Anxiety Party


Image Credits: hikrcn (opens in a new window) / Shutterstock (opens in a new window)

Daniel Burka


Daniel Burka is a design partner at Google Ventures.

We have a somewhat unusual design team at GV. There are six of us. Four product designers, a researcher and a team coordinator. Each of us held fairly senior design positions previously, and we each have a lot of experience. Because we’re all experienced, we function as peers —  no one is at the helm… or maybe we all are.

We maintain a fairly flat organizational structure at GV, so we’re tremendously lucky that we’re given the autonomy to work within our own operational teams. This is mostly excellent. But, the flat structure means we don’t have the traditional day-to-day feedback you might typically receive under a traditional management system.

A couple of years ago our little team was sitting on the couches in our San Francisco office for our once-a-quarter planning session. In the middle of a discussion about improving our teamwork, Jake Knapp went out on a limb and mentioned how much he missed getting critical feedback on his performance. He felt like some of the normal checks and balances were missing from his work life. We all nodded; we felt the same way. Something was missing, but what was the best way to get useful feedback?

The first suggestion was also the most obvious — we’d do peer reviews. Each of us would be randomly appointed to review one of our fellow design partners. Perfect. Except, what the heck would we critique about each other? As Jake summed up, “Guys, I don’t mean to sound uncritical, but I either think you’re doing a good job or I don’t work closely enough with you on a daily basis to really have much to say. I honestly don’t know what I’d write about any of you.” Come to think of it, I had the same problem — and so did everyone else.

This got me thinking. What were we really trying to achieve with feedback? Were we really just looking for an outside perspective on our work, or was something else going on? Like Jake, I also didn’t know what I’d write about my colleagues. But, if I was honest with myself, I knew what I wish they’d write about me. I had a bunch of anxieties; I needed to know if they were well-founded or if I was worrying about things that were largely in my own head.

At that time, I’d wake up late at night anxiously worrying about a few things. I was anxious that I wasn’t enough of a team player (I was working on a few projects very independent of the overall design team). Or that my feedback in coaching sessions was too much from my personal experience. Or that I wasn’t prioritizing my time on things the whole team thought was important. Or that I was too critical and not gentle enough in my design critique with designers from the portfolio. Or… well, you get the idea. These anxieties swirled around and around in my brain.

Maybe we didn’t need peer review at all. Maybe what we really needed was a structured time where we could be vulnerable and get our anxieties out in the open.

So what did we do? We threw an Anxiety Party. In a quiet meeting room, we spent 10 minutes individually writing down our biggest anxious questions on a private sheet of paper. For the next two minutes we ranked them in order of severity  —  which anxieties worried each of us the most? Then we began.

For about an hour and a half we went around the circle and took turns asking an anxiety question out loud. Then our colleagues spent a few seconds scoring how much the issue troubled them, from zero (“It never even occurred to me that this was an issue”) to five (“I strongly believe you need to improve in this area”).

It turned out that many of the anxieties we had were entirely baseless. I asked my colleagues if they perceived me as an absent “lone wolf” from the team. It turns out that it was zeros and ones all around  —  they enjoyed working with me but didn’t mind if I was off on a project on my own for a few weeks at a time. Phew!

However, some of our anxieties were well-founded. For instance, I was worried that I was placing too much emphasis on conferences and networking events over other priorities. It turns out that it did irk my colleagues. They gave it a few threes and a four. So we discussed the pros and cons and came up with a new plan together. It felt like a breath of fresh air to have the issue out in the open.

Anxiety Parties are a regular event for us now — we do them twice a year. And, at least for me, it works beautifully. I’m much less worried about the things that used to swirl in my late-night brain. The things I used to be anxious about are now mostly resolved. And even new anxieties that arise are less debilitating because I know I can table them for now and raise them at the next scheduled Anxiety Party.

I’m very aware that this may not be the perfect (or even a possible) solution for all teams. It requires an unusually high level of trust and respect to be so vulnerable with your colleagues. But if this sounds a bit like you and your team, maybe give it a shot and let me know how it goes by tweeting with the hashtag #anxietyparty to @dburka.

More TechCrunch

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads