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TBF + Partner

Open Talk

Michèle Müller

Learning (through) your own strengths

Michèle talks to us about how uncertainty can guide development, how dialogue is linked to learning and why she isn’t a penguin who wants to fly.


MSc in Sociology and Geography

Role at TBF

Project Manager

With TBF since


Michèle, you started out in TBF on projects of a completely different kind. Why was that?

I’ll have to go back a bit fur­ther to ex­plain that one. My first job took me to the Nether­lands, where I worked on ur­ban de­vel­op­ment for Am­s­ter­dam city coun­cil. My area of work was called ‘nieuwe op­gaven’, which ba­si­cal­ly means ‘new tasks’. The name says it all: my team func­tioned as a kind of emer­gency ur­ban de­vel­op­ment of­fice and worked only on the most press­ing chal­lenges. That’s when I first re­alised how com­fort­able I am with what looks like an over­load of work; it press­es my cre­ative but­tons. I re­al­ly thrive on that un­planned in­ter­con­nec­tion of skills, peo­ple and projects.

Once I was back in Switzer­land, I was ea­ger to find out where I’d end up. Af­ter all, job sites don’t let you fil­ter by cri­te­ria like ‘open com­pa­ny cul­ture’ or ‘phi­los­o­phy of shar­ing’. I came across TBF through an ac­quain­tance, who is now a col­league, and my in­ter­est was piqued. I sent them a spec­u­la­tive ap­pli­ca­tion and that’s how I got into the project de­vel­op­ment and man­age­ment team.

I quick­ly be­gan to con­nect with peo­ple out­side my area of work. This helped me ce­ment my own per­son­al net­work, but still I felt like I wasn’t re­al­ly in my el­e­ment. This sense of stag­na­tion pre­sent­ed me with an im­por­tant de­ci­sion: did I want to stay or move on? I de­cid­ed to stay be­cause I saw many fas­ci­nat­ing is­sues and ways to put my strengths to good use. The ques­tion re­mained though: how do I do this? So, I went about look­ing for in­for­mal men­tors. Inch by inch, this helped me bring out my strengths and in­vest them in projects, which helped me feel more and more in­volved. This didn’t hap­pen sud­den­ly though; it was a grad­ual process.

What were the challenges in this shift?

Stay­ing true to my­self. In project man­age­ment, I was ex­pect­ed to present a pre­de­fined skillset – some­thing I didn’t con­form to at all. On the one hand, I brought skills that came as a bit of a sur­prise. I’m good at jug­gling un­cer­tain­ties and place great val­ue on shar­ing and con­nect­ing. On the oth­er hand, I con­fused peo­ple be­cause there were some skills, I didn’t val­ue high­ly at all and these were pre­cise­ly the skills I was be­ing mea­sured against. ‘Be pa­tient, it will hap­pen,’ I heard time and again. How­ev­er hard I tried to rec­on­cile my­self with things like tiny de­tails and stan­dard­ised process­es, it just wouldn’t go in. I was a pen­guin try­ing to learn how to fly.

What does it mean for you to be able to utilise and really inhabit your strengths now?

I un­der­es­ti­mat­ed how cru­cial this was. I feel great be­cause I can utilise my strengths where they're recog­nised. There’s an in­ter­play of self-con­fi­dence and au­then­tic­i­ty that al­lows me to take on re­spon­si­bil­i­ty. To do this, I need to stay open mind­ed. As long as my po­si­tion isn’t set in stone, I will con­tin­ue to grow. Ul­ti­mate­ly, this means that I al­ways re­flect on what I do and ques­tion what no longer fits. I now know, for ex­am­ple, that I am not a per­fec­tion­ist. Per­son­al­ly, it suits me much bet­ter just to keep the es­sen­tial points in view. And that’s ab­solute­ly fine be­cause we al­ways work as a team in our projects, and we need peo­ple with dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. That’s some­thing I first had to learn, and it re­quired me to have the courage to be my­self.

How do you manage the balance between your learning, your authenticity and any uncertainty?

My not so well-kept se­cret is net­work­ing. I usu­al­ly work in tan­dem with oth­ers. I search out new men­tors de­pend­ing on what I need to learn. The aim with this is not to copy who­ev­er is coach­ing me, but to use the di­a­logue with them to get clos­er to who I am.

This ex­change also takes place be­tween on­go­ing projects. What I learn do­ing A, I can then ap­ply im­me­di­ate­ly to project B. When I’m able to cre­ate these kinds of con­nec­tions be­tween projects, skills and peo­ple, that’s a big win for me. If I only ever worked on one project at once, I’d nev­er be able to link things up in this way.

What impact do you think your story has on TBF?

I’d like to be able to in­spire oth­ers. En­joy­ing your work breeds a whole new mind­set. The abil­i­ty to be present and ef­fec­tive in a way that res­onates with your own qual­i­ties is fun­da­men­tal to suc­cess – both per­son­al­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly.

I’m able to see the grow­ing com­mit­ment to pri­ori­tise peo­ple and their joint learn­ing at TBF, and I love that. I share this vi­sion­ary prin­ci­ple. It’s an in­cred­i­bly valu­able thing to be sur­round­ed by oth­er ded­i­cat­ed team play­ers and be able to in­vest this en­thu­si­asm into new projects. Ul­ti­mate­ly, it’s about help­ing each oth­er grow and en­cour­ag­ing in­de­pen­dence – and clear­ing any de­pen­den­cies or ob­sta­cles out of the way while you’re do­ing it. When this process starts rolling and it’s just great fun col­lab­o­rat­ing with clients, that’s when I’m in my el­e­ment.

Locations Switzerland

TBF + Partner AG
Schwanengasse 12
3011 Bern
TBF + Partner AG
Quai du Seujet 10
1201 Geneva
TBF + Partner AG
Via Besso 42
6900 Lugano
TBF + Partner AG
Beckenhofstrasse 35
8042 Zurich

Locations Germany

TBF + Partner AG
Calwer Strasse 7
71034 Böblingen
TBF + Partner AG
Alsterarkaden 9
20354 Hamburg
TBF + Partner AG
Mauerkircherstrasse 9
81679 Munich

Location in Italy

TBF + Partner S.r.l.
Via Pola 11
20124 Milan