The Hacky Sack Circle: How we got company values right

Richard Miles
Sep 4 · 7 min read

Here’s what you can expect from this article: I will be discussing some of the key aspects of company values from an employee’s perspective and how we learned to use them to our advantage at Nona. All this in relation to the game, Hacky Sack.

The rules of the game

What’s the first and most important rule of hacky sack? Keep the beanbag up.

What’s the second rule of hacky sack? Don’t injure yourself.

The soft, roughly stitched bean bag flies through the air of the company parking lot. The bag makes its way down, far outside of the outer perimeter of the hacky sack circle; no one is close enough to get to it. It’s going to hit the ground.

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, James skids underneath it and shouts “Mine!” with absolute delight. He is willing to risk grazing his knees or even tearing his pants to make sure the game continues. This is a common sight at Nona after lunch.

Why is keeping the beanbag up more important than not hurting yourself? Well, the first rule of hacky sack describes a condition for a successful game, while the second doesn’t.

Let’s talk about our Hacky ‘why’

What James did isn’t special. He was merely following the most important rule of the game, as anyone who plays our game might. But just keeping a hacky sack airborne isn’t a great reason to stand in a circle. So: why do we play?

  • Hacky gives players a sense of accomplishment when they do something that is considered good in the game
  • It creates a sense of camaraderie among the players
  • It takes our minds off work for a short time after lunch
  • It contributes to improving the hacky sack skills of the players

So James derives value from the hacky game. But more than that, he identifies with the values inherent in our game, which might be described as:

  • Always try your best to do something good in the game
  • Always be kind, and treat others with respect so as to create a sense of camaraderie
  • Don’t talk about work during hacky sack time
  • Practice often

James therefore tries his best, sometimes to the detriment of his jeans. Furthermore, the way he plays is a microcosm for the way he works.

Let’s translate Hacky values to company values

Building a great company is more complex than a game of hacky, for sure. However, the idea that your values should promote your vision and should be respected by everyone remains at the core of both.

A fundamental part of building a good company culture and a sustainable vision, is creating solid values that persist over time. More importantly though, your values should be lived out by everyone, which means that people should be reminded of them constantly and intentionally. At Nona we recite all of our values as a company once a week.

When people identify with the values of their company, they tried their best, because they are motivated by a shared vision.

What’s in a name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” has Shakespeare arguing that what you name something doesn’t affect its intrinsic value. Usually I would agree; however, when it comes to naming a company’s core value, I believe that choosing the right wording is everything.

Take for example a value that conveys a sense of responsibility that is shared amongst everyone in a company.

Everything is your problem” does the job, but does it do it well?

I don’t think so. “Step up, and take responsibility” conveys the same message, but enforces a much more positive, proactive approach.

At Nona, we settled on “Take ownership”. It took two days of healthy debate to arrive at those two words, so we’re fairly happy with them for now. Choosing the right wording for a value isn’t only about a linguistically accurate explanation, but also about creating something that resonates deeply with people, in a way that challenges them to take action.

Values should be easy to remember

If your values need a 300-word appendix, you’ve missed the mark. Values need to be remembered easily so that you don’t have to go looking through documentation just to find out what they are. Everyone should know them. So they need to be simple. When initially creating our values, we took the approach of using common gaming terminology such as “Capture the Flag” and “Get Good” so they were easy to remember. We ultimately moved away from that, as they weren’t specific enough to describe the message we were trying to convey.

What is important to you?

When thinking about your company values, it’s helpful to look at the culture that your company is trying to cultivate.

At Nona we pride ourselves on being industry leaders, and staying ahead of the latest technology trends, which makes continuous learning and improvement very important to us. So important that “Be generous with your knowledge” and “Continuous improvement as a way of life” are two of our five core values. Another company, however, might find that having happy clients is important to them, to the point where they may have a value such as “Start with the client’s needs” or “The customer is always right”.

You should be able to stand on your values

At Nona we have tried to cultivate a culture of minimal internal politics, fluid communication between departments and a focus on respect and understanding. “Communicate often and honestly, no matter what” is a value that promotes this kind of behaviour.

It is important that your values work top down, as well as bottom up.

In my opinion, the absolute greatest attribute of company values is that they apply to everyone, intern or the CEO. Having a value like “Communicate often and honestly, no matter what” is a fantastic example of this, as no matter who I am, I am empowered by it.

It gives me a voice.

I have had countless conversations on difficult subjects, and having a value like this helps me to raise issues early and honestly in these conversations, so that they are dealt with before they devolve into resentment or anger.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your company’s values

Values should be there to help you.

If you don’t like a particular value or if you feel that something needs to be added to your current set of values, you need to voice it. Company leadership, more often than not, are looking for ways to steer the ship in the right direction. If you can facilitate a better company vision by provoking a discussion around values, leadership should listen up. If you discover that the values which you find important are not priorities to the company, you really shouldn’t be there at all, should you?

Values need to be taken seriously in order to work

I cannot emphasise enough how important this is. I’ve seen companies that have fantastic values fail, because not everyone takes them seriously. The CEO and the intern should be held accountable to these values, and must be called out when they don’t adhere to them.

Secondly, values must be enacted in the right way. For example, “Take Ownership” is a great example of a value that could be used to manipulate team members into working themselves to the point of burnout. This is not the right way to uphold this value, and some common sense should be applied when referring to values as a motivator.

Values can change

Companies change. They grow, they pivot and people leave. In fact, if you are intentional about your company vision and focus, they should change.

A reactive change usually means that your strategic team has not been attentive or proactive in refining your company vision. This is never ideal. So to avoid this we should always be looking out for potential values (or changes to our current values), that would help refine our company vision — even if it’s just a wording change for a current value.

So, in case you missed it, yes, company values are important, and yes, you should take them seriously. At Nona we take our values very seriously, and hold every member of our team to the same standards, and remember, if you are ever in the neighbourhood feel free to join us for a lively game of hacky sack.


I would love to hear some of your company values and thoughts on the subject below.

NONA

We are a leading software development studio focussing on Fintech, Blockchain and Logistics. Contact: studio@nona.digital

Thanks to Nicky Miles

Richard Miles

Written by

Full-stack Developer

NONA

NONA

We are a leading software development studio focussing on Fintech, Blockchain and Logistics. Contact: studio@nona.digital

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