There is a really lovely thing that happens everyday around noon at Viget’s HQ office: you can find at least two, three, or 15 people enjoying lunch together. We have amazing custom self-built tables that invite all sorts of camaraderie and conversations. Everything from the latest reality TV dramas, big sports news, and politics gets discussed at our version of the “water cooler.” During these short lunch breaks, we sometimes wander off into bigger topics like identity, women in tech, and stereotypes, and it often feels like we are just getting started. Typically those conversations continue on Slack or, if we’re lucky, a Labshare or an Ignite Talk, but sometimes they don’t.
Recently, the People Team reflected on a particular part of our team’s mission: to facilitate connections between and nurture growth in the people at Viget. How are we fulfilling this responsibility? How could we do it better? We realized the lunch table conversations were a great example of connections happening organically, but how could we create more opportunities? And how could we encourage more connections across our offices?
One way we’ve always done this is with our quarterly off-site events, which we call TTT. They’ve been a Viget tradition since the company began. Twice a year the whole company gets together, and the other two times each office does a local all-hands meeting. These events demonstrate our commitment to protecting time and space for conversation and connections, but we found that once per quarter just wasn’t enough. So, we set out to create more opportunities for personal connections and growth, like what happens at our lunch tables and at TTT. We didn’t want to only create social opportunities; we decided to focus on hard topics.
We launched our monthly GOOD Talk lunch series. GOOD stands for Genuine Open Original Discussions. They are led by anyone who volunteers and may include 5-30 minutes of prepared content followed by unplanned discussion. These informal conversations allow us to hear from a variety of speakers on a large number of topics. Attendance is totally optional and is open to the entire company. Employees bring their own lunch, and we approach big topics together with optimism and respect.
So far, our talks have covered managing time and energy; women in the tech industry; unconscious bias; communicating on distributed teams; understanding queer identities; and mental health within the workplace. The purpose of the meetings is not to define a policy or reach a consensus. The GOOD initiative is about making connections through authentic conversation and a shared experience.
We’ve connected over the fact that we don’t have all the answers and often we have a lot of the same questions. What do the all the letters in LGBTQIA++ stand for? How do you break up with your therapist if you feel they aren’t effective? When a family member reveals a racial bias, how do you address it appropriately? There is something powerful in the simple fact of knowing you are not alone in your questions or struggles. Trust seems to emerge from this collective humility.
We’ve been challenged to consider digital blackface. We’ve been invited to share how we have faced gender bias. We’ve sat quietly while everyone thought about their experiences with mental health struggles – whether their own or those of someone they love. It hasn’t been entirely smooth. In one session, we got stuck on the ins and outs of identity terms when the facilitator had hoped we could move on to how we, as a digital agency, can better support and be more inclusive of the LQGBTQIA++ community. And while I think we’ve given a good amount of time to topics related to managing time and energy, we haven’t scratched the surface of community care, aging in the tech industry, or giving and receiving effective feedback.
Through these conversations, we have built a structure and process that is repeatable: pick a topic, find a facilitator, send an invite, do a practice run, have the GOOD Talk, send a follow-up survey, etc., But what happens at the GOOD Talk is not controlled or structured. No talk is the same and the meat of the 75 minutes will be the unpredictable discussion itself. There is some risk in that uncertainty. It feels daunting, but real. We want to keep this authentic spirit alive; we’ve created a shell and have left the gooey center open to see what beautiful things people will share.
One of the most rewarding elements of my career at Viget has been the minutes after these discussions when folks are eager to keep the conversation going, and someone asks to lead a conversation of their own on another topic. Seeing one peer’s contribution inspire another peer to step up in a similar way gives me confidence that this initiative isn’t only working to connect us, it’s also nurturing growth within us. And, importantly, we can see that we are in this together: the hard topics, the questions, and the growth. At Viget we like to say, “together, we flourish,” and the GOOD initiative is one way we bring that mantra to life.