“It’s about building culture with your people, not for them,” said Shawn Hewat, Co-founder and CEO of Wavy, in a recent fireside-chat style webinar hosted by Guusto’s Head of People, Noah Warder.
Guusto, a leading player in the employee recognition and rewards space, has been a friend and partner of Wavy for some time now. As leaders at two digital-by-design organizations, Noah and Shawn share a similar outlook on what company culture can look like in a remote-first work environment. On October 28, 2021, they hosted a webinar called “The Future of Team Building is Flexible”, which included thoughtful conversation about what it means to create meaningful, flexible experiences for teams that tie directly back to your organization’s values.
They discussed the nuances of company culture, trading definitions that place a shared mission and vision at the heart of it. They shared ideas for measuring the success of team building and company culture initiatives. And, most importantly, highlighted how doing so can set your brand apart when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.
You can view the webinar recording here. Or, continue reading below for the full recap!
What does "flexible team building" mean?
It’s simple – different people want to engage in different ways. In a remote or hybrid work environment, that is especially true. While some people enjoy meeting up in-person, others may prefer connecting with their team through an online experience. Likewise, some team members prefer to engage in an asynchronous way that allows them to participate in activities at their own pace. Going forward, team building initiatives need to cater to these different needs by offering a variety of experience categories and formats. Think: a pie-making class that can be joined live (online), or done asynchronously. Whether folks are baking with their teammates or with their loved ones on their own time, it’s still a shared experience that they’ve had thanks to their organization.
Shawn explained how Wavy thinks about culture, highlighting four pillars to shape your culture strategy around: leadership, people, place, and practices.
Regardless of where we work or what our preferences are, we all crave some sense of connection with our teams. We also know that the ways in which we come together have and should continue to change. Here's why...
- 82% of companies are choosing remote or hybrid work for the foreseeable future (Gartner, 2020).
- 40% of the global workforce are considering leaving their employer this year (Microsoft, 2021).
These two mega-trends are leading to one singular challenge: the more distributed your team is, the harder it is to build meaningful company culture. Layer in the growing importance of talent acquisition and retention, with an increasingly distributed workforce… and culture management becomes quite difficult.
A lack of connection across teams can lead to decreased morale, increased burnout, and increased turnover. For Wavy, the solution to this can be pretty straightforward. Bringing teams together through shared experiences is what fosters that sense of connection, and no matter how much change we see in the way we work, that much will remain the same. It's important to be mindful of the fact that not everyone wants to share those experiences in the same way and practice inclusivity by recognizing and planning ahead for a variety of culture initiatives throughout the year.
As these four pillars highlight, team building experiences are just one of the practices people leaders can use to activate their company culture goals. It is one (albeit important) piece of a much larger conversation.
“[Culture] is a big puzzle and each piece is so very important,” said Noah. “It feels like a lot, because there are a lot of pieces.”
Taking a closer look at that puzzle, it's clear that employee expectations have changed. People used to choose where they worked and that’s where they would live. Today, people tend to choose where they live and work wherever they want. In fact, both Noah and Shawn shared that they themselves took this approach when their organizations made the shift to remote work – they both moved to different cities with their newfound flexibility. Note: the mountains and ocean were calling!
This kind of freedom should be celebrated. And that's why developing dynamic opportunities for team-building and connection is so important. No employee should be left behind or feel as though they're not an engaged member of the team because they don't feel energized by the experiences or initiatives offered to them.
Tying it back to your organization's core values
Every experience, culture initiative, reward (you name it), should tie back to your mission, vision, and values. A lot of companies have placed a renewed focus on outlining their values, and for good reason. If you and your team members aren't wholeheartedly aligned with them, it might be time to reevaluate.
Noah shared that Guusto recently reviewed their company values and are implementing a number of wellness, DE&I, and employee engagement initiatives that reinforce them with intention. In turn, Shawn called out her favourite value at Wavy: “keep it spicy.”
“I really like this value because it celebrates taking time to experiment, explore, and do things out of the ordinary,” said Shawn. “We’ve taken dance classes, tried taekwondo, and played improv games. These experiences have helped our team feel more connected, through trying something out of the ordinary and having a good laugh about it.”
How do you feel about your organization’s values? How well your team’s company culture initiatives align with them? These questions are a great starting point to initiate conversation and reflection on this topic.
Curious about how Wavy and Guusto put their values into practice? Check out the tips they shared for creating a solid plan to do so below.
1. Figure out your mix
Take an experimental, “omnichannel”, approach to team building. It’s important to offer your team a variety of ways to participate in experiences, so that they feel empowered to engage on their own terms. This is a great way to celebrate differences and foster inclusivity within your organization.
2. Measure your success
Wavy is developing new ways of gaining visibility into the impact your team building initiatives are having on employee engagement and team performance. Measuring participation in the initiatives and experiences you organize is a great start, but we believe there is more to it. Though “a sense of connectedness” and “employee satisfaction” can seem like an intangible thing to measure, it’s certainly worth trying to. We help teams experiment with surveys and practices to do just that; helping them gain awareness of how their culture initiatives are really impacting their team. Get in touch to learn more about Wavy’s platform, or go ahead and experiment with your own methods! Having access to up-to-date metrics on employee satisfaction and connectedness (in addition to participation rates and other feedback, of course), changes the game when it comes to improving your company culture. Organizations who do this will have the advantage when it comes to talent attraction and retention. Numbers don’t lie. Get clear on the value of the insights you want to share.
3. Listen to your people
Circling back to the nugget of wisdom we started this article with – it is so important to get feedback and ideas directly from your team. No leader has all the answers, and sometimes it’s better to stop talking and listen more closely.
You can plan for all the fun and games, free food, or Friday happy hours you want, but how do you know you’re giving your people what they need if you don’t check in with them as you go? Check in with your team about the experiences and culture initiatives you have planned before you commit to them. Don’t plan arbitrarily. Instead, consider asking your team questions like:
- What is something you want to learn more about? Work related or otherwise.
- Do you have any interests or activities you’d like to share with your team?
- Tell me about an experience you shared with your team (past or present) that made you feel closer to them. What made it memorable for you?
- In an ideal world, how would you want to engage with your team socially? Online games? In-person pizza party? Asynchronous conversation starters? Dream big.
- Of the culture initiatives you’ve experienced at our company so far, what has been the most impactful and why does it stick out to you?
- Which one of our company values resonates with you the most? Do you think that we’re doing a good job of putting it into practice? In your opinion, where are the gaps?
Those are just a small handful of examples. There are so many threads you can pull at to tease out this kind of feedback from your people – you just have to be intentional and consistent about it.
“People want to work for a company that is giving back; that really aligns with their values and mission. A company that is actually doing something with their values," said Noah. "If you’re not actively working on these things, hiring is going to be harder and it’s just going to get harder.”
Watch the full webinar recording to learn more about creating your own flexible team building strategy and putting your plan into action. Spoiler alert – it features a lovely stretch break from a certified yoga instructor, too!