I looked up from my desk in a sharply lit office on a rainy January day in 2018 and, somehow noticing for the first time, how many others were spending their lunch hour the same way.
McGranahan had expanded with a crushing regularity in the last a couple of years, resulting in an abundance of new projects and opportunities for our architects, but consequentially less time to connect with each other on a personal level. Besides a coffee or lunch on occasion, it was difficult to create opportunities to develop relationships, share stories and ideas, as well as to connect and to rejuvenate during our brief lunch hour.
How well do I know the team members who collaborate with me beyond the surface level?
Then I thought, Why not start initiating group lunches? Why not share our personal stories over meals? Why not open ourselves up to create a sense of connection and belonging through storytelling?
There is no better way to connect than with meals and storytelling. Eating together has been a longstanding tradition in many cultures. It is a great way to get to know other and to strengthen relationships; it also helps us realize that we have a lot in common. I brought this idea up to two coworkers and together we created “Story to Story,” a gathering experience where everybody can get together over homemade lunch to connect through personal storytelling. This includes sharing stories based on an array of entertaining, insightful, meaningful and conversation-starting topics including Odd Jobs, Culture, Food, Family, and Travel–and connect on a human level.
Sometimes we would even collaborate with other groups in the office to lead Story to Story. Our most recent Story to Story in September was lead through a collaboration by our Vital Workplace team and the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. The goal was to better understand how our unique experiences and backgrounds help make us better coworkers as well as stronger architectural planners and designers.
Under the guidance of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we formed a safe space for our speakers to share meaningful stories on the topic of Ancestry, Allyship, and Inclusivity and for our audience to ask respectful and insightful questions.
During the first Story to Story lunch of the season, we shared about our ancestry and how we all came to be in the City of Tacoma now thanks to our families’ immigration to the U.S. during the 1600s to 1990s. We hung a map, strings, a pen, and a sheet of paper with a list of all the names of those in the firm on a wall near the lobby. We then invite everyone to engage by putting a pin on the map to indicate their ancestors’ home country, then use a string to connect another pin on the sheet of paper by the map next to their name and write down the year their family immigrated to America. This unique exercise yielded interesting results. The widespread pins indicated that we all are descendants of immigrants–that our families came to America from a myriad of different places and brought along with them unique cultures and traditions.
Our Project Designer Shona shared with us how her background shaped her to the designer and individual she is today:
“I am biracial, growing up in two cultures from my mother’s bohemian ancestors who have farmed the Midwest since the 1850s to my father who immigrated here in 1968. I am heartland American and first generation respectively.
It’s interesting living between two cultures and finding a voice between. But I also realized today that I grew up cultivating a kind of strength that comes from being just a little different and a confidence that evolved through navigating my unique cultural experiences. I can bring those experiences to my work helping design schools that serve every student.”
Our next few topics on Allyship and Inclusivity also resulted in enriching conversations and deeper connections with each other.
“I’ve enjoyed all the stories, but I think I was especially impacted by Shona and Dion’s stories. They discussed topics we don’t normally get a chance to talk about in the office and I’m so glad this series has created an opportunity for it,” said our Project Architect Aaron. “Not only did I get to know them on a deeper level, but I was inspired by their vulnerability and creativity at the same time.”
Our Diversity & Inclusion Committee’s group purpose statement successfully highlights our values: McGranahan Architects’ Diversity and Inclusion Committee encourages all employees to take an active role in creating a culture of trust, vulnerability, and authenticity within the company. We believe that a diverse and inclusive workplace is the foundation of meaningful contribution, genuine collaboration, and a sense of belonging for all of us.