If you are in the early stages of your career, then read on. If you are already quite experienced and are feeling constrained at your work place in terms of freedom to experiment, unable to work across department boundaries and bring some zing into your life, then you too might find this interesting.
I write this out of personal experience. You are most welcome to read my entire profile to get a better understanding of how my early years were, I don't aim to get into it here. When faced with a choice of applying for a job in a fairly large environment - in fact, I had an open offer from one even before I had started looking out - versus opting for a stint in a relatively smaller start-up which seemed to be doing exciting work, I chose the latter. Here are some of the reasons which influenced my thinking. Looking back, I've always felt very happy that I did what I did!
Learning limited only by one's ability to absorb
Smaller environments are always under-staffed. Hence, roles tend to overlap and almost everyone has the opportunity to multi-task or own multiple responsibilities. I say opportunity because, leaders of such environments do not necessarily request team members to take on more. Work is always lying around and those with the right attitude and willingness to go beyond the call of duty look at this as an opportunity. One has to be willing to stop equating compensation with amount of work. So right off the bat, if by nature, you are not the types who likes to bend his/her back out of passion to learn and gain experience - or look at it as an investment of time which will pay dividends later in life - then this is another point for you to exit from this article!
When you take on tasks you've never done before, you learn. The environment is fine with you trying, failing, being inefficient in chasing stretch goals and so on. After all, you are exceeding expectations and lending a hand. Many a time, these tasks are not even in your domain. Some could be in the area of general operations, some to do with coordinating with third parties, maybe infrastructure planning, creating and defining processes, hiring for teams outside of your immediate involvement, contributing to training and so on. All skills, which are most likely going to be coming under your core responsibilities later in life, either as an employee or as an entrepreneur if you chose to go independent at some stage. This is the kind of knowledge which you can never gain from any B-School. And, you are never going to get this kind of operational freedom in a large environment. Either, the bureaucracy will stifle you, or the organisation is already so mature that there is very little impact you can make early in your career with limited experience.
Ability to understand the big picture
As we continue to grow in our careers, this becomes one of the crucial skills for us to become influencers. By big picture, I mean, understanding the entire business context. What makes the business tick, what exactly do our customers want, what does our eco-system look like, trends and so on. Depending on how well we have entrenched ourselves within the organisation, the early visibility to unfolding events increases. A lot depends on the trust factor too. One needs to be sincere and always keeping the organisation's interests in mind while going the extra mile rather than personal ones. I'm sure some of you might be wondering about trust and sincerity being two-way streets. Yes, they are. I'm sure after a few months, you will have a fair idea about your workplace and it's leaders/founders. Nobody is perfect, but if you think intent and direction is right, then it is better to think positive and take the initiative. You can always walk away if you learn otherwise later, but nobody can take away your learnings.
Access to the leader's thought process
This has been a huge take-away for me personally. Once you become a reliable and trustworthy contributor, you become a sounding board of sorts. Leaders too need someone to talk to as they work through situations which are muddled in ambiguity and uncertainty. Rather than talking to folks outside the organisation who have very little context, they will be more than happy to chat up with people within, if they can find them. Years later, when I moved into leadership roles I saw this picture from the other side. Very often I have received pearls of wisdom from my team members as opposed to senior colleagues and peers. Team members who sometimes were 2 or 3 levels below my pay-grade. Members who always went beyond what was specified in their performance plan (with no motive to score browny points!).
This has been a huge take-away for me personally. Once you become a reliable and trustworthy contributor, you become a sounding board of sorts. Leaders too need someone to talk to as they work through situations which are muddled in ambiguity and uncertainty. Rather than talking to folks outside the organisation who have very little context, they will be more than happy to chat up with people within, if they can find them. Years later, when I moved into leadership roles I saw this picture from the other side. Very often I have received pearls of wisdom from my team members as opposed to senior colleagues and peers. Team members who sometimes were 2 or 3 levels below my pay-grade. Members who always went beyond what was specified in their performance plan (with no motive to score brownie points!).
I can go on, but I'm guessing, this should be enough for people to consider these factors as they think through their career plans. In today's environment, I find that knowledge and experience in areas beyond one's immediate job profile is not just desirable from point of view of growing, but a requirement for basic survival and showing that each of us is a valuable player in the organisation. If I were to draw a parallel to our early stages of growth as humans, then I'd say, the situation is quite similar to how we managed ourselves during our childhood and developed into adults. Some of us focussed on our education alone, while some on general household chores as well. The latter group, I'm certain, is dealing with family and life situations with a lot more ease compared to those who focussed only on formal education.
Think. Act. Keep the big picture in mind. Prioritise. Careers and lives are not hundred metre sprints.