Case: How We Made Shared Responsibility Work

Salla Niemela
Aug 12, 2020 · 6 min read

In short: surprisingly easily and, to be honest, it felt really natural from our company culture point of view, as well.

The Bottom Line

Futureplay is an independent Finnish game studio known for its enticing games and low company hierarchy. During our five-year history, we’ve built our culture on self-management and autonomous teams. Being the low-hierarchy company we are, we’ve talked a lot about things happening ‘organically’, without necessarily naming anyone responsible for specific things. However, in the past two years our headcount has grown, and, consequently, we’ve needed to revisit and even build some new company-wide practices and ways of working. This has also meant that we’ve added roles responsible for specific areas, such as People Operations (which is how I ended up at Futureplay).

Since the early days of the company, Futureplayers have built a company culture that relies on equality and inclusivity, and offers a safe space for its employees.

When starting to build a totally new function, such as People Operations, it is extremely important to do it in a way that respects the spirit of the company culture. Therefore, for me personally it was a learning experience to forget all HR ‘best practices’ and start first understanding what our culture is and then how to facilitate the change (which bringing new practices into the workplace truly is!).

Building our Employee Experience

I won’t be going too deep here into how we started the work and built the people practices. Let’s just say that it included looking at everything from the employee experience point of view: what do our people need, what do we want to keep from our existing practices, what do we need to test to find a new way that suits our needs.

I decided, for the time being, to set most of the traditional HR needs aside, such as setting KPIs, bullet proof reporting, making tight schedules and making all the changes at once. I felt that it was more important to focus on the actual doing part and cater for the needs of our employees.

Naturally our legal obligations needed to be taken care of but other than that, I decided to focus on our people and their wellbeing because it, at the same time, serves our business.

Organic = Shared Responsibility = No Responsibility?

This is where we get to the shared responsibility part. For me, letting things happen ‘organically’ has usually meant having shared responsibility which in my head stands for no one taking responsibility. So I felt that in order for us to get things right in my area, I needed to take the responsibility for all details. For example, I’m used to handling the whole recruitment process and only involving or consulting the subject matter expert teams along the way. Or for me, the onboarding process has always included trial period discussions that are taken care of by someone in the people team. Or, according to my past experiences, HR related development projects have by default been on the people team’s table.

Well, I was about to get quite a surprise!

The Cases

When we built our recruitment process, it became clear that the subject matter expert teams wanted to handle their own recruiting. My job was to help them design their processes, select and set up a recruitment system, publish job ads, offer interview training, and see to it that recruiting is moving forward. But that’s it. No screening. No updating the recruitment system. Participating in interviews only when the teams wanted me to. We agreed that I’d take the process when it was time to make an offer. Letting go and trusting others in an area that I’ve felt such a long time to ‘belong’ to me was quite difficult. But I managed to make the mental shift.

Designing our recruitment process involved post-its.

Another example was when we decided to renew our newcomer onboarding. We covered the basics of setting up meetings with relevant colleagues and team members, team and company lunches, game introductions, meetings with Buddy and Close Colleague, and first scheduled massage. We even decided to incorporate our three trial period discussions into the onboarding, which made our whole onboarding process last for four months. All newcomers get a Buddy and a Close Colleague whose jobs are to offer the newcomer someone to talk to and tell more about the company, our culture, and support the newcomer with their new project.

When discussing the responsibilities with our first ever Buddy and Close Colleague duo, they suggested that they could also handle the trial period discussions.

Shocking idea! Handling one of the most important people-related responsibilities outside of the people team? I knew they could do it but could I? (Spoiler alert: I could. And I couldn’t be happier about how we made this new idea work and look like ‘us’.)

This is what the first week at Futureplay nowadays looks like.

My last example is about (traditionally) people team lead projects. In one of our joint events last year, Futurefuel, we identified five areas on which we wanted to find clarity: what makes us ‘us’, how do we communicate, how do we make decisions, how do we give back to our society and industry, and how do we care for each other. Pretty deep and essential topics for a work community, right? I already could see me making a project plan for each of these, budgeting and scheduling the projects for my upcoming two-year roadmap.. But no!

We had volunteers who were each willing to take the lead for one topic, gather a team, or ‘a circle’, and find the Furureplay way of handling these.

I was, naturally, enthusiastic about working on the topics but now I’m just one of many Futureplayers actively involved in and responsible for improving these areas. Pretty amazing!

A page from our intranet, introducing our circles.

The last words

I know this may sound like sharing responsibility is an easy way of moving the workload and responsibility of the people team to someone else. But I don’t see it that way at all. In a work community that aims at low hierarchy and the possibility for everyone to have a say, this is, in my opinion, the only way to go.

See, when people have a chance to design and build practices that concern themselves and their employment, getting the buy-in comes naturally, as a side product.

When things are co-created, transparent and well communicated, the new practice or tool becomes ‘our thing’ almost without noticing. In our case all of this has, in my opinion, happened quite organically, although someone has had to take the role of a facilitator. This has been a great learning experience for me professionally. But I can imagine that for my colleagues shared responsibility has been very natural since that’s the way they’ve been doing things since the company was founded.

And when it comes to the workload of the people team, it is not going anywhere. The work just changes shape into including more facilitation and enabling. That results in the people team coming out from its own silo and cooperating more with the whole work community. As it should be.

Tales from a mobile game studio

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