Creative Healthy Lifestyle, the CHL, came a long way from the company culture to a universal framework for entrepreneurs who want to create an enabling environment for themselves and their teams, and live a healthy and happy life.
When we were starting Impossible, we weren’t thinking of culture at the beginning. What we had there was a group of positive, talented, like-minded people who wanted to do something great together. As we were getting used to working with each other, we had to decide on the procedures and workflows, and the attitudes that influenced those work-related decisions would later serve as a foundation for our culture.
Because we’ve always been passionate about what we do, we couldn’t avoid putting our personalities, beliefs and experiences in our work and the way we do our work. We started noticing how recurring behaviours and conversations influence our natural workflow. It was the right time to get those conceptualised and turn them into something we would call Creative Healthy Lifestyle.
Freedom and responsibility
Freedom is the foundation of CHL and it has different manifestations within Impossible. No fixed list of tasks — everyone has enough autonomy to plan their work within their role in the current project. No fixed working hours — we don’t insist on any timeframe, unless the client you’re working with requests otherwise. No fixed vacation days — take the ones you need.
This might sound utopian until you remember that freedom has its partner in crime — responsibility. To get the results in, freedom must be balanced with responsibility. Responsibility means we are accountable for our own actions, our mistakes and have others count on us. We play as a team, so our freedom ends where someone else’s begins. We have a freedom to set our own schedule and make decisions, but we are responsible for the result of our common efforts as a team. As Seth Godin worded it, “freedom and responsibility aren’t given, they’re taken”.
The importance of freedom, or autonomy at a workplace has been proved in many studies. For example, a Cornell University study of 320 small businesses showed that companies that grant employees choice in how to do their work grew at 4 times the rate and had one-third the turnover vs. control-oriented firms. Research from Concordia business professors showed that autonomy, regardless of definition, increases productivity. It especially likely to lead to better productivity, when the work requires unconventional thinking and creativity.
We believe that happiness at work is crucial. Many studies prove that happier and more engaged teams produce better results. For example, a research by The Hay Group found out that more engaged employees appear to be as much as 43% more productive. Gallup discovered that companies that focus on creating and supporting a culture of happiness have 51% less employee turnover. The question is, what practical steps can we take to make our team happy?
Although we realize that happiness is very subjective, we can still create an environment where happiness is easier to achieve. In addition to autonomy, which allows everyone to direct their lives, one of the most important factors is purpose — the yearning to do what we do in service of something larger than ourselves. Positive impact on other people’s lives and our surroundings is a key factor to determine our work’s success. It is very important to remind your teammates (or even yourself at times) that their job is important, that it contributes to the end result.
We encourage both professional and personal growth, because we believe that when one is really passionate about what they do, they will always be willing to get better and better at it. We invite everyone at our team to look beyond their functional responsibilities within a current project or team, discover new ways of self-expression and enhance their potential. Self-fulfillment is one of the primary human needs and every business should create opportunities for growth.
Finally, health (although, it should go first). With poor health, very few of us can keep thinking of impact or self fulfilment. But at the same time, most of us remember about our health and body only when it gets bad. Thus, it’s our responsibility to foster a culture where health is top priority. At Impossible we run workout and diet challenges, play football at a lunch time, surf before work, cycle, have a gym/dancing/yoga subscription and fruit in the fridge. No matter what, health comes first.
Once we gathered a team of truly passionate, autonomous and dedicated people, we felt confident enough to allow ourselves a bit of experimenting. We thought: why not break free from the boundaries of our studios and to go somewhere wild? Surf, bike or walk before work, then have several hours of highly focused activity, and then party and repeat? That’s how Creative Healthy Lifestyle Trips were born.
The first trip of this kind was made to Bali, Indonesia. The company covered lodging and food, while the participants had to take care of flights. The team that departed to Bali was kickstarting a new project for an important client, so there was no better way to have a proof of concept.
The team came up with a schedule that included a timeframe to touch base with the client and the rest of the team in Lisbon, a couple of hours of focused work, and then, time for surf, biking and explorations. In the end, 3 weeks in Bali in the middle of the jungle have shown great results in terms of team productivity, engagement and happiness of course. It allowed everyone to break away from the daily routine, experience new surroundings and make connections with the locals. We travelled many times after that — to the South of France, Nicaragua, Barbados, and the coast of Portugal, and it always proved worthy.
Such trips bring relationships within a team to a whole new level. For someone else 3 weeks with their coworkers might sound like a frightening experience. But for us it was a chance to bond, know each other better and become friends. Back in 1999 Gallup found that close work friendships increase employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.
Lately we’ve been thinking to start new kind of trips — CHL Impact trips. These will include deploying teams to different parts of the planet to contribute their skills to solve problems of local communities. We’re looking forward to these and are open to suggestions.
Live a great story together
When new people arrive to Impossible, there are two things we tell them at once. First, we are a people company. Which means, people satisfaction and growth are top priority. Second, we are in this together. Our setup has nothing to do with the commonplace “we have your time, and you have your money in the end of the month”. If we are going to spend years working side by side, let’s do something great. Let’s do work that matters, let’s nurture our passions, let’s share them with others. Let’s go somewhere far together, and live on the seaside for 2 weeks and do something meaningful. Let’s buy and deliver some stationery to the rural schools in Nicaragua, or fix computers for our neighbours in Barbados (and get invited to a Sweet 16 party afterwards!).
In the end, when we look back at our work life, these will be the moments that we remember. Why not make them beautiful?
The Happiness Advantage — Shawn Achor
The Start Up of You — Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha
The 3rd Alternative — Stephen R. Covey
How to win friends and influence people — Dale Carnegie
If you enjoyed reading this, see also “How to lead a team of creative freedom lovers” and “Working from Bali for 3 weeks: what we accomplished and why”.