Building company values together: A case study

Salla Niemela
Jan 30 · 8 min read

Ever since I started my career in human resources, I’ve heard how important but heavy company-wide value work is.

If you’ve heard the same, you’ll be all too familiar with with a scenario similar to this one: spending the first year planning your company value sessions — the whats, whys and hows; spending the second year pulling your hair out (you know, during the time when the values should be ‘discovered’ and explained); and eventually, pushing through in the third year — when the values are finally being ‘lived’ every day.

It’s a tough process. You’ve got to use time, dig deeper than ever and reveal the absolute core of the company. And if the found core is not suitable, one can always come up with new ones and try to claim that values such as Customer satisfaction or Innovation tell something about the company and its ways of appreciating its employees.

When I joined Futureplay in early June 2019, I knew that my work would evolve around our values and company culture.

I’d learnt that the company was founded on very humane values of work-life balance and an open, supportive culture in which everyone is equal.

We had one rule as a guiding light for everything: No Bullshit.

The next step in our growing company would be to define our core, our heart, if you will, further and ensure that our work community would continue to be supportive and a good place for us all. Maybe we’d continue with mere No Bullshit and everyone would know what it meant. Or maybe we’d come up with something more detailed. We were enthusiastic to start the work and learn.

The First Steps

Through an external researcher, we already had quite a lot of information about how our employees saw the company and our culture. I also had 1-on-1s with each Futureplayer to understand where we are from the company’s internal perspective.

We could see that the principles and the basic idea of being a company as flat as possible, without any ‘bullshit’, were golden.

Our employees truly appreciated them. What some of them had shaped into within time, when the company grew, however, was something we needed to focus on next.

Our aspiration of being a flat organization derives from bad experiences from hierarchical organizations. And also from good experiences of utilizing agile methodologies with self-managed teams in software development.

We wanted our employees to experience the same freedom and trust, same possibilities of affecting the result and the same self-managed mentality in both their team-based work as well as in the company culture.

The thing we didn’t consider, however, was that agile methodologies, such as scrum, have a defined framework with roles and processes, which make it work. If we want to give the freedom and possibilities, we also need to discuss the ground rules, in order for us all to be on the same page.

Without them, as we had started to notice, scaling would become troublesome.

The data

After all the research was done, we had a lot of information. Both the external researcher’s study and my 1-on-1s highlighted the same topics:

People enjoyed the spirit of the company but we were struggling with defining how our organization works when it comes to roles, responsibilities, giving and getting feedback and, for example, decision-making.

Pretty important stuff, right?

We knew that we needed to address the findings and discuss them together as a company. The summer was coming to an end and we came up with the idea of kicking off the autumn with a company-wide, full-day event. And what would be a better topic than our culture and values?

Great idea, but we had one classic problem: what would we call it? We ideated. A lot. Game Day, Future Bowl, Back to the Future, The Scene, Future Forum, Future Point, Future Away. And finally: Futurefuel. Fuel for our future. Fuel for our culture. Fuel for us. That was it.

Taking the first steps of our values discussion at Futurefuel.

As mentioned, the agenda for the day was easily set. We decided we wanted to have an outsider’s objective view on things so we partnered with the company culture design agency Leidenschaft for planning and facilitation support for the event. We shared our data and planned a two-part program; the first one would be about our desired values and the second one a world cafe-type of a discussion arena for five prioritized topics. The topics would be ‘communications’, ‘decision-making’, ‘being us’, ‘caring’ and ‘giving back’, which had been raised as important topics from the research we’d already done.

These topics and discussions would also form the basis for our Futurefuel ‘circles’ — small groups that would take responsibility for continuing discussion on a more regular basis, after the event itself. We knew from the start that this would be one step among many to get where we wanted to go.

Futurefuel came and went — and it was awesome. We spent the day in the beautiful Finnish archipelago, on an island called Lonna. It was the first time our whole company had been working offsite together, everyone collaborating on a specific topic. We also realized that it was crucial that we left our own office to have conversations as important as these.

New environment + no laptop reminding of work = fresh ideas!

We ended a great and fruitful day with some dinner, and of course, a sauna. Because how else do you wind down in Finland?

Even more data!

Now it felt like we really had it all. The five circles were kicked off right after Futurefuel. Each circle lead gathered a small team around them and started to work on their topic.

Each topic was a bit different and needed its own approach — so we gave the circles the freedom they needed.

The only expectation was that whatever the circles did, it needed to be transparent, and include others in the company so that everyone interested would have a possibility to have a say on the matter.

What about the desired values we had created and discussed at Futurefuel? Well, we had a whole bunch of them: ownership, transparency, inclusion, communications, courage, empathy, self-management, safety, trust, creativity, learning, respect, generosity of spirit and so on. 30+ of them, to be precise.

Now, we would need to find the ones we appreciate the most and turn them into concrete behaviors.

Workshopping, anyone?

Silently organizing the values.

The next step would be so crucial that many of the circles would benefit from the outcome, as well as of course our whole company.

If we decide to prioritize good communications, what does it actually mean in our everyday life? If we say we are open and transparent, what kind of a decision-making process do we need, or what does it mean for our internal and external communications?

It was heavily important stuff which needed some careful planning.

Cue our internal ‘Values to Behaviors workshop’, which would nail down our current situation.

We were closing the end of the year but decided to use half a day for this important matter, in order to have the outcome ready for when we returned from the holidays and started the new year. We iterated on how to facilitate the workshop, and assessed whether there was a specific framework we should use for it. We also discussed with a couple of facilitation gurus in our networks and got their valuable input on the matter.

The result was the following: our participants silently organized the 32 values under our own ‘4C framework’ (Company, Culture, Competence and Caring). Next, there was a dot-voting round to identify the 3–5 most important values we’d continue our work on.

We learned that we appreciate Ownership, Equality & Fairness, Openness & Transparency, Respect and Trust more than other values.

Super exciting!

But what did that mean in practice? It was time to find out.

We had a five-station world cafe for five teams. Each team visited all of the stations and built on top of the previous team’s ideas. The instruction was: think about the how. How does ‘taking ownership’ show in practice at Futureplay? How do you know you are being ‘respectful’ towards your colleague? We closed with a gallery walk where we talked together about the behaviors, and made some final fine-tunings.

Futureplay’s valued behaviors

What was the outcome, you ask? Something we’re very proud of. To mention a few under each category, here goes:

For us ‘Ownership’ means that we each own a piece of the company. (It’s very concrete because we do!). We also take the time we need to deliver quality games. That means we don’t want to rush, so if we need to take an extra 3 weeks to make our new game awesome, we will.

‘Equality and Fairness’ means that we have fair pay practices, and we provide the same training opportunities for everyone.

At Futureplay, ‘Openness and Transparency’ means that we share our financial numbers and other relevant information with all employees. It also means that we offer a safe space for sharing personal matters for those who decide to do so. (And many people do. It’s amazing to see how people feel comfortable with sharing their private matters openly with their colleagues.)

‘Respect’ comes from thanking, apologizing and including others.

‘Trust’ means no micromanaging or someone controlling when you come or leave the office.

This is not the end

This is just where we are now, early 2020.

We are enjoying the fact that we’ve come this far, but we’re not done yet. The process continues in our everyday work: the angle we take when we talk about Futureplay to the media or recruitment candidates, how we onboard our new team members, the things we emphasize when we give feedback to each other. And so forth.

There are so many ways to utilize the information we now have. And we’re planning on using it since it is the absolute core of Futureplay; this is what we value as a company and a community, and this is how we show it. The focus areas will change over time for sure, and that’s how it should be.

The thing I’m most proud of today, however, is that we’ve now taken the journey for the first time, together as a company — and it felt right and good.

Tales from a mobile game studio

Blogs, case studies and other mobile game development stories from Futureplay.

Salla Niemela

Written by

I am an HR professional with strong focus on employee experience, talent acquisition and employer branding.

Tales from a mobile game studio

Blogs, case studies and other mobile game development stories from Futureplay.

More From Medium

More on Self Management from Tales from a mobile game studio

More on Self Management from Tales from a mobile game studio

Why the key to managing yourself is actually through others

More on Culture from Tales from a mobile game studio

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade