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Tripling your team - keeping your culture

Tripling your team - keeping your culture

Amei Ott is head of people and culture at Softgames.

The field of Instant Games offers game developers the chance to achieve skyrocketing growth. Subsequently, the need to hire additional specialists arises.

Here at Softgames we nearly tripled our workforce from 35 in early 2019 to almost 100 employees from 30+ different countries, thereby becoming one of the 15 biggest studios in Germany as of January 2020.

Additionally, we moved into new headquarters and opened our second studio in Toronto in early 2019. This fast expansion came with the necessity to adapt, restructure and bring in additional talent.

At the same time we wanted to keep what our employees value, namely the family culture and open communication that made our teams' achievements possible in the first place.

In this article, we share 5 insights that we've gained while building our team.

The buzzword: Culture

There is no singular definition of what is understood as culture in companies, but one thing we have learned at Softgames is that it is not created top-down. It comes from within the team. The challenge is to build a culture that is not too forced and too "generic", as every company has different dynamics.

Of course, we offer all kinds of activities as a company, facilitated by our People and Culture Team, like casual Fridays and company events. But beyond that, many employees volunteer to organize flash talks, poker nights, soccer tournaments and pub quizzes, supported by the People and Culture Team.

Generally, our team has a family-like approach to working together. For example, some colleagues like to cook lunch for each other in our kitchen, or they are happy to step in when a new colleague needs help settling in Berlin.

This leads to a welcoming atmosphere, which builds itself bottom up, and friendships can thrive which - ultimately - creates a higher productivity across teams as well as a stronger feeling of belonging. We can happily say that Softgames has created its very own Game Studio culture that way.

Relocations: The challenge of finding a new place to call home

Many of our employees come from all over the world to work for us, therefore relocation processes are an essential part of our onboarding into our Softgames culture. Moving to a different country or even continent, including all of the administrative aspects, not speaking the language and making new friends can be overwhelming.

The easiest way to measure a candidate's cultural fit is to include the team members into the interview process.

To introduce our own culture right from the start, we keep our relocation processes in house and personal - our People and Culture Team is in touch with the employees every step of the way. This is an enormous effort, but our expertise collected over years dealing with relocations makes us capable of guiding new employees through this stressful process.

We can highly recommend that way of building a close relationship to employees before, during and after relocations, but also finding the right mix of seeking external help to professionalize this process.

Diversity: more than 30 different nationalities in one team

Different nationalities, genders, sexualities - how to not only advertise but also integrate diversity into your company culture? Creating a culture and an environment where everyone can be as they want to be is important, yet lines have to be drawn so a respectful climate is guaranteed.

Ensuring this starts during the recruiting process, however, it is often complicated with unnecessarily complex "cultural screens" and "company fit" interviews. The easiest way to measure a candidate's cultural fit is to include the team members into the interview process. In the end, they will have to work with a person, they understand our culture and what is important to us in an applied context.

Of course our CEO, C-level and the People and Culture Team are still strongly involved, but we pride ourselves in a straightforward approach.

One of the biggest hurdles in the tech industry is always the female percentage of employees. At Softgames we are strong believers in empowering women and hiring them across the company for all positions.

Honesty and Pragmatism

Communication is a key aspect to pay attention to, when team size and structure change. A major challenge is not losing touch.

Our founders are either sitting in the open plan with us or practicing an open door policy. They are generally straightforward in their communication. During our weekly "Casual Friday" presentations and our monthly "All Hands", they update all employees on company news and are always ready to respond to questions during the Q&A. Furthermore, any team member can book a "Founder's Lunch" to ask questions or raise concerns in a casual lunch environment.

We have learned that keeping a direct line of communication open to senior management strengthens personal relationships and helps to avoid "political" problems while growing the team.

Ownership - do what you love

The key to maintain a positive and collaborative spirit, in which people can unfold their full potential, is the interpersonal relationships.

Hiring staff also means introducing specialists into an existing structure. By building cross functional teams and a horizontal team organization, we unblock our employees and disentangle unnecessary hierarchical structures.

Our employees are expected to take ownership and pride in their projects and work together across departments on a daily basis. The biggest challenge here is to move away from micro management yet stay involved enough to solve any potential conflicts and communication issues.

This works best when everyone feels taken seriously and has the opportunity to share their expertise - a constant balancing act when also chasing economic goals. Beyond listening to our employees, we are currently building additional structures to ensure a clear career path for everyone by introducing formal performance reviews, feedback sessions and other HR structures.

The perfect time to pay attention to company culture … is now

Living through a period of rapid growth, venturing on to new exciting projects and bringing additional talent into the team is a fantastic and usually positive experience for everyone involved. Nonetheless, the time to pay attention to company culture is right now.

We have learned that the key to maintain a positive and collaborative spirit, in which people can unfold their full potential, is the interpersonal relationships. It is the way employees across all levels and in all departments treat each other, talk to each other and feel free to express themselves.

Carefully preserving what employees value as well as proactively adapting to the changing dynamics in the team not only sets the direction the ship will sail, but also how it will prevail in the future.

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