The future of work: Culture building and self-leadership

Last week the startups Soundboks + Abzu came together at Talent Garden Rainmaking with suggestions for how tech companies should work. Here you can pick up on their practices regarding culture building and self-leadership.

Soundboks: How to rewire your company culture

Insights from Frederik Sassi Rasmussen, Talent Acquisition Specialist

1. A one-year process of defining culture

In early 2019 I realized that I needed to be able to communicate the culture at Soundboks to future employees. And it needed to reflect reality. It was a step-by-step process. First I had semi-structured interviews with all of our employees: (1) what motivated them, (2) why had they chosen Soundboks, and (3) what kind of traits did they value in their colleagues. The next step was to sit down with our in-house anthropologist at Soundboks and look at words that overlapped. This allowed us to create nine word clouds. We sourced representatives from across our company – newcomers and people that have been here for a while – and then we did a 5-hours session, where we narrowed down the clouds to three overarching values:

-Community and a sense of being a part of something bigger. Having fun.

-Personal and professional growth. Dedication and passion.

-Openminded. Seeing things from different angles and listening to each other.

Building upon the three values, we had follow up workshops (15 people from the organization and our business coach), where we defined closer: What is personal values vs. Soundboks values. How do we make sure that our company values connect both? Finally I went to LA to get input from our team there + get the final wording down.

The Soundboks values – after a year of work – are:

-Always aspire.

-Be brave.

-Champion Community.

2. Next step: activating the values

We spend a year putting our culture into a shared vocabulary. Now we need to use the values as tools. Part of it is connecting the values to our OKRs. We are also exploring how we run talks with external speakers that reflect the values and keep them alive internally. We are creating a new development lead that will run this work going forward + keep track of people’s professional growth. On the community side, we are having a challenge as we become more people that will inevitably form sub-communities. That’s fine, but we need to do events, to make sure that I hang out with our developers too. So that’s the mission ahead: To create strong subcultures still in sync with our overarching values.

Abzu: Self-leadership put to work

Insights from Jonas Wilstrup, COO & CFO

1. Motivations for exploring self-leadership as a school of thought

We are a team of 16 now and from the beginning it was important to get rid up the traditional company hierarchy, with an executive leadership on top and middle management and so forth as you move down through the organization. Instead, we decided: Let’s trust that people can lead themselves. As humanity has evolved in giant leaps over the last 100 years, we have more knowledge and power at our hands than ever before, and we all interact in complex systems. Yet, our corporate structure is largely unchanged? It doesn’t make sense. For us, an important touchstone has been the book “Reinventing Organizations” by former consultant and business thinker Frederik Laloux. The core of self-leadership is an advice process based on the rule that before you make a decision you have to ask a colleague. The more consequences your decision carries, the more colleagues you have to ask for advice. And you need to seek out people with relevant knowledge, don’t just ask randomly. It’s important not to mistake this for complete democracy, every small decision does not need to be aired with someone.

2. Self-leadership in practice: Salary + internal transparency 

Our team members each decide on their own salary, after a starting period of six months. We have exchanged the traditional yearly salary negotiation, where one employee has to gather arguments for an increase and the boss on the other side of the table has to limit the cost of the employee. Instead we have sessions with all employees in the same room, where people put up their hand, if they think it is fair that they get a salary jump. And they have to ask their colleagues about whether a salary increase is fair. As CFO I just administer what they agree upon. It also has a major impact on what is shared knowledge. If everyone is the leader, everyone needs to have all available company information. What other people make a month, how much equity they own, knowledge of budgets. We also make sure that commercial ownership is shared in the sense that each team member has responsibility for a part of the budget. And the openness crosses into the personal. We have a classic stand-up every morning going close to work tasks and then a check-in that gives you the opportunity to say how you are feeling. When we downplay the clarity of formal roles, it makes it more important to know how each of us functions as a human being.