It is probably one of the biggest clichés going to say that your company is a family - only to then treat employees as numbers and resources who are simply just there to 'get the job done'.
At Hubble, building a familial culture is integral to every step of our hiring and management. We believe people will do their best work if they are totally at ease with their fellow colleagues and enjoy their surroundings. However, as we have begun to hire, there have been some interesting challenges to the dynamics of our team culture. For example, should a familial culture be nurtured, or should it grow naturally from the first hires? Perhaps this is a conundrum for every growing start-up?
It could be argued that it is much easier for small businesses to preserve a family culture while they have the ability to micromanage recruitment and the team environment. Naturally this will flow from the behaviour and values of the initial hires. Our familial culture was born over a shared obsession with breakfast naan rolls at Dishoom in Shoreditch, along with craft beers at BrewDog around the corner. As a small team of early 20-somethings, we valued spending time with each other early on and set a precedent for enjoying quality artisanal foods - with the overarching aim to "fast-track" our colleagueships straight to simply just friendships.
The challenge comes when looking to hire people who may not fit this original mould. It then becomes a gamble on whether to bring a new dynamic to the team or only stick with those who might already fit in. This is where the idea of 'nurture' might come into play. Just as a company needs to grow, so does a family - so it’s paramount to have a set of defining overarching values that the family live by even when the day to day interests and focuses may change - and tastes in breakfast naan rolls change too.
Many start-up founders will attest to the complexities of hiring someone who fits a familial culture versus someone who might bring a new dynamic to the team. It is pertinent to look at how huge companies such as Google have dealt with this issue during their growth. Laszlo Bock, VP of People Operations, explicitly looks for 'Googleyness' in candidate interviews through weird and wonderful problem solving. Interestingly, rather than trying to foster a family of clones, Bock is seeking to find people outside of the company that have a distinct, unique character with a sense of playfulness. But one which still fits into Google’s team collaboration and teamwork ethic. This is a striking example of where a compromise is met between bringing in people’s natural qualities and marrying it with a preordained culture that has been nurtured over a number of years.
Similarly during our own recruitment process, we applied an unorthodox test to see whether prospective candidates would fit the Hubbler family mentality. It’s called the 'beer test'. After a formal interview, we would take them down to the pub with a couple of the other team members, and see whether they are the people we would enjoy a second drink with. Ultimately, no matter how great their role-related knowledge might be, being easy to get along with and not taking themselves too seriously are things we’ve nurtured and made crucial to our family. Anything the candidate brings beyond that will steer our future familial culture and thereby shape it naturally - but it must happen within the culture of values we have defined first.
Having a work/life balance is an oft-quoted ambition of firms to have for their employees. But for the new age of start-ups that genuinely want to integrate employees to feel as part of a family, the crucial appendage is actually work = life. Just as being part of a family is fundamental to life, being able to work in a culture that makes one feel like they are just amongst their usual set of peers is integral also. It gives workers the freedom to explore new ideas without feeling inhibited, take ownership of projects where they might have hesitated before, and ultimately feel enthusiastic about the overall mission of the company. As the saying goes: if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.