Corporate values – that’s how our workshop went
Nearly two years after founding our company, we at WeAre decided to dedicate ourselves to the topic of values. This article summarizes why we are doing this and what our values workshop was like.
Does a start-up need corporate values?
When discussing values, it does not matter if it concerns an established company or a start-up. Because every community, also associations, families and even criminal organizations are based on mutual ideals. These values are not always explicitly visible. In the very first communities, such as tribes or long-year relationships, mutual moral ideals were automatically pursued. If this does not happen, people are excluded from the community. Others decide independently to leave a community, because they cannot identify with the implicit or explicit values. These values still have to be negotiated in mixed communities, which often includes new companies. If this process is not actively controlled, the potential for conflict is high and “anti-values” such as resentment and hostility may arise. A missing orientation of values then leads to a poor operating climate with all the negative consequences for the team performance.
Initiative from the team
The WeAre team expressed the desire to hold a workshop regarding values. Normally an external consulting company or at least a neutral moderation would be assigned with this task. However, since we have competency in the team, the preparation and moderation were taken over by a correspondingly trained team member. This is not totally uncritical; after all, you could imply that a team member wants to take put their own interests before others in this manner. That is why it is even more important for the host to act in an absolutely neutral manner; this means not offering contextual input, but rather just accompanying the process. This also applies to the management. The two founders Maximilian Noelle and Marvin Tekautschitz were present to take in the spirit and dynamic of the team, however, they were not involved in the teamwork. Because even despite flat hierarchies, there remains a risk that the group result could be distorted by the subjectively perceived weight of the corresponding voices. However, the managers have the right to veto in the follow-up.
Start with a personal map
The first of the two workshop days started on Thursday afternoon. After a greeting by the management, the moderation was handed over to the corresponding team member. Initially, the expectations of the participants were recorded to be able to discuss or correct them at a later point in time. This was followed by an “ice breaker”. The personal map is an uncomplicated method to get to know each other better. It is particularly important if the team members are spread out over several locations, just as is the case for us in Berlin and Bochum. The participants write all possible details about themselves in the form of a mind map. This mind map is introduced by another team member later. Even colleagues who already know each other often find out something new as well. Fitting to the workshop, we included the topic of values in the personal map as well.
Vision, mission and values
Then we got deeper into the topic of values. The participants were asked to work in small groups to differentiate between the topics of vision, mission and values based on definitions and examples. The purpose of this exercise was to start a discussion about the terms, because this is a good possibility to intellectually tackle the subject. Other examples showed the increasing relevance of value-driven companies. At the end of the first block of theory, the results of an online survey were presented that the colleagues participated in before the workshop. This survey regarded the approval of 120 generic values, which were then ranked to show similarities in the team.
The first brainstorming
With this tool in our pocket, we moved on the first brainstorming session. The first brainstorming question was: “What makes up a provider of VR conferences?” This is a very generic question that aims to find the generally valid rules in the industry. This step is important, because experience has shown that generalities are often made in the first round of brainstorming that are hardly suitable for differentiation. They are first gathered to be able to differentiate between generally valid and very specific values. The second question is: “What makes up WeAre in particular.” Experience shows that the content of the second question are often very general as well, but this is still allowed at this point. Refinement is reserved for the second workshop day.
Teamwork is overrated
Something like a values workshop is very closely connected with the team concept, that is why we ended the first day with an evening of grilling and VR games. The next morning we then started with a familiar team-building skill where the objective was to build the highest tower possible using marshmallows, spaghetti and tape. The participants were rightfully surprised when, after another theoretical point, it was suddenly said: “Everyone works alone starting immediately.” Because teamwork does not just have advantages. Particularly in workshop situations, it is often experienced again and again that team members discuss much too much and talk down the ideas of others. That is why it makes sense to incorporate silent phases in which everyone has the chance to think through their ideas and to record them before they are judged. The team members were now required to write down at least three, but at most ten, values while being as specific as possible. Individual terms are less suitable for this.
Democratic assessment method
The gathered values were not added to bulletin boards and evaluated with adhesive dots in the first step. Each colleague has five dots (votes) that they could give as they pleased. The company values that received at least two votes were added to a different wall. This resulted in approximately 20 values that were now subject to a further assessment method. We did not measure the agreement in this further step, but rather the rejection. This assessment method is known as “systematic consensus” and illuminates a dimension that is often not considered with the majority method. Each team member writes a point number between zero and ten (0 = no rejection / 10 = maximum rejection). The points are then added together. The suggestions with the lowest number of points, therefore with the lowest rejection, are preferred.
The ball is rolling.
The result from the workshop is not yet final. There are several reasons for this. On the one hand, the formulation of the values after a such a short amount of time is normally not yet perfect and requires clarification; on the other hand, the management is now included. They held themselves back during the workshop. They are the ones who have to live by and represent the values, which is why they have the veto right. Of course, it is recommended to stay as close as possible to the team vote, but if the management does not identify with the values, they must be given the possibility to intervene. The values topic is not complete with a workshop, but instead the initial impulse leading to a value-oriented corporate culture. This does not happen overnight; the management and the entire team are now required to fill their ideas with life. Values are the basis for a vision, mission and corporate strategy. They have to be reflected in the personnel management just as in customer contact.
Start-ups are born with an idea. Normally this is a product that receives all of the attention at the beginning. Value orientation rarely plays a role here. The result: the bigger the team gets, the bigger the differences in opinion often are as well. We want to do this better at WeAre. The workshop showed us once again how dedicated our individual team members are and how great the interest is in designing a mutual environment. This is our mission to continue on and to invest in our team, not just our product. Our values are now put into concrete terms to then think about how we can integrate them concretely into our daily business.
Pictures: Carsten Deckert