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Enabling Individual Growth for Business Value at Tangible

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When a company starts to grow, working together is not enough for new people to learn the culture. For competence growth and for developing their culture, Tangible organizes workshops, internal days of knowledge exchange, hosted events and training, and evening activities, and assigns mentors for new people. This helps them to align individual values and intentions with the corporate vision.

Ilaria Mauric, head of design, and Nicolò Volpato, founder of Tangible, spoke about managing individual growth for business value at Agile Business Day 2018. InfoQ is covering this conference with Q&As, summaries, and articles.

Tangible started working on their values in 2014 when there were just 5-6 people in the team. Since then they have run workshops from time to time, to elicit and understand what matters to people and check whether the values emerging from that are still in line with the company vision, making changes and adapting as they go.

Culture is a liquid thing, said Volpato; as people change and time passes, some things become implicit and other things slightly change. What's important is that the key drivers don't change and we don't go adrift and become a totally different kind of company.

Volpato stated that the real point is everyday behavior where values come into practice. That's where culture becomes tangible; that's where our beliefs system is challenged, reinforced or subverted. It's what we need to monitor most carefully, he argued.

InfoQ interviewed Volpato and Mauric about enabling individual growth for business value.

InfoQ: How does the culture look at Tangible?

Nicolò Volpato & Ilaria Mauric: We're an Experience Design company. Basically, that means we're people designing products and services with and for people.

The two keywords here are design and people. Creating an environment where design can thrive and people can grow, personally and professionally, is the main driver of our culture and our value system.

On the one hand, we want to advance the practice of design, fostering curiosity, enabling continuous learning and promoting community events, to become better designers. On the other hand, we want cohesion, collaboration and motivation to be the key traits of our team, organizing internal workshops, activating coaching and sustaining everyday practices to share more than just a desk, and to create a space where people feel safe and are willing to take responsibilities.

Last but not least, in an increasingly digital world we believe design plays a key role in creating and releasing products and services that are ethical; this principle drives how we work with people, how we design, the type of projects we take on and the business decisions we make.

InfoQ: How did you manage when the company started to grow?

Volpato & Mauric: In the beginning, we assumed that new people would learn processes, approaches and even culture just breathing them every day and working with the existing team. In some ways, that was true with the very first people we hired; we were a small team, kind of a family or a tribe, and things worked well even without the need to make practices explicit.

This started to break when we reached about 8-10 people; the time and effort required to keep everyone on the same page by simply working together, talking and spending time together was simply too much, and the number of relationships between people were too many and definitely out of our control. We needed to manage growth both on the professional level and the culture level.

To support team growth we put a more structured hiring process in place, timely one-to-one meetings, goals and reviews during the year, as well as started providing an individual training budget.

To support values, we continued our workshops and team activities, to diffuse the kind of behaviors we stand for.

To support competence growth we started to have internal days of knowledge exchange, hosted internal events and training, organized evening activities to dig into specific areas or themes, as well as provided mentors to new people joining the team.

That was enough for some time, but didn't last for long; as soon as we brought in another 3-4 people, things began to change again, and we needed to adapt our practices or design new ones, in order to cope with the emerging requests and provide clarity to people.

InfoQ: How did you react to the request for career paths in the company?

Volpato & Mauric: Providing a good, robust answer to this question has taken a hefty part of our last 2 years, and we're still working on it.

The question itself starting to emerge when we reached about 15 people and some of them had been in the team for two or even three years. They needed to better define their contribution and to understand where they were going and how they would grow in our company.

That's a fair question, even if we weren't ready to provide a clear answer.

We started working with a coach to work on talent, personal inclinations, strengths and weaknesses, and get peer feedback to define what each person brings to the team. From there we discussed roles and job titles, mapping roles to our workflow and adapting them to our own design process. That helped to clear some ambiguity, set better expectations about roles and get to job titles that were shared and meaningful to us.

That was a team activity, spread across several months, and was our foundation.

On top of that, we as partners began building a role matrix, based on skills and responsibilities for each role, tailoring roles to our own environment even if the market labeled them in a different way, and designing career paths from junior to senior.

When designing career paths, we created alternative paths for people wanting to grow in their own area of competence (specialists) and also for people wanting to touch different areas (generalists) and shift their career to management.

InfoQ: What are the next steps?

Volpato & Mauric: First of all, we have introduced this role matrix during this year and we still need to measure its impact and adjust it as we go. That will have repercussions on how we hire, how we set goals and how we support people in their growth. This process won't be exempt from faults and shortcomings.

A couple of points that we still need to tackle are tying salaries and bonuses to roles and career paths, and understanding the level of hierarchy that we need and that we're able to accept, in order to be more effective.

They say designing teams is still design, so we ship, test and iterate ;)

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