The secret to blogging, they say, is secretly blogging. I stumbled across this post by Diana Berlin a while ago, and the title has been going around my head ever since. The approach of writing for no audience but myself (and probably my mum - hi mum!) is how I wrote a new blog post every week in 2014, and remains my default way of writing today. (Highly recommended, truly.)
I’m also - as Diana was during writing that post - at a shift in my career right now. I’m five weeks away from leaving an organisation I’ve been with, in some form or another, since 2015. I started as a research consultant on a project with CIVICUS; then joined the team full time, worked with Tom to build up the organisation’s research portfolio, popped over to Data & Society to do a fellowship there, before moving on to being the Research and Engagement team lead and starting to line manage people and build the team up, briefly had a stint as Director of Research and Engagement, before becoming Deputy Director in 2019 under Julia’s ED’ship, and finally, Acting Executive Director as of September last year. Whew.
It’s hard to sum up just how much I’ve learned at The Engine Room, but maybe, just maybe, that’s what these blog posts will end up being for now. I intentionally tried to focus on building my skills in different areas during my tenure there, which leaves me with a pretty diverse set of lessons learned. There was the year or two when I worked on my feedback skills – both giving and receiving. Being at Data & Society while still working part-time at The Engine Room helped me situate research work within a bigger picture, and understand more about the whole tech/data/society research space. There was a period when I received management coaching to learn how to be the best line manager I could – though I definitely still made/make mistakes (but hopefully different ones each time, and not the same one twice!). There was a while when I tried to absorb everything I could from Alix about strategy – how to write one, what a good strategy even looked like, why it mattered, how it influenced everything else - then about budgets, then about partnerships and fundraising, and many other things!
One thing is clear to me though, while I’m looking back on my time so far, or at least beginning to. I’ve benefited from wise words, coaching, support and mentorship from so many people, I can’t even begin to count. I don’t think there are many organisations out there where anyone could’ve received basically a promotion a year for 6-7 years, and I’m very grateful to have landed in such a lucky spot.
During the last few weeks since my transition was official and public, I’ve been doing a few things to wrap up my time at The Engine Room. I’ve heard from peers that transitions out of leadership positions often happen in a pretty rushed way - either because the person is so exhausted or burned out that they just need to leave ASAP, or because the board wants a quick exit, or…who knows. I’ve been lucky though that mine was planned for a few months, and it’ll be a 3 month transition period out of the organisation, which has given me some time to slowly wrap things up.
Some of these things include:
Having 1-1s with everyone on the team, and asking them for feedback on how I’ve done as a colleague over the years we’ve worked together, and an ED/Deputy Director over the more recent period. This has been such a gift, I truly can’t recommend it enough – it’s both heartwarming to get positive feedback (particularly on the little things that I didn’t think people noticed, and the bigger things that I take for granted about myself) - and also makes me feel so seen and valued to get suggestions on what I could do better in the future. Giving feedback - particularly constructive feedback, and particularly ‘upwards’ - is hard, and I’m so grateful that people trust me enough to share these nuggets with me.
Documenting everything! As a relatively small organisation (18 people at last count) there’s a lot that gets, or got, passed down from person to person via meetings and ad hoc anecdotes. I started an ‘all about The Engine Room’ document where I’m writing down everything I know about the context of different decisions, explanations on how different policies and processes got established - everything that everyone who comes next might need to know in order to change those approaches, and intentionally move in different directions. I’m trying to do this in a way that is (hopefully!) not overwhelmingly long, but structured and helpful - an actual document that I hope will be used and useful. Time will tell!
Bringing people in to…everything. As I’ve known that I’ll be transitioning out for a while, I stopped doing things by myself a while ago. It’s always been a collaborative organisation, but now especially knowing that I want relationships to be held by people on the team, emails to be documented in someone else’s inbox, and other people to feel ownership (almost more than I do!) over decisions and policies, I feel like collaboration has taken on a different meaning.
What else should I be doing as part of my transition out, both for myself, and for the organisation? If anyone except for my mum ends up reading this, I’d gladly take any tips.