an online conversation
about design management

It’s OK to make tea.

It seems that everyday we hear the views of a different management guru eager to broadcast his or her thoughts about how we can work better, smarter, more successfully.

The one I read last week hit the mark … this theory is based on making tea.

One of my mantras is that it’s my job to make my client look good.
It’s her job to make her boss look good.
And it’s their job to make the CEO look good.

If we all do our job well, we all win and success means a greater chance of getting the next gig.

I was reminded of this recently when I read an article in designweek titled ‘What you need to know about working in the design industry’.

It’s worth reading the complete article but a précis is:

Be passionate about who you want to work with

Be practical – and seek advice

Keep some perspective – and enjoy yourself

Make the tea!

It’s that final point that caught my eye.

The author argues that as an intern looking to make an impression, making the tea is one of the most impressive things you can do. Not because designers want a dogsbody to make the tea for them, but because it gives the interns a chance to talk to everyone in the business, and make themselves known.

As one designer said “When I was interning I always tried to make tea for everyone. How else are you going to get a chance to make an impression on everyone in the studio, from the chief executive downwards? And who doesn’t respond well to being offered a cup of tea?”

I totally agree making someone a cup of tea is a lovely gesture and it’s especially thoughtful if you notice that one of your colleagues is under pressure – but from experience, I know not everyone agrees.

We once employed a studio manager to share my load so I could do more design and less ‘air traffic control’ (as I used to fondly call the management of workflow).

Part of the job description of ‘managing workflow’ was to make sure everyone was happy and was coping with their workload and deadlines. This included making sure the kitchen was stocked with tea/coffee/milk /biscuits. The need was based on the proven fact that that caffeined, sugared designers are happy designers.

The studio manager was competent at most aspects of the job except one – she just wouldn’t buy the milk. Absolutely, totally refused to get milk on her way to work, or at any other time of the day. And she would no sooner make designers a cup of tea than fly. In her eyes, both tasks were unsuitable for someone of her experience and demeaned her position. (Apparently not unsuitable for me, the owner of the studio, but most inappropriate for her, an employee.)

We parted company before her probationary period ended, and she told me her decision was based on the demeaning tasks in her job description. It was just one, but a good example of how our philosophies differed.

I’ve been the tea lady for many designers. I’ve even delivered a cup of tea to a client’s office after I noted they were a bit stressed in a meeting. And I’ve done a ‘Dexter’ and bought donuts to a meeting. No big deal.

I figure it’s the small tasks that demonstrate your attitude to others, not the huge gestures.