Creating Culture First Offices

This article is written by Stacey Nordwall, Culture Amp's San Francisco People Operations Manager

For me, Culture First isn’t just a concept, it’s an intention. It permeates my thinking on even the smallest things when it comes to running an office. It pushes me to think creatively about the things that can seem mundane, like keeping the office clean and scheduling conference rooms. It reminds me that I’m not managing a space, I’m creating an experience for the people in that space.

It also pushes me to find ways to create a sense of community within the office. While I might be someone who guides the tone of the office or how things are done, this is ultimately something that belongs to everyone within the space. In expanding on ways to instill that as part of our office culture, I’ve pulled from my own experiences and training - from books like “Creative Confidence” and from the willingness to experiment with different methods - to get feedback from my team.

There are a few things I’ve tried recently that I’ve really enjoyed doing and found to be well-received. The first is establishing forums within the office to crowdsource ideas and disperse the responsibility when it comes to implementation of those ideas. For example, as an office manager it can be hard to be the sole source of responsibility when coming up with and implementing ideas for how to design an office space must meet various needs. Crowdsourcing ideas for how to approach this kind of office design helped me discover there are people on my team who have hidden areas of passion, interest or expertise in specific arenas.

Another example for crowdsourcing ideas happened when I was thinking about volunteer opportunities for the office. I could have planned an outing myself with an organization I chose, but instead I shared the idea with the office. I asked if people would be interested in planning volunteer days with any particular organizations. People got excited about participating, so it became an opportunity to share the responsibility of coordinating the event. More importantly it gave a view into the causes my colleagues found important and allowed me to get to know them a little better by giving me a peek inside their worlds.

By creating forums such as these, I am able to tap into the passions and knowledge of others and bring people together who have particular interests in the subject area. I am then able to get buy-in on potential solutions, build excitement for where we are going with it, and get people more interested in being involved.

Secondly, I’ve also applied a few of the design-thinking ideas from “Creative Confidence” to our office. My two favorites thus far were variations I did on their “I like/I wish” exercise and journifying the experience. For “I like/I wish,” I asked people to list things they liked about the office and things they wished for the office. The idea behind this strategy is that it starts from a positive mindset instead of being a list of complaints. From the lists people created I found likes for our cozy meeting room space and community kitchen table, and wishes for phone booths and rugs. I was able to see what they liked already, what they wanted, and in some cases talk about how a few of the concepts may not quite work or be areas where compromise is needed. Changing the framing got people thinking in terms of the culture we wanted to create and the possible solutions, instead of focusing on the things we lacked.

I also really enjoyed journifying the experience strategy, and found this was a great exercise in helping to reframe thinking and be creative in problem solving. I love this method because instead of immediately jumping to a solution, you walk through the experience in the smallest steps possible. In the context of an office environment, this can highlight parts of an experience people hadn’t even been thinking about, and can move you toward solutions you may not have previously considered. You may find that what you were trying to solve wasn’t the thing that needed solving!
Working at a Culture First company means I’ve had the opportunity to be creative in my approach to building an office culture. I’m continually testing out ideas to see what works when creating a community feel, and adapting as we grow. I’m also constantly looking at ways to improve experience within the office. I encourage you to find ways to be creative, maybe even adapt some of these approaches to your office environment, and let us know how it goes on our Twitter.

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