Learnings in working in an SME vs. a startup

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Hello! It is I, Mighty Bear’s office familiar! It’s been close to a year since I joined the team and it has been a refreshing experience sprinkled with moments of contemplative introspection about my personal comfort and development.

Coming into the startup environment of Mighty Bear has been a change from my previous workplace settings; I am continually exposed to new and different approaches to both professional work and self-development, and I’ve learned a lot in the past year.

It’s easy to make the assumption that startups, especially ones in the tech industry, offer opportunities for flexibility, autonomy, and tangible career growth paths versus the settings of more conventionally corporate organisations which, while established and stable, may be a touch restrictive for one looking to have balanced and impactful achievements in their professional life. While there is truth to that notion, there are also challenges that I personally find myself endeavouring to overcome after having been moulded to more traditionally corporate routines.

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Stringent Guidance or Empowered Autonomy?

In my previous roles, there were thorough guidelines that we were required to adhere to, with little room for questions about purpose or function. While there are benefits to having framework and process — I know I’ve had moments of fulfilment and relief at having direction to follow— being consistently shoehorned into bureaucracy left me feeling a definite lack of agency.

I wanted to be trusted to make decisions and contribute meaningfully; at my previous workplaces, attempts to independently resolve an issue were met with misgivings and requests to follow the chain of command, because why create an unknown outcome when you already have a known process of order?

At Mighty Bear, I’ve experienced how a flatter hierarchy allows for more flexible and dynamic action to be taken, regardless of your ‘official’ role. The main goal is typically for things to get done, within sound reason of course. Ironically, I’ve also learned that the privilege of autonomy has been personally overwhelming for me, because it’s a skill I’ve not had much opportunity to exercise in the course of my previous duties. The legacy effect from my time in previous workplaces has unknowingly nurtured in me a stark sense of self-doubt which I’m currently striving to surmount. Here are some of my bugbears.

Making Mistakes

The main (and likely, the biggest) reason for my struggles with autonomy is because I’m afraid of making mistakes. I worry about making the wrong decision that could possibly cause a butterfly effect and lead to a disastrous outcome all as a result of my choice. Here’s an example of what I used to do, that I’m trying to do less of.

As a learned habit from past chains of command I’ve been a part of, I’ve been running my requests by my manager to get her approval first, so she can provide the decision. I figured that she’d prefer to make the decision so that she’ll be informed about the subject matter, and there’s less of a likelihood for things to go awry. But I didn’t realise that I’d been making a mistake in another form: I’d been handicapping my own development and also taking away moments of focus from my manager, which is something I never intended for.

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Mistakes can be a valuable source of learning and growth, but I kept stopping at their immediate aftermath, and allowed myself to be defined by them. I know better now, though, and I’m striving to embrace lessons from my mistakes, and to be better to myself and improve in service for others as well.

Communication Approach

Another challenge I faced is needing to change the way I relay my messages. It’s not just your intention but also how the other party receives it. It’s been highlighted to me that I’ve been relinquishing my empowerment by way of how I’ve been phrasing my statements. For example:

‘I’m going to purchase 10 Model X office chairs, let me know if you have any objections?’


‘I’m purchasing 10 Model X office chairs for the team to use in the office.’

When one joins the team here at Mighty Bear, it’s because they trust your capabilities and believe your efforts strive for the best interests of the company. My intention whenever I use the first statement has a couple of reasons: 1) I’m informing you of what I’m doing, 2) I value your opinion and want to let you know, so you can voice out any objections. While there is definitely merit in using such a statement, it loses its graciousness if it becomes the default format of communication, because the other party now receives it as me asking for their approval for anything and everything.

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The second statement informs the other party without burdening them with a decision to be made. It also leaves the floor open for feedback. It’s still a bit of a struggle, but I’ve been trying to make the statement my de-facto way of communicating!

Aversion to Confrontation

As an introvert, I’m naturally inclined to keep my concerns to myself; this was a desirable trait for ambitious colleagues and superiors I had the fortuity to work with previously, because their priority was making themselves visibly occupied and indispensable. But learning to navigate difficult conversations is essential in ensuring that things get done and aren’t unnecessarily stalled, especially in a startup where agility is one of the key factors between success and failure.

While I’ve definitely got some mountains ahead of me to conquer, I’m more than grateful to have had these shortcomings made visible and been given the tools and support to grow myself. I hope the sharing of my discomfort has helped illuminate corners of your own that may benefit from a bout of reflection. Drop a boop in the comments if you have any related obstacles or tips on how you might’ve gotten past your own similar pickles, and don’t forget to follow Mighty Bear Games on Medium!

Learnings in working in an SME vs. a startup was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.