Why Foosball, Hackathons and Cake are Essential to our Company Culture

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This post originally appeared on the FullStart blog here.

Engineering is hard and creativity doesn’t happen on-demand. Developing a great product takes great minds. At TapSense we recognize that the best, most talented people do not excel by simply staring at their screen for eight hours a day. Talented people do great work in a collaborative environment, one that accepts that each employee is unique, but still requires them to work together as a team.

Why We Take Time Out For Foosball

Foosball has long been associated with startup culture and we think it’s a great game, but it’s also a great symbol for a new type of work organization, one that breaks completely with the antiquated nineteenth century model of work — a model which unfortunately still persists in the minds of many managers and business types. The nineteenth century model of work was developed specifically for organizing workers on a factory floor, getting them to do boring repetitive tasks, quickly and efficiently. This couldn’t be farther from the modern office environment, which is why those management methods are so outdated.

Foosball

Coding, design, and even writing all take a deep level of concentration that can’t be sustained for hours on end. They also all tend to be solitary pursuits, which is why we encourage our team to take frequent office breaks. In this context, games at work for our team are not a distraction; they’re an essential part of the process. It gives them an opportunity to interact with each other, relax their minds and come together as a team.

Team Building and Hackathons

Until recently, hackathons were the sole territory of only the nerdiest tech industry insiders. But now, hackathons are increasing in popularity, and this hasn’t diminished their usefulness.

Hackathon

Hackathons are essential to our culture and our ability to innovate. Why? Because with technology evolving so rapidly, how does our team find the time to experiment with new ideas? Research new approaches? Test out new technologies? In most startups, the team is extremely busy updating and maintaining the business. It’s hard to find time to stay current. Spending time on your own, outside of work, isn’t ideal either. Because you don’t always have all the resources required to test and learn.

Hosting a company hackathon allows the team to come together and try out these new ideas. The company should provide resources like servers, testing equipment and software that are difficult to get outside of the office. Providing incentives and fostering a friendly, but competitive environment will help increase motivation and encourage teams to tackle real problems.

How Cake Can Equal Innovation

The tradition of having cake on your birthday is wonderful one. We make it a point to have a cake for each employee’s birthday. In fact, our team enjoyed the cake tradition so much, that we started to have cakes at work on occasions other than employee birthdays. We had a cake for the anniversary of the founding of the company. We took cakes to meetings with some of our customers. We even created our own holiday, to announce a new product and had cakes delivered to all of our key partners, customers and journalists. They all loved the cake, but they also loved the uniqueness of receiving cake as a gift. It was symbolic of our dedication to innovation and creativity – and was a cost-effective marketing tool.

Cake

Building a true culture of innovation is an easy thing to say, but a very tough thing to do well. It requires a careful mix of good judgment and risk taking. If startups take too many unnecessary risks, you can easily lose what little traction you have, alienating early supporters. On the other hand, if you’re too conservative and too slow, competitors both big and small will fly past you.

All the best approaches to company culture generally come down to one essential ingredient: building a great team. This is why at the earliest stages you have to put in place a rigorous hiring process. Not only hiring the best and brightest, but hiring those who share your values and who you can see yourself working with closely on a daily basis. If you can assemble a great team, the company culture should easily fall in line.