In this new series we are turning the spotlight on our offices around the globe, starting with Berlin, Germany. We sat down with Senior Consultant, Felix Hofmann, Associate Consultant, Celeste Alvi and Executive Marissa Dietlein to find out more about life as a Portlander in Berlin.
Tell us about the work you do in Berlin.
Felix opens by telling us the Berlin team “are generalists by heart.”
“We’re a small team, everybody does everything. We switch radically during the day, cyber to education, public diplomacy to sports. In such a small team you’re not siloed whatsoever. You immediately see whether people’s eyes light up at that opportunity – it’s a really big part of the kind of people we want to attract to the team.”
Marissa and Celeste agree, saying that it was a huge selling point of joining the Portland team for them.
“You’re not boxed into one specific category,” explains Celeste. “Information you have worked on for one account somehow always becomes useful for a different account.
“I think there is this beauty of not knowing what you’re going to be doing the next day,” Celeste continues. “You receive new opportunities to engage with different clients and different industries each day, which gives you so much more depth in your work.”
What’s the best thing about working with the team in Berlin?
Celeste opens. “I’ve only just joined, but I think everybody is extremely nice! When you start a new job, you have a period where you’re figuring it all out and understanding how everyone works. Everyone has been really supportive, and you can feel the team coming together, which is something I really like.”
“I think that also has something to do with our team being so small,” agrees Marissa. “We’re part of a bigger company, but we still have our little circle here. We have our own office culture which is really great.”
“The culture we have is the culture we make,” says Felix. “When you’re a small team, you have so much influence on its shape.”
Felix explains a couple of things he has learnt about forming a great culture. The first is the concept of a ‘psychological safe space.’ One example of this is “feedback that doesn’t have the word ‘no’, but ‘yes, and…’. It means that ideas can flow freely, with no repercussions for trying out ideas and arguments.”
Felix continues. “In politics, there is no black and white, no one right answer. We’re always dealing with nuances. The task is to craft a good argument. It’s like a river going over a stone, it requires a lot of water to make the stone smooth. To make a pitch as good as it can be, we feed it back through the entire team, we challenge each other’s assumptions. I know that nothing I write on my own can be as good as if it has gone through everybody’s hands. This idea is inseparably tied with the psychological safe space.”
Can you describe how the Berlin office encapsulates the Portland values (Be Smart, Be Collaborative, Be Human, Grow)?
Felix emphasises that “Collaboration is key. It’s one of those foundational things that will never change. Your team is your lifeline, your fallback option, your devil’s advocate.”
Marissa agrees, linking to the value of Grow. “This is my first job after my studies, and I already feel like I have learnt so much over the past year. Our team is constantly providing feedback, which allows you to grow and acquire new skills both professionally and personally.”
“Smart is a bit of a given!” says Felix. “You notice immediately if someone is curious, and really starts digging into a problem. Even throughout our interview processes, I’m amazed at how smart people can be. Of course, smart is not an absolute value – everyone chips in their own expertise, their own niche of smarts.”
“I think everything they’ve said is absolutely right, but I don’t think it would be possible if everybody in the team didn’t really care about each other,” says Celeste. “I think what underlies everything is humanity and caring about each other, making sure we all learn and grow as part of the process.”
“I would like to say how life has changed with the merger,” says Felix. Portland Europe was formerly GPLUS, merging in 2020. “We’re part of a bigger firm now, and I think this is incredible. It has made our work even more interesting. It feels like a truly globalised world that we’re really at home in.
“The One Portland spirit is something we really subscribe to. And for us, it is a lot more than just words.”