A company culture can mean a wide variety of things. It's a broad concept. It's how stuff happens. It's a blend of our history, beliefs and manner of working. It's hard to understand a culture without actually living it.
We think building a good company culture is paramount at OpenClassrooms. It's something the we're always working on (a work in progress).
We want you to at least understand the basics of our company culture before you join us. Follow the guide! 😉
Our Early Mistakes
When Pierre and I (Mathieu) started the company, we wanted to do things right. That meant respecting the law, of course, but also anticipating our needs.
This was one of our first early mistakes: premature optimization. We wanted to make things perfect before we actually needed to do anything.
Here is a short summary of our early mistakes:
We wanted to write down all the rules we would ever need (like our office hours), instead of letting things happen naturally first and adjusting later if needed.
We ignored early tensions, and let them grow over time until they were too big to ignore. We thought "it's the workplace, it's normal to have tensions and things can get tough." Yes, tensions appear all the time everywhere, but that doesn't mean we should accept them and live with them.
We used to make all kinds of decisions, even the smallest ones. As cofounders, it was addictive. You felt like superman when you solved problem #147 of the day. Except we quickly got exhausted by making all kinds of decisions that people would have been perfectly capable of handling. Like: "We need new camera batteries, should we buy new ones?" – Of course! (True story by the way).
We had different office spaces for our different teams. Makes sense, right? One office, one team. Yeah, but also four walls, one door which started to get closed more often than not... Not ideal for office communication and collaboration.
And of course we had the bosses' office! With bigger desks, better chairs. Again, that didn't promote transparency, communication, or equality.
It All Comes Down To What You Believe
Dermining the mistakes we'd made took time (and pain). However, these mistakes proved to be extremely useful in the end.
Litterature helped us understand that our work experience could be very different from what we'd been used to. Some stuff is so profoundly ingrained in us that it's hard to see that things can be different.
We've come across the notion of theory X and theory Y from Douglas McGregor by reading the (excellent) book Reinventing Organizations. It summarizes things quite well, so let's talk about it for a minute.
Many companies, through their bosses, believe that employees:
shy way from work. In other words, if they can avoid working, they will.
cannot make important decisions.
need to be told what they have to do.
only work for money.
work for their own selfish interest.
are like cogs that you can easily replace when they're dysfunctional.
It might sound a bit harsh at first, but think about it for a minute. That's not something someone will ever say, but some organizations' management actions speak loudly in that direction.
Now let's talk about theory Y, which looks like the complete opposite.
Other companies believe that employees:
are creative people.
can make important and complex decisions.
can make mistakes, like everyone else.
want to have an impact on the world.
Welcome to the world of Care Bears. 😍
Who's right here? You might think "it's X!" or "it's Y!", depending on your own work experience and personal beliefs.
The truth is... everybody's right. 😳
Hang on... These theories go in two opposite directions. They just can't be both true. 😒
Yes, they can! It all depends on the environment you create.
Think about it. If you're an entrepreneur building a company following theory X, you're going to put surveillance systems in place and require several levels of approval before you can buy those $%@*$@ batteries you need. What will people do? If they think you don't trust them, if you try to control everything they do, of course they will tend to slack when they can. You will feel that your theory is validated as soon as someone tries to avoid working.
If you start a company following theory Y, you will see that people use their responsibilities and are indeed trustworthy. You'll think your theory has been validated... but it will be just because you've created an environment where it can flourish.
It's something that took us a while to understand: two opposite views of the world can be true. It's our job to create the one in which we want to live.
An Overview Of Our Mindset
We hope this short introduction will give you an idea of how our mindset has evolved over time. Before we go into more detail in the next chapters, here's an overview of some important concepts at OpenClassrooms.
Trust Is Paramount
Seriously, we cannot emphasize enough. Trust is the basis of our work.
When you work with colleagues, there are some people whom you trust (usually your friends), some whom you trust less.
Think about your previous workplace for instance. Did you trust your colleagues? Your boss? How did this impact your work everyday?
Nobody says you'll have 100% trust everywhere in any company, not even at OpenClassrooms. However, you should totally aim for more trust whenever you can.
Small trust issues are easy to fix early on. It only takes you to speak to resolve a misunderstanding with someone (add a cup of tea, and everything will be alright!). However, if you wait too long, the problem will probably grow like a monster until it's too big to be fixed easily. It can transform itself into an actual office war, a place where you don't want to be. Please don't let this happen... and speak, speak, speak until it's fixed.
We know this is more easily said than done. Trust is precious and highly flammable. Trust works both ways: if someone doesn't trust you, you will feel it and don't trust that person in return.
We all know when there's real trust and when there isn't. You have a 6th sense: listen to it, don't bury your head in the sand - face the problem. It takes a bit of effort, but it would be much more painful to wait. Trust us on this one. 😉
Our office's architecture reflects our wishes to be transparent to enable trust (plus it's a nice way to get more light!):
How Do We Build (And Maintain) Trust?
Over time, we've learnt that it's wishful thinking to say, "trust everyone in the company" and then hope for the best. We need to create good practice that lets trust flourish. Here are the most important ground rules:
Information transparency: to foster trust, a person should have access to as much information as they need. We think we're entering an era of transparency in our society as a whole. It makes sense that you can access all the data you need to understand what's happening. Even if you don't use the information, knowing that you can access it enables trust.
This transparency is physically visible in the office (see the picture of the transparent walls above).
Example: we present and explain all of the key company figures every month in "checkpoint meetings", people have open access to this information.
Tension management: when there's tension with someone, you should feel like you have the power to talk about it and fix things before it gets too big. You should have some kind of manual to help you do this.
Example: people give feedback to one another on a regular basis; this helps them understand what others think about what they do, in a simple and positive manner.
Sharing responsibility: everyone should feel responsible and empowered when there's a problem or an opportunity. It shouldn't be in the hands of a few managers.
Example: we work a lot on self-management to empower people to make decisions everyday.
How do we do all this? We'll explain it in the next chapters! 😊