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The coach: I spend all my time babysitting graduate architects

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The AJ’s careers coach Matthew Turner gives advice to an architect finding supporting graduates difficult and another who misses designing

I feel like I’m babysitting

The practice I work for likes to take on graduate architects straight from college. That is great in principle, but I have to deal with the reality; and sometimes feel I am babysitting. When I explain the work that needs doing, they often complain or go off on a tangent. Sometimes I look back on a day and feel I have spent more time explaining and undoing their work, rather than being supported. It can get pretty tense. Have you any tips about how to handle this?

I feel for you, but remember the transition to the working world can be difficult.

After years of an education that encourages flicking through glossy images and developing a forthright opinion in the face of complexity, it must come as a shock that being an architect might involve two months with your head down producing a door schedule.

When I think back to one of the first jobs I did as an architect, I can’t help but blush at my impatience over the work I was given. One of my first projects was a house in India for a rich industrialist whose main concern seemed to be the relationship between the WC and the tap in his bathroom. I was so angry at this. It was a total shock that the client wouldn’t automatically see things from my point of view.

People need to learn, and in architecture that often takes place on the job. So ultimately your problem comes down to honing your skills in delegation, and politely managing your assistants’ expectations. Identify tasks that can be wholly handed over to the newbie.

This keeps them away from areas where their involvement would make you nervous. There is nothing more likely to cause friction in your relationship than you constantly conveying your disquiet at their abilities.

Your problem comes down to honing your skills in delegation

Clarity about roles also helps. Confusion comes through not understanding when they are assisting and when they are leading. It is easier to negotiate the former if you define the latter – ‘I know we have this donkey work, but alongside you can do this really interesting work, too.’  

You need to think in advance of setting tasks. Show them a past example that does what you need, identify where it can be improved and offer them the challenge of doing so.

Defining ownership also helps. So, for example, pick a particular relationship, say, dealing with a non-critical supplier, and big this up as their domain, making it clear they are leading.

Attend the meetings, but make sure you acquiesce control to them and observe how they do. Having this responsibility might be enough to give pride, ownership and motivation to make your working relationship much better, as well as allowing you to see what they can handle.

My day-to-day activity doesn’t match my interests

I run my own firm and things are ticking over well. But increasingly I realise my day-to-day activity doesn’t match my interests. I seem to spend inordinate amounts of time on admin. Clearly you have to take the rough with the smooth, but what I do on a daily basis seems increasingly the complete opposite of what I enjoy – I love to design.

It is funny, isn’t it, how it is perfectly possible in life to end up doing things that don’t give us much reward? Yet years back ‘being an architect’ probably seemed a great match to your skills and many people would imagine it is one of the most pleasurable professions.

You are in the situation of many: getting by doing what you are trained in, doing what people in your profession do. But, in a way, the wider responsibilities of the job mean the pursuit of your real interests somehow seem to never quite happen.

Be aware you have a great advantage: you appear to know what you like, what motivates you, what you can get lost in. Many haven’t had that realisation, and just muddle along. I think this is especially the case for architects; we tend to be competent all-rounders so we sometimes don’t notice our stand-out skills.

So embrace this passion, and concentrate on playing to your strengths. Develop ways in which you can maximise your designing time.

You have one enormous advantage: you are your own boss. Are there not ways you could automate or minimise your efforts on the parts of the job you don’t enjoy, to allow as much time and mental space as possible to design? Delegate your weaknesses, and devote time to your strengths.

If you embrace your skill then your enthusiasm might allow your passion to fly. Perhaps you could consider breaking the link between designing and producing finished buildings.

From today you could design in a way that could lead to all sorts of results. Start a Tumblr account to showcase your fantastical designs, offer drawings of your designs as presents for friends, and ask them to promote you to others. Find out about teaching in design studios at universities. There are million ways you could expand your interest to at least be more public, without changes to your income-earning work.

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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