Learning at Work Week: Why Culture is Everything

17 May 2018 | Parvinder Kalra | About a 4 minute read
Tags: Culture, laww, Learning, Learning at Work Week

For a fast growing startup there are so many business elements to focus on but one element that you have to get right is the culture, as that underpins everything. Here at AND Digital we have gone to great lengths in getting our culture right and we might be on to a winning formula here.

AND Digital is a fast growing digital consultancy which helps customers across Retail, Financial Services, Media and Travel industries build their in-house digital and tech capabilities. We partner with our clients to deliver their key digital initiatives while helping them develop their in-house digital skills.

Over the last 5 years we have grown at a rapid pace and have almost doubled our headcount every year, to bring us to around 300 people now. In 2017, AND Digital became a Tech5 UK finalist, boasting a growth in revenue of 1,640 percent over the previous three years.

Most startups start losing the people connection and they experience slow decision making, bureaucracy and silos as they grow larger. Focus shifts towards revenue growth and profitability, while culture takes the back seat. What do we at AND Digital do differently to avoid this common trap?

Unique Organisation Design

Our culture underpinnings start with our ‘Organisation Design’. When we sought to create AND Digital in 2013, we decided to challenge the traditional hierarchical structures common with most Enterprises, in favour of a unique model which will help us stay nimble and retain the startup energy as we grow. We adopted a unique “Club Structure”.

Clubs are autonomous business units of around 85 people which manage their own people, customers and profitability. Each club has their own independent office and is responsible for its employee engagement and happiness. Decision making is quick and there is very high focus within clubs on collaboration and learning from each other, which leads to rapid growth of skills. Through periods of rapid growth, we have managed to retain our startup culture and edge mainly because, within a club you are part of a small team and can still feel the pace and energy of a small business.

This model is also very scalable and we have ambition to set up Clubs in all major tech centres globally.

Squads & Club – Your social construct

Within each club we hire a total of 6 Squads with 12 people in each. The squad comprises of a diverse functional mix including Developers and Analysts. There is also a range of experience from graduates to seasoned pros. We hire a whole team at the same time, allowing them to bond and become a fully fledged ‘Squad’ that are ready to work on client site by the end of their three week induction which is called Bootcamp! Squads and Clubs also become a social construct for ANDis through their career.

Our people work at different client sites, but maintain the connection with AND through weekly squad catchups, monthly squad socials, Friday [email protected]:44 (where all the ANDis come back to club house, we stop working at 4:44 on a Friday and play some fun games) etc. We also have quarterly Club Days where all of us share our project related experiences, learn new tech and have some more fun team socials. The idea is to create a small community of very happy and highly engaged employees.

Focus on Happiness

As you can see, we are pretty big on social connections and bonding. We strongly believe that our people come first, then the clients, and then the revenue. If we take care of our employees and keep them happy, other things will fall into place. Part of this is by being open and transparent in our communication and having various different channels for our people to provide feedback on what’s working, and things that need to change.


Building a Club ground up

I joined AND last year to set up our third Club “Turing” in London and wanted to ensure that we set up the right cultural foundations in the new club, which will drive our success and will build upon the experiences of our first two clubs. The nuances of culture make it hard to replicate and harder  to change. Culture is made of up of what’s ingrained in behaviour, implicit expectations, traditions, ways of working, and many more elements. Nine months into the journey, “Turing” is now close to 45 people and 8 clients.

But more importantly, we have managed to create a high performance culture with a strong focus on collaboration. Across the clubs, we are very passionate about continuous learning and we are also very big on sharing on our Slack channels and having regular Lunch & Learns on tech topics. The other key aspect of our culture is open and timely feedback. We share both positive and constructive feedback regularly thus helping us act on them.

We are looking forward to scaling to a full club in club Turing by the end of the year and to continue thriving in this unique organisation design, which gets the best out of each one of us.

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