Culture eats strategy for breakfast

In search of inspiration and functioning models to learn from for our spatial and co-working needs I had a most fruitful field day visiting the Aalto Venture Garage with Luciana and Viljami. The Venture Garage, located in an old industrial warehouse in Otaniemi, Espoo is a free, multi-use open working space intended to push innovation and student start-ups towards more growth oriented trajectories. And some of us may now ask “growth, how does that concern us?” I know, I know. But read on and you might just be surprised how down-to-earth the Garage is in its operation.

Our brilliant hostess at the Garage, Natalie, began with explaining that “the first thing you need when putting together a co-working space such as this – where you want to enforce a sense of entitlement – is food and more importantly alcohol. We’re talking about Finns here, right?” We talked at length about how important it is to be able to uphold a sense of community and ownership in a group and the physical space that group comes to exist in. At the Garage students have been working on the space since day one. They have been a part of production all the way through and have gained a sense of pride in having accomplished it themselves. We all know that fixing up a space and putting our own sweat into it makes the space all the more important to us.

The people at the Garage also work hard in maintaining a sense of community. BBQ parties and the famous “Divine Breakfasts” bring together people from the workplace in more informal settings. And as Natalie put it “we’ve found out that you need good amounts of “lubrication” to get people properly socializing”. I say we keep this in mind and all promote a sense of belonging and community in our group!

As a space the Garage is all about openness. During business hours anyone is free to walk in, take a seat and get down to work. A “Hello Policy” ensures that newbies walking in are greeted by staff or other workers, before they begin to wonder where they are or what they’re supposed to do. Experiences – both successes and failures – are also openly talked about and learned from. Yet another policy at the Garage is “Strut your stuff”, meaning that people exhibit their products and achievements openly in the space for all (including possible investors) to see.

Despite fostering an uncommonly open atmosphere, some common guidelines are always needed. This is basically to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and equal in taking care of everyday chores. There is a tendency in us humans that the more of us there are, the less responsibility we take. Hence common guidelines that gear people towards responsible behavior are most valuable.

However, as Natalie put it “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Workplace rules and strategies, if too strict, will inevitably fail. But a functioning, free, inclusive and open work culture will prosper and make us all happier. And this truly enforces our views on how to organize the social realities of the Action Group – by letting them organize themselves.

Below are Natalie’s golden tips for the Action Group:
1. Set the culture together
2. Set clear goals
3. Trial and Error
4. Keep it fun and open

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