Back to Work
Without a Bump

Polly Grinnell

Managing Director

“I’m pregnant!”

From the moment you tell your boss you’re pregnant, things change. Suddenly you both know that there’s something bigger than your day job that’s stealing away your attention and you both know that, at some point in the not so distant future, you’ll be taking some time out of the business.

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For some, their view of you will shift, believing you’re no longer the career woman they thought you were. Sometimes your role will have to change due to its physical demands and sometimes you may worry that you won’t have a job to come back to. But what happens when you’re part of a leadership team, a Director within a small business? How do you plan to step away from the business to nurture your family? How do you balance your commitment to your business with your new role as a parent?

As part of a leadership team or business owner, you have a deep responsibility to your business. Your business is essentially one of your children. You want to see it grow and thrive and to be greater than you ever thought possible. You have a strong sense of attachment so you want your business to continue successfully when you’re not around. It isn’t healthy for any child or any business to be heavily reliant on just one or two people. Strength is in numbers but this still doesn’t make it an easy decision to consciously take a break from work.

It was a strange feeling when I realised that I’ve always worked, that my friends and family know me for what I do. They ask me where I’ve travelled recently and are enthusiastic when I say “New York, Paris, Munich”. I talk about the clients I work with and the projects I’m working on. In the eyes of others, and if I’m honest, my own, I am my job. It defines my success and my growth and learning as an adult. My colleagues are part of my family and I enjoy the excitement, the challenges and the fulfillment that work brings to my life.

But as I began this new stage of my life, in my case in my mid-thirties, of becoming a parent and the journey of self-discovery that that entails, I realised that I needed to embrace the support of others more than I ever had before and let go of the role that I was so familiar with. I needed to trust in those around me and know that they have the skills, passion, and drive, that I have, to see our business thrive.

I’m lucky because at Double we have spent the past 5 years learning how to be a truly effective trusting team, to develop our own communication skills and to work with each other effort-fully and effectively. We have implemented simple project process frameworks and efficient change management tools to allow us to eradicate the traditional command & control structure found in many businesses. In its place, we operate on the principle that our team is stronger for having every one of us in it, being heard and respected

We strive to be a self-managing team, a hierarchy-free business. We have a culture of independence and interdependence to allow each member of the team to develop their own skills and ideas and to drive inspirational thinking through the business. It isn’t always easy and of course, with varying degrees of responsibility and experience, there is a natural, and sometimes fluid, hierarchy of sorts but this hierarchy does not equate to power. We are all accountable for different areas of the business and as a team, we rely on each other to deliver against those. We have to communicate openly, and we have to commit to each other and to our common purpose of seeing our business succeed, collectively.

So where does this structure leave me? What is my role as a leader in a self-managing business and how do I step away for a year and trust that the business is in safe hands?

To step away from the business, I needed to feel that I’d done everything I could have to assist the team in succeeding over the coming months. I wanted to help build confidence in others, to enable them to feel safe to develop their individual roles and shape the impact they had on the future of the business. I needed to clearly define my responsibilities and work hard to delegate those while I was away. I needed to let go of the daily tasks that had become habitual in my working life and work together with the team to plan for the future, whatever that was going to bring.

As part of trusting others, I needed to accept that the business that I left behind was going to be very different from the one that I returned to. The team that I worked closely with, who have all built a bond with each other, will look after our child, our business. We respect each other, our clients and our suppliers immensely and we approach the challenges we face together. We share information, good and bad, and include others in our decision making, knowing that this process makes us stronger. My colleagues gave me their full trust and support to be emotionally free on my Maternity Leave to give and receive deep joy from this new, and at times scary, new future of being a mother and a Director.

In my time away, I have learnt a huge amount about myself and I have been able to view our business with a new perspective, one that I believe can only be achieved by not being involved day to day. I have witnessed roles evolve and responsibilities grow, and I have seen the hugely positive effect of caring about each other’s wellbeing, of believing in each other’s strengths and helping each other to overcome weaknesses. I have been away for a year and I have returned to a business that continues to establish itself as an extremely inclusive, engaging and rewarding place to work. What more could a mother want?

As part of trusting others, I needed to accept that the business that I left behind was going to be very different from the one that I returned to.

Can I have some more?

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