying cry, to “Create space!”
Like a Mad-Lib, we were filling in “Create space to ________” with all sorts of affirming statements that spoke to our desire to work in a less-siloed manner, and to ultimately produce work that reflects our updated mission: We collaborate with authentic organizations to create meaningful (digital) experiences.
After everyone’s eyes had the glaze of a Long’s Donut, we turned to more tactical, energizing, and smaller-group process-refining for the final two days of the week. After outlining our entire work process (and just to get extra meta, the processes within each process) and marking pain points on the largest Post-It note exercise I’ve ever seen, we broke out into teams to discuss, ideate, and improve on four key processes: Discovery, QA/Review, Sales, and Support. We presented our findings via whiteboard on Friday – and, holy crap, how is it Friday already?
Luckily, we created space in the day’s schedule for everyone to have a leisurely trip down to the wooded confines of the Story Inn. I’d tell you more about Story, but it’s out of cell phone range, and all my notes were lost to the wireless ether that is the hollers of Brown County!