A group of Fools took a trip down the street to Port City Brewing Company, a maker of craft beer in Alexandria, VA. We toured the brewery, learned facts about their process (some of their glass bottles are made from the sand of Virginia beaches — how’s that for locally sourced?), and, of course, participated in a tasting. Studying other businesses can be a lot of fun, especially when those businesses are our neighbors. Cheers!
Recently I’ve noticed a few articles popping up claiming that cool offices and no vacation policy are somehow a myth, a scam, a sneaky way for The Man to keep you down. Here was the first line of one recent article: “Don’t be fooled by the perks at all those Silicon Valley (and Alley) offices — it’s all just part of a subtle plot to control employee behavior.” At The Motley Fool we have one of those cool offices and we chose not to enact a vacation policy 20 years ago, so my first reaction is to mail out some peanut butter to go with the author’s jealousy.
The focus of these negative articles is often on the game table, the casual dress, or the non-policy. Those are the outcome of what a cool office is actually about – trust and autonomy. None of the fun of a cool office can be provided without the right culture around it.
At The Fool we put a lot of time and energy in to recruiting the best employees. We are quite picky, we take our time with the hiring process, and we dislike increasing the employee headcount without good reason. When new hires arrive, we trust them to do what they were hired to do. We find that when we get out of the way, people choose their own path and create their own way of getting their work done. They tell us how they like to work and what they need. The fun toys, the desks on wheels, and the flexible hours are all what employees have asked us for. We aren’t scheming to invent ways to control employees, we’re giving them what they want to work effectively and be happy. If your study is finding that people at a company are taking fewer vacations or working longer hours, it isn’t because of the policy. The reason is you haven’t built a culture of trust.
I am reminded of a great line I once heard from Libby Sartain, former Southwest Culture guru, “Every Office has a culture. Every culture isn’t for everyone. Find the culture that fits you.”
At The Motley Fool, we know who we are, we work hard to find people that will add to our culture, and we look for every opportunity to support our team members. We do this because it works. It shows up in all our numbers no matter how you slice them. For instance, we have the highest employee engagement score by far that I’ve ever seen using the Gallup methodology.
We aren’t The Man plotting to keep our team down and take advantage of them. We are Fools working for our employees and doing everything we can to unleash them to do their best work how they’d like to do it.
Tom and David Gardner, along with some other incredible Fools, talk about our approach to teaching our members about investing. Get to know our founders and our office in this video. Did you know that most Fools are individual investors who follow The Fool’s own advice?
We give Culture Tours on the first Friday of each month. They begin with our core values and collaborative is always the first.
Why is it a core value: The Motley Fool was founded in community. We are better investors because we work with our members. They have experiences and knowledge that we don’t.
This translates to our working environment as well. Union gives strength. Our decisions are better when we work together. Fools are more productive and satisfied when they know each other. We gain energy when we are all working together to achieve the same goals.
Here are my honest answers to questions I referenced in my first post about core values:
1) Do we hire for this value?
Yes! We want to see it in the candidate we are interviewing and demonstrate its importance to them. Interviews at The Fool usually involve 4-8 interviewers and they all have a say in the hiring process. We also have a special part of the interview conducted by the “Foolish Ambassador.” This is a Fool from another department who wouldn’t be working closely with the candidate who gets hired. This Fool assesses Foolish Fit and core values. A software developer might interview a stock analyst or an accountant might interview an editor.
2) Will we fire for this value?
This is an important question, but it will be hard to answer for all of my posts. I don’t like to think about times when people haven’t been able to embrace our core values, but, alas, sometimes it happens. Collaboration is such an integral part of who we are as a business that, ultimately, people who don’t embrace it just won’t work out. Here is a hypothetical example of how this plays out here: Morton is a brilliant designer. He has a lot of excellent experience and keeps up to date on the latest trends. He also thinks he has all the right answers (after all, what does the scrum master know about design?). He works with his head down for weeks at a time to produce “the perfect” project that he unveils with a big “TA DA!” By the time he’s done, he has strong sense of ownership and reluctance to accept constructive feedback. But instead of applause, his fellow Fools are confused and frustrated. While he was heads down, the project evolved and the design no longer addressed the needs of the project. Even worse, he’s not willing to listen and make the needed adjustments. He is frustrated with the team and they are not impressed with his lack of collaboration. Great Fools don’t “TA DA.” They seek input early, often, and from a variety of sources.
3) Can you see and feel this value walking through the office?
It’s almost impossible not to see collaboration when you walk through the office. We have no private offices and most of our desks are on wheels, so teams can easily push their desks together to work on a project. Frequently you’ll see several Fools playing pool or sharing stories from their recent vacation. There are also a lot of white boards with people huddled around them, discussing what they’re working on that day.
4) Is the value referenced frequently? When was the last time?
In fact, so frequently that it’s just part of daily Foolish vocabulary. I promised to answer this one honestly (also a core value), so the last time I saw a reference was today on our intranet – probably not the best example but it is the most recent:
Mark K: Hey Fools: if there’s an empty dishwasher right next to the sink, why are there always dirty dishes in said sink? A conundrum, wouldn’t you agree?
Peter V: I commented on this to Anthony just a few days ago! It just doesn’t seem Foolish to expect someone else to clean up after you, does it?
Tom: OTOH, collaborative is a core value.
Let’s be collaborative on this blog post. I certainly don’t have all the answers. How do you collaborate in your office? How can we top it?
By Tamsin Green
A great office culture doesn’t require millions of dollars (or a slide in the middle of the office). What it does require is a focus on the employee and a commitment to infusing fun into the work day. Here are a few ways to brighten employees’ days for minimal cost.
1. The Art of the Food Cart
What: A few times a year we roll around a cooler or cart with food or beverages for employees. In the past we’ve handed out ice cream treats on the first really hot day of summer, offered drinks, and most recently served hot pretzels to congratulate employees on a successful product launch.
Why: Free food is great, but in many places it’s frequently leftovers from board meetings, client meetings, donor meetings, and the like. Free food specifically for employees (especially brought to their desk) shows appreciation that room-temperature chicken and vegetables just can’t match.
Tips: The more variety the better, as it lets people choose. The cost of the more expensive Skinny Cow ice cream bars is offset by the low cost of those sundae cups you used to get in the school cafeteria.
Cost: Generally under $1 per item, plus extras (ice, dipping sauces, etc.)
2. New Employee Gifts
What: When employees start at the Fool they each receive a jester cap.
Why: The jester cap let’s people know that we’re serious about being a Foolish community. It reflects our organization’s culture and immediately welcomes new Fools.
Tips: Buy wholesale rather than retail to reduce costs and make sure you always have the item in stock.
Cost: Depends on the item, but it can be done for $3 or less per employee.
3. Mark Employee Anniversaries
What: Every year on an employee’s Fooliversary (the anniversary of their hiring date), Fools receive a gift and a balloon. For 5, 10, 15 and soon to be 20 year anniversaries, employees receive balloon bouquets.
Why: Marking employee anniversaries sends a message of recognition for the employee’s time and service.
Tip: If gifts fall outside of budgetary constraints, even just balloons can make a big impact.
Cost: Balloons can vary in cost but can be purchased for very little. A disposable helium tank costs around $30 and can fill 30-50 balloons depending on size. Gifts can vary in cost depending on your budget.
You are sitting there in a meeting among your coworkers, and you start to be able to tell who is going to say what, and how each person is going to respond.
Sure, you’ve gotten to know them well. You know their Myers-Briggs scores. You know who likes what type of cupcakes from the local bakery. You know what so-and-so is doing for the holidays.
But you’re supposed to get to know your coworkers and collaborate through teamwork, right?
Yes, absolutely. You are supposed to know what they are good at, how they will respond to certain elements, and how they solve issues.
But what you have to be careful with is the groupthink that can be created after working together for a long time. Once that happens – when you can predict how people will react to a certain thing and even guess what they are going to say – you have entered into a dangerous zone.
Why is this so dangerous? Clearly, you are all a well-oiled machine. You’re efficient. You know the ins and outs of what to do in your job, and they know the ins and outs of what they need to do in theirs. What’s dangerous about this situation is that you don’t have a diversity of thought. People keep formulating the same ideas they have for a while, and they will continue to do so until they are shaken up by a new perspective.
You need to introduce an outside party. No, this doesn’t have to be a consultant, but it should be someone outside of your group. Bring someone in that is interested in the project or someone who might be affected by it, and ask them to walk you through his or her thought process.
You need that different perspective, that diversity of thought to come up with ideas and solutions that you as a team probably would not have gotten to – or at least wouldn’t have reached in as timely a manner as the “new guy” would.
Just be careful that you don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. That can be detrimental as well. You want to make sure that you have enough new people in the mix to push diverse perspectives and to ask questions that the group normally wouldn’t ask, but that you don’t have too many people with too many thoughts that you can’t narrow down the thoughts to a few good ones. This is how great ideas come to fruition.
Here at The Motley Fool, a couple of examples of diversity of thought come to mind. First, in every in-person interview we have, we bring in what we call a Foolish Ambassador – someone who is not in the department or group that the candidate is applying for. We want an outside person to see if they are, indeed, a Foolish fit for the company, and not just a fit for the group.
Second, once we hire new Fools, we want to hear what they have to say. Many of our Foolish employees have been with the company for quite a while – we have a very low turnover rate – so many of us have heard what so-and-so would say about this-and-that. We want to hear what the new blood thinks; we want them to have the ability to try out new ideas. So when our new Fools start, we start this thought process by asking them what they would change in our orientation process.
I’ve been to a few conferences lately, and I’ve heard this more than any other line: “When you get comfortable, that’s when you should think about changing jobs or taking on new projects.” I think that also works in groups and teams. If you are too comfortable, you need something to spark some new thought and change things up. It could be as simple as changing scenery by having a meeting outside or at a coffee shop. Or you may need to change up your group dynamic.
Think about it – but make sure you ask for feedback from someone you don’t ALWAYS ask feedback from.
As a Fool whose job is it to focus on Collaboration, I’m constantly looking at new ways to get people working together in a fun, creative setting. One big success I’ve had over the years is through teaching workshops in improvisational comedy.
It might sound a bit crazy, teaching the Finance team how to bray like donkeys or having the Marketing group perform a scene about pirate toddlers, but the skills a successful improviser uses are actually quite similar to those of a successful professional in the workplace.
There aren’t many “rules” of improv. In fact, many people like to think that there are no rules. However, there are several guidelines which tend to make for great improv scenes. Such as:
- Having a “Yes” attitude
- Keeping an open mind
- Focusing on the task at hand
- Making bold choices and not worrying about failure
Performing improv successfully is all about being in the moment, and reacting to the environment in a natural and unselfish way. Two fundamental words which I preach are “Yes and…,” which basically means “That’s a good idea AND I’m going to enhance your idea by offering THIS.” When you’re making it up on stage, you need to be open-minded and willing to go along with anything. Contradiction, selfishness, and denial are the enemies of improv. And also business, I would think.
So you might be wondering, “What exactly happens in a particular improv workshop?”
I start off by doing 15 minutes of reaction-based circle warmups, which are designed to lighten the mood and let people slowly release whatever mental baggage they’ve brought into the room. Eventually people soon start to realize that they’re going to look a little bit silly and that’s perfectly okay. Usually people are already laughing and getting along great after just a couple of minutes, despite whatever inhibitions they’ve brought into the room.
The next 30 minutes or so is all about accepting another person’s offer. Too often in the business world it’s all about “This is MY idea” and “We have to do it THIS way.” In my workshop, employees learn to say “Yes, And”—to take someone else’s idea and roll with it. So we throw lines of dialogue at each other and see how people react. If I was to look at a participant and say “Your hair is filled with Jello,” I’d hope to hear back something like “Ewwww… call 911, it’s starting to seep into my brain.” I would not want to hear, “I don’t have Jello in my hair. Now let’s build that canoe,” because that’s basically saying, “Fellow performer, I don’t trust you, so I’m going to do what I want instead.”
Hopefully, you can see how this might relate to working well with others in the business world.
By the end of the workshop, we perform improvised scenes together, where the employees are actually making plot choices, choosing characters, and, along the way, having a whole lot of fun. Usually several people are laughing so hard, they hurt. And it’s not the mean sort of laughter that comes when a kid drops his tray in high school. It’s much more like “Wow… I work with this person every day, and I had no idea they could do this.”
After it’s all over, the results are usually very positive. At best, people learned to break out of their shells, were more accepting of ideas, and listened more intently. And at worst, they had a fun two hours laughing with their teammates. And that’s always a good thing.