Culture Still Eats Strategy for Breakfast?

Working time takes up a grand majority of our lives. The overall impact of working life conditions in the mental and physical well-being of employers is huge.

This weekend, I am attending a well-being hackathon event related to solving and reducing the negative impact of burnouts. The event is organized by the Finnish insurance company called Varma.

In philosophy, the term ‘well-being’ (and ‘welfare’, ‘utility’, etc.) refers, in a nutshell, to the manner of how an individual’s life manifests desires, objectives, and needs—among myriad more diverse variables—and how these affect the individual’s perspective.

Keeping up motivation for working and working life in general has sprouted numerous efforts at workplaces to improve upon the employer experience. Some workplaces offer free fruits, others set up a lounge with Fatboys for breaks. It is a common practice everywhere to host office parties, even working holidays.

I took part in an inspiring workshop last week that I feel deserves some attention in this blog while preparing for the hackathon. The workshop was organized by the fab Antti Harjuoja of a company called Milestone, devoted to improving upon the working life conditions via researching and recording the atmosphere at workplaces.

The groundbreaking notion in the tools developed by Milestone is that any improvements upon the customer experience are largely dependent upon the mindset of the employees involved in delivering the customer experience of a certain organization. The main methodology to solve commonplace issues and to make improvements in working life culture of Milestone here is to utilize a quantitative matrix that highlights with different color codes the several factors affecting the employer experience.

With the 5 people, most of the attendees being HR professionals, attending the workshop and discussion facilitated by Harjuoja the atmosphere was relaxed and easygoing with results that will hopefully be of assistance in developing these tools further.

Agile is a buzzword with a huge relevance in the evolution of organizational culture. “Agility is about flexibility and the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt and steer itself in a new direction. It’s about minimizing handovers and bureaucracy, and empowering people” says Bart Schlatmann, as quoted by Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä in a speech he recently delivered in New York.

I suggest you read the full paraphrase of “The New Invisibles” by Niemelä, I think this has very much to do with how the employees are being empowered and how design can have a positive impact in solving prevailing global challenges.

With trickle-down hierarchy, it is hard to make people realize their full potential as employees and the pace of change is slow. Waterfall hierarchies being still commonplace, I think we are in dire need practical tools to improve upon the employer’s attitudes and motivation towards their work, as well as the agility of organizations.

Design sprints can certainly be of assistance in this as well as solving many other problems. This weekend’s VarmaHack event will be a chance to see several practical digital solutions to these commonplace issues and burnout rehabilitation being prototyped by several teams. Excited to be attending the event and to see the outcomes.

This is the 50th blog post on this blog. I feel like I have reached a preliminary goal I set myself ex tempore around 1,5 years ago.

Read the paraphrase of the speech delivered at IxDA global conference 2017 New York by Nordkapp’s Creative Director Sami Niemelä:


Get to know Milestone (site only in Finnish):

About Facilitating Competencies

Today, I took part in a workshop on facilitation organized by the Finnish Association of Facilitators (FAFA Ry) at the HUB13 Business Hub in Helsinki. I am a member of the association, as of last year, when I first met Piritta Kantojärvi, the CEO of Grape People and the author of several excellent books on facilitation.

FAFA Ry is the Finnish chapter of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF). The IAF is a worldwide professional body established to promote, support and advance the art and practice of professional facilitation through methods exchange, professional growth, practical research and collegial networking.

During the workshop, the participants collaboratively took on to examine the core competencies of a professional facilitator. I found the event a very interesting one in the sense that it gave me insight and information on the competencies of a certified professional facilitator.

I am also a member of the Finnish “Fasilitointi 2.0” network since last year, and have so far taken part in two meetings of that group. I have found these meetings give the participants a great deal of new ideas, information on useful methods, and boost the professional competencies of the participants.

The very first time I took part in a meeting of that group, the theme of our discussion was “How to deal with difficult people?”.

As even professional facilitators may sometimes encounter participants with negative attitudes in a workshop or other collaborative event, and it may also affect the outcomes of the event, I think sharing experiences and insight on difficult situations and how to solve these with other professionals is very important.

The outcome of our discussion of that theme seemed to revolve around creating “a safe space”.

To me, this simply translates to that the people participating in a collaborative event must be able to trust the facilitator. There are many external factors that might affect the situation, of course.

But basically, the facilitator must be able to create a relaxed creative atmosphere.

To me, this means being relaxed and confident yourself, first getting people to know each other via ice-breaking exercises, and only then establishing a clear context of the session, and evoking a sense of a shared mission in the group. I find that keeping up with the original plan for the session and schedules during the session is very important as well.

If some disruptive behavior or a conflict should arise, the facilitator must be able to face that issue with diplomacy, assume a neutral position, and gently lead the group on to create a collaborative resolution for the situation.

In brief, it makes sense to hire a professional facilitator for a collaborative event of any kind.

The core competencies of a certified professional facilitator are listed at the IAF website.

You can find the list behind this link:

About Co-Design Disciplines and Workshops

How to make sense of the numerous co-design disciplines and choose the correct methods of design? And how to apply this methodology in a workshop environment?

An excellent Aalto University research group called INUSE has recently created a “Co-Design Journey Planner”, which I found to be very inspiring as well as useful.

This framework is grouping different approaches to co-design under four different dimensions, entitled “Inspiration”, “Investigation”, “Cooperation”, and “Community”.

The nine main co-design approaches are then listed as follows, starting from the designer-centered end, and ending in community-based practice:

  • User Inspiration
  • Developer Immersion in Use
  • User Experience
  • Human-Centered Design
  • Collaborative Design
  • Co-Creative Design
  • Firm-Hosted User Design
  • Hybrid User Innovator Community
  • Independent User Innovator Community

Of these methods, the first two, “User Inspiration” and “Developer Immersion in Use” are characterized as the most designer-centric methods. The purpose of the first method is to gain impressions in order for the designer to renew and re-envision old categories and models of thinking. The second method is about the designer’s experience in the user domain, mainly about the context of use of a product or a service. These are the methods that are most useful in the context of getting inspiration when creating something new.

In the opposite end of the spectrum, we find the community creation phase and methods, with two different main categories, or “User Innovator Communities”, characterized here as “Hybrid” or “Independent”. The “Hybrid” one is a partially independent community, empowered by a third party, whereas the latter, “Independent” one hands over the design and maintenance of products or services to the community of their users. To me, these seem like the most mature models of co-design.

In-between, “User Experience”, and “Human-Centered Design” come in handy in the investigation phase of creating a new product or service or improving the existing ones.

The co-operation, in turn, is emphasized in “Collaborative” and “Co-Creative” design.

You can see the nine disciplines listed here:

The role of designers and design in creating new products or services or improving on the existing ones is crucial, as well as getting the intended users involved in the design process. But choosing the correct methods of co-design can be challenging. The above framework can certainly come in handy in the process of getting the designers and users to converse deeply and create outstanding products and services.

In my current job last year, I facilitated strategy-based co-design workshops regarding digital service design.

Even if your organization only employs a few designers or planners, it can be useful to workshop and create an environment where co-design can happen. Looking for a concise list of the elements of a successful workshop, I found this one by Paula Wellings:

Of these pro tips, I found the most useful ones to be “establishing shared reference” and “evoking the mission”. Unless there seems to be a shared sense of purpose, the workshop results may not prove very useful for many reasons. When organizing a co-design workshop, creating a shared mission is paramount. Once the mission is established, the rest will follow, and different methodologies may be applied.