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The Coach: ‘My employer’s office culture makes me feel I don’t fit in’

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Careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who doesn’t feel an affinity with their colleagues

I work for a well-known firm and have learned a lot here, with great exposure to all sorts of interesting projects. The trouble is I don’t feel a good fit, either with my superiors or my colleagues. Everything from how they talk about clients to how they deal with contractors makes me feel not like one of ‘them’. I have worked for this firm for quite a long time, and so I can’t tell whether all offices might be like this, or whether it is just me, and I would have the same reaction anywhere.

Matthew turner

What you recount sounds like quite long contemplated and fundamental feelings, and what jumps out particularly is your mentioning their attitude to others. You are identifying different values. 

There is nothing wrong with this; in fact I would suggest that architects need to be as attuned to the values of their employer as the average teacher or airline employee might be. Increasingly, employees want to work for companies that are clear about their values; organisations with a purpose they can sign up to. 

With architecture, a practice’s design ethos and design output can act as a dominating signal of the office’s character, yet your situation indicates that design counts for little if what motivates and interests those around you is not shared by you. While some can bear working alongside monsters for the amazing projects, for others this is a road to unhappiness.

Some architectural practices nurture their wider office culture, so don’t think where you are working now is the only way. Creating and maintaining an effective practice culture beyond a design approach takes hard work and attention and, since it is more ephemeral than the design of buildings, it can sometimes take more work than browsing their website to ascertain. 

Just like a strong design approach, however, an amazing office culture is not only a differentiator that sets a business apart from rivals, but also a means to attract talent and loyal clients. And it inspires staff to pour energy, enthusiasm and excitement into their 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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