How to create a happy and productive practice culture
A practice is only as good as its staff. But having a talented team with the right skills is only one part of it. Creating an environment in which staff are motivated, committed and enjoy working together – in which everyone feels they are working to a shared goal – is key to a resilient and happy practice.
Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) prides itself on its reputation for social responsibility, in both the projects it works on and in its own business culture. Within its five offices it follows a formal strategy for improvement. It tries to maintain a healthy, inclusive atmosphere which, in practice, means making sure that staff feel valued.
Geoff Rich, Managing Partner at FCBS and recent speaker at the RIBA’s Future Leaders: Developing a Leadership Mindset, believes that the practice is particularly good at listening to its staff and encouraging communication. This is not only good for team morale but has a positive impact on the company’s productivity. He likes to think staff are encouraged to produce the "best work of their lives".
Yet the measure that Rich singles out as making the most significant contribution to the healthy culture at FCBS is not what you might expect. It is a free lunch. This really is, Rich suggests, the cornerstone of the happy, inclusive workplace he believes FCBS to be.
Every day, across each of the five FCBS offices, a free lunch is provided for all staff. This was not developed as a staff perk but is a feature of practice culture that has been retained from FCBS’ formative days as a small practice in the 1970s. It is quite simply a way of getting everyone to sit down and talk to each other.
"Lunchtime is when everyone’s healthy obsessions come together. People get to be themselves and get in touch with everyone else," Rich explains.
That might not seem like much. But it means that staff get to know each other as more than just skilled workers and, conversely, provides an informal space for talking about work in a more passionate, personal way than simply discussing the specifics of their current jobs.
There is also an ‘official’ coffee break at 10am in every studio, when everyone can stop work and chat to one another, team members with other team members, year-out students with senior partners. No hierarchies are observed.
"Eating and drinking together is the most important thing we do," Rich avows. "Having lunch together is a great way to find the extra time to listen and respect the views of the people around you."
This not only benefits staff in terms of communication and social interactivity but provides a structure to the day, one that can easily be forgotten about in an age of grabbing a sandwich at one’s desk. It even helps bring in business: clients that visit the practice are impressed.
"When clients come in, they love to see everyone eating together and talking about architecture and design," Rich claims. "Really, it’s a no-brainer for practices to do."
It is emblematic of the 200-plus practice’s dedication to openness. Every three years FCBS conducts a practice review in which everyone is consulted over a three-month period.
"The aim is to identify how we can get better as an organisation," Rich states. "It is an opportunity to find out how everyone sees themselves, their training needs, mentoring requirements, life/work balance, and concerns about equality or diversity. It helps us identify the type of projects we want to do more of, and which clients we never want to work with again."
Last year, the practice identified 100 ways to improve, which were then distilled into ten top themes that were set out in the three-year practice plan. These included, among others: securing projects that involve a diversity of both people and skills; working on more schemes that use innovative sector initiatives; and becoming more agile in adapting to new opportunities, whether in the UK or internationally.
Each member of staff receives an annual review and pay grades are reviewed in different quarters of a 12-month cycle, so the process is more or less continuous.
All of the staff’s pay grades are public, so there is complete transparency over the salary bands of employees.
Every month there is a staff briefing, updating the whole practice on overall finances, prospects, new and upcoming work: the same message goes out to all five studios. It makes everyone feel part of the family and, of course, provides plenty to talk about over lunch.
Thanks to Geoff Rich, Managing Partner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.
Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas
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Posted on 2 May 2019.