Interaction's Thrivalism

Putting the Fun into Functional Culture with Alicia Grimes

November 07, 2023 Interaction Season 5 Episode 5
Putting the Fun into Functional Culture with Alicia Grimes
Interaction's Thrivalism
More Info
Interaction's Thrivalism
Putting the Fun into Functional Culture with Alicia Grimes
Nov 07, 2023 Season 5 Episode 5

Join Toby in a lively conversation with Alicia Grimes, co-founder of the Future Kind Collective, a team of design-led business culture consultants.

Alicia shares insights on service design and its impact on employee experiences. They discuss the challenges companies face as they scale and how to maintain a strong culture. They also dive into the importance of play and fun in the workplace, and how it fosters creativity and human connection.

Don't miss this engaging episode on thriving in the world of work!

Check out The Future Kind Collective here: The Future Kind Collective - Design-led Culture Consultants

Thanks for listening! Check out Interaction's website for more workplace culture content and case studies (or just follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter).

Show Notes Transcript

Join Toby in a lively conversation with Alicia Grimes, co-founder of the Future Kind Collective, a team of design-led business culture consultants.

Alicia shares insights on service design and its impact on employee experiences. They discuss the challenges companies face as they scale and how to maintain a strong culture. They also dive into the importance of play and fun in the workplace, and how it fosters creativity and human connection.

Don't miss this engaging episode on thriving in the world of work!

Check out The Future Kind Collective here: The Future Kind Collective - Design-led Culture Consultants

Thanks for listening! Check out Interaction's website for more workplace culture content and case studies (or just follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter).

Toby Brown: Hello and welcome to Interaction's Thrivalism. In this episode, I'm in conversation with Alicia Grimes, who sounds like a decent rapper but is actually a self-described culture designer, start up specialist, service design expert, and co-founder of the Future Calling Collective, who are a team of design led culture consultants. She's full of ideas about how to make the world of work a better place, and absolutely none of them are fluffy. Hope you enjoy the chat! Right. 

Then let's get started. What's your rap name?


Alicia Grimes: Well, with having a surname like Grimes, I would lean into that a bit more. Like one of my friends wanted to have my surname so he could be MC Grimes. Yeah, that's good.


Toby Brown: But then there's Grimes.


Alicia Grimes: As far as the pop artists, as I've tried to say a couple of times to Toby, I'm trying to leave the rap life behind me. Okay?


Toby Brown: Yeah, but you've made it hard for yourself, haven't you?


Alicia Grimes: So is this going to come up quite a lot?


Toby Brown: Yeah, probably. Yeah. When I googled you, actually, under your picture came up MC Grimes, who's a female rapper and a magazine publisher, stuff like that.


Alicia Grimes: I should have got in there faster because Grimes used to always be a name at school that I didn't really want. My dad was deputy head at the same school, so Grimes, Grimey, that kind of thing. But look at all of these people are making money out of the name now.


Toby Brown: Incredibly cool. And you just left in the dirt behind. So we'll transition on to what you do do, which is also quite cool if you're really into workplace culture. So I've obviously put your blurb at the top of the show, but do you want to give us a quick introduction to who you are and what you do?


Alicia Grimes: So I'm Alicia. I am the co-founder of the Futurekind Collective, and we are a culture consultancy that helps companies design better employee experiences for every stage of their growth.


Toby Brown: Perfect. You've nailed the elevator pitch on that. You talk about service design. That isn't something I've heard much of or on that familiar. So what is service design in this context?


Alicia Grimes: Yeah, that is always almost the dreaded question because it's always so ambiguous. But the way I like to think about service design is I like to use the analogy of a band. So if you think about the experience you have when you go and see your favourite concert, you have the front stage experience. So that's where you see the band and you see them playing, and that's basically your experience as the viewer, the user if you like. Now behind the band and that amazing experience is your crew. So they're the people that are making it all happen. They're putting on the lights, they're helping with the sound, they're making sure everything stays on schedule. And that's all the stuff that happens behind the scenes, like in your employee experience. So it could be how your team works together, how do they deliver that experience and what does that look like? And then behind that is the behind the scenes, which is everything from like your operations, your finances, the funding for that show that is being put on. So there's three layers there. What service design does is it looks at all of those layers when it's designing the end user experience. So everything that you're experiencing when you're watching your band is effectively designed by all those layers working beautifully together, speaking off the same hymn sheet or if you like, keeping with the rhythm of music, you know, and working.

 But effectively, service design is looking at all those different layers of how a experience is created and what needs to be thought about in that process.


Toby Brown: So when you get involved in a project that encompasses some of that, that sounds an incredibly complex thing to start unravelling. Where do you get stuck? Like where do you start trying to make sense of that when you go into an organisation?


Alicia Grimes: Yeah, it's a really great question, and I think there are so many places where you could start. So often when we come into an organisation, we're brought in by someone who's on the leadership team, and there might be something that there's a challenge there or a potential opportunity of how they want to improve things within their organisation. And often they'll have an idea of what that looks like. It might have been talking to their employees or hearing something from people, or it might be from other people on their leadership team. So there will be sort of like a diagnosed problem that needs to be solved if you like.


Toby Brown: And how critical is that problem? Like, do they go, "we are really up shit creek. We need help right now". Or do they go? "I've got a suspicion we could be more productive and more efficient if we solve this problem". Where do you come in on that spectrum? 


Alicia Grimes: So it does tend to be the latter. We work with a lot of companies who are sort of knowing what needs to be in place to have a great organisation, to have a really strong culture. So they're already on that journey. That's not to say we don't also have those who might have reached a critical point. However, typically it's the we want to do more of this. We want to be even better where we're coming in. We don't typically partner with those who might be in that space where things are particularly toxic and bad because within that, that can be incredibly complex, and incredibly hard to unravel. It's not much fun. So it's not it's not much fun. And I'm here for the fun. But I do think it's that balance. And, you know, we work with companies who are already doing great stuff. It's just then how do they take it to that next level and scale that as they grow. So how do you maintain that as you then make the kind of next hire and bring on and expand your team?


Toby Brown: That leads me to the point that I was going to get to later. We might as well jump into it now. We work with businesses lot that are in that scale-up stage, and it's something we've experienced ourselves where we have to think really hard about our culture and how that grows with us and what things might jeopardise it as we get bigger. And it's a really common question, isn't it? And common problems. What are some of the problems that businesses face with their culture as they scale, and how do you like bake in the adaptability and the flexibility to be able to scale them as you go?


Alicia Grimes:  So I think typically when you're about to scale a business, you have found product market fit with whatever you're offering to the market, and you're really excited by that. You might have just got funding and you effectively are going, we need more people to keep doing more of this and keep driving that product out there, selling things, delivering a great customer experience. Now, what often happens in that is you start to feel the creaks and the growing pains when you go from above 12 people. So typically that's how many people you have sat around your table that you can. Or the metaphorical table There'll be so many analogies in this. Just hold on to your hats. So now I'm thinking, do I bring this back to the band? I'll stick with this so effectively as soon as you start bringing it to a point where you go, okay, we're bringing on more people and there needs to be some structures in place that help us scale so we can focus on delivering that customer experience and making those sales. What's at the core of that is what we call your company operating system. So that is effectively what needs to be in place for you to grow and not feel those growing pains in a way that can really unravel a company later down the line. 


Toby Brown: And what sort of things make up that operating system?


Alicia Grimes: So that starts with your purpose and vision. That's really key of like why do you exist and what are you aiming to achieve? What is your strategy? What are those metrics that support that strategy? What does your leadership look like. And then ultimately how do you make decisions? How do you prioritise? How do you collaborate, how you communicate, which can all sound like kind of of course, basic things, but it can so easily become something that is not defined or kind of wobbly as soon as you start to add other people into the mix. Yeah, so that's what it starts to look like.


Toby Brown: And in terms of like going into the weeds on that a bit, when you talk about how you communicate internally, say. Obviously people's days are really busy. Communication is often really ad hoc and unstructured, and although people are really well intentioned, that often goes out the window when things get busy. What sort of things do you help people put in place there to sort of rationalise and define their internal comms?


Alicia Grimes: Yeah, I think communication is so key to a successful organisation and particularly to your culture because people want to feel connected and they want to know what's going on because otherwise, that's when you run into trouble with misalignment and all that kind of stuff. For us, when we think about internal comms, you know, sometimes you might be at a stage in an organisation where you've hired someone who can take care of that. However, that may not always be the case. So it's about how do you embed those rituals where communication is at the core of that. So what I mean by rituals is how do you bring people together to say, okay, this is what we're aiming to achieve. This is the problem we're trying to solve, and this is the impact we need to have in this communication. So the case for that really is saying, if we can get into those habits and rituals where we're meeting regularly to actually communicate what's going on, whether that's an all hands or it might actually be when it's one to ones, because there might be some feedback or guidance that needs to be given. It's about saying, what's your structure? Who are you trying to communicate with? How often and when and why is the most important thing as well? I think that why is just kind of what everyone's connecting to right now, particularly with a new generation coming in. They want to know, why are we doing this thing? So I can make sure I'm giving it my best and aligned with that. So all of that is rolled up in that comms piece. And I think with that whole communication element, it's so core, especially to companies who are remote because it's something that can so easily get forgotten. And you have to be very intentional about putting that in place.


Toby Brown: They've got very specific challenges, haven't they? You know, we're talking about the other day in that if you are working for a company and you're 100% remote and you get offered a similar job for another remote company, you can, on a Friday, pocket your laptop on a Monday, open a new one from a different company, crack on, and you're doing an equally good job. But you've got no real connection to the culture you've just left or the culture you've joined. [00:10:00] Really difficult for companies especially people towards the top of those companies who are leadership, trying to build a culture and connections between people. What sort of stuff do you advise people to do if they are mainly remote or sort of primarily hybrid? What sort of things can people do to try and build a sense of community?


Alicia Grimes: I love this question because I think any organisation, whether you're remote or hybrid or in-office, is you should be designing for remote first ultimately, because that is the hardest thing to do, but also because it thinks about that journey. If you don't have those watercooler moments, those interactions. So if you imagine that regardless of what your company setup is, you're thinking about, how do we onboard someone? So you mentioned that first day of someone opening the laptop. How do you tap into that moment that's going to really matter to that person? And then how would that then relate to someone who might be in the office? There might be some more physical touches you can do or elements that you can bring into that, but what are those interactions that need to play into that? And we always talk to organisations about how are you thinking about your end-to-end employee experience, those moments that matter. So onboarding is a critical one. Then how you communicate, collaborate and sort of how do you grow and professional development, all of that stuff. But then how do you then weave in what needs to happen in each of those stages so that people feel connected, they feel a sense of belonging? And there's also that psychological safety. So I think if you start with that remote first thing, anything that you then do face to face, it might be nice and additional touch, but it's then far more inclusive. And it also thinks about kind of what are those harder nitty-gritty challenges that kind of become that are complex when you don't have that face-to-face interaction and those real touch points. So I think, yeah, starting with that remote first element in mind is really key.


Toby Brown: That's interesting, but hard for people to get their heads around as well, isn't it? Because it is essentially sort of abstract if people aren't present and you have to have a very transactional relationship with them across comms and messages and stuff like that, are there ways you found to try and build in some confidence and like, happy accidents into those dynamics, or is that too difficult to do remotely?


Alicia Grimes: So I think this whole element of being intentional is key. So culture and stuff like that can happen by accident and that can grow and that can build up a lot of cultural debt. So the more you can be intentional about these various rituals that need in place need to be in place, the better.


Toby Brown: What do you mean by cultural debt? Sorry.


Alicia Grimes: So what I mean by cultural debt is as soon as you set up a company, you have a culture because your culture is the way that you behave. It's how you show up. It's what you believe in. And that starts from number one, whether you intend to or just you. Yeah. Whether you intend to or not. Now, if. You allow that to grow organically and you add lots of different people in it. And with that, that is culture add. There is things you are doing and putting in place that are growing and sort of expanding day by day. What happens if you don't address that and actually define it and design it in an intentional way? Is certain behaviors creep in that may not be actually what you believe to be your culture. Certain ways of working will start to happen, certain ways of decision-making, certain ways of collaborating, all of which might not represent what you believe in and what's core to your organisation. And so all of those things you're doing is adept to your building up that eventually will need to be undone to bring you back to what you believe in and who you are as an organisation. And we see that happen so much with organisations, which is why we find that sweet spot with organisations is often starting to work with them around that 2025 people mark, they're about to hire and they go, you know what, we've got something good here, but we need to really define it so that things don't start to kind of go into this space of kind of not out of control, because it's not about control here, but it's about actually if we define it, people know the direction we're going in and they can sort of demonstrate how we behave. You use the.


Toby Brown: Term alignment earlier, which everyone are the same. Yeah. Not that I was going to explain the term alignment, but just getting clear in my head. And when you sort of start those journeys with some businesses, what are some typical challenges you face when you're trying to get that work done and trying to get under the skin of the culture and pay off some of that culture, that.


Alicia Grimes: Everyone is so busy. I mean, the places we work in, you know, start ups and scale ups is like everyone's just super focussed on getting the product out the door, delivering that customer experience, basically getting stuff done. And I think that's one of the biggest challenges because the reality is to get this stuff right, you know, you do need to be spending time on it. And it's not just the responsibility of your head of people or your CEO. It's everyone's responsibility. So it's really about how you get that buy in. And I think that takes time. And I think it's not an overnight fix, but there's ways that you can bring people around the table so they feel that they're inputting. But you also have to think about how they can incrementally build the culture, because it's small changes every day that can make all the difference. And I think that's the thing. So busy is a key thing. And also sometimes if you talk about culture to some people, it can sound like the fluffy stuff. It can sound like the nice to haves. It's the for some people and it's not this, it's the pizza parties. You know, it's the ping pong tables and it's taking them beyond that. To say this is a really strategic element that is made up of so many elements that will enable you to deliver on your strategy. So and it's taking them into that more strategic space.


Toby Brown: Let's go into that for a second. So assuming I'm the CEO of some mid-sized organisation and someone's come to me and going, we need to fix our culture, brought you guys in. I'm not particularly convinced. What are the the benefits or like the provable benefits of improving your culture. And how do you get that across to people who might not be interested in that conversation? Or you think it's a bit fluffy?


Alicia Grimes: Yeah. So I think it's almost steering the conversation sometimes a little bit away from culture. I feel like we're in this brilliant space where people are talking about culture, but what happens with that is the definitions can get blurred and it means different things for different people. So the way we talk about it comes back to that company operating system. You know, it's thinking about what is core to your business because effectively that is what we're talking about when we're talking about culture. It's your purpose and vision which is aligning your team. So it's like saying to you as the CEO, do you want your team to be aligned and headed in the right direction? I think that's going to be a yes. Or hopefully, you know, what's your strategy and how are you measuring that? Is everyone got a good view of that. Know what they're aiming for. Got aligned goals. Again that is something that your people are delivering your strategy. So the two are very much intertwined. That needs to be super clear so people can jump on board. And then what does your leadership look like, you know, in terms of your leaders are all responsible for the growth of your people and therefore the growth of your business. Do they have what they need in place? And then ultimately, you know, do you want your team to be communicating well? Do you want your team to have autonomy and feel empowered to make decisions to drive things forward? Do you want to have your team being super creative and collaborative, to make sure that you're creating the best products and the best marketing, and getting that message out to your customers? And do you want to be continually just improving things and making things better? Now? When you start talking like that, you're starting to talk to a lot of the pain points that a lot of CEOs and a lot of growing companies will be facing, and that is what we're talking about when we move by culture. Yeah.


Toby Brown: Nice. And in terms of you mentioned sort of creativity there and earlier you said you're here for the fun. So we talked a bit about the role of play at work and the benefits of that. So in your eyes, what are some of the benefits of play and what does play and fun at work even really mean?


Alicia Grimes: So yeah, I absolutely love play and fun and how it comes into work. But. It's been a journey for me, and the reason I sort of bring that in is because when I first joined the workforce, I was like, it's going to be very serious. We will have to wear smart clothes and everything we do is very serious. And it really has evolved so much because where I love how play and fun comes into things is it brings when I talk about it. Play and fun in work is about how do we make people feel more human and more connected with each other, safe and safe. Yeah, and that has been such a key part to the work that we do. We don't bring in fun for fun sake, and sometimes we avoid the word fun itself because fun... it's like someone's cringing in the corner. And when you talk about fun, I can almost guarantee if you introduce like a meeting and you go, this is going to be really fun, it's probably not going to be, yeah, no one's going to turn up. So play again is about that human aspect. So when we talk about play, it's about how do you allow people to be themselves, to be open and to be vulnerable in a safe space. And the reason we bring so much of that into our work is the work we do is really human. Ultimately, we can talk about business as much as we want, but your day to day work is mainly based on your human interactions, and you'll only be as good as those human interactions. So the way you bring play in is to say, what are we doing to create a space that we're very conscious of, the play that we're bringing in here. We're thinking about the method we're using, we're thinking about our audience, and we're thinking about the purpose of it. So that play becomes, again, keep using this word intentional, but it's saying we're going to do this because we want it to result in better human connection and belonging and safety as well.


Toby Brown: Innovation comes out the other end of that. Exactly. So I get that in principle. Then can you sort of go into the details a bit of what that might actually look like in a business day to day, [00:20:00] like what's the most play rituals might be or.


Alicia Grimes: Exactly. Well, you mentioned there the word rituals, and I think they are a great way to bring in play. But it comes back to actually why are you bringing in play? So an example might be we all have meetings in our diaries every day, and often we can charge into those meetings just going straight for the agenda. Let's go through the sales pipeline. Let's go through, you know, maybe we've got this challenge we need to dive into. And often we are all coming from different experiences in our day. You know, we've all got different situations and we're coming with that into the meeting. And that can bring very different vibes. So you need to kind of be bringing people to a similar level or at least understand. Are there any accommodations we need to make here so that people do feel comfortable and we're going to get the best out of this? Now? Again, people can cringe at the idea of icebreakers or warm ups, but they can be such a simple way of bringing play in that can really shift how your meeting changes. So for example, it's about just saying, okay, you know, we're all human here. Let's connect on a human level. So let's bring in some form of play or a game format that allows us to share something about our day.


Alicia Grimes: Maybe it's something like what's going well, what's not going so well. And, you know, just leaning into that, that's not huge amount of play in itself. It's just saying there's a human connection here. But I think it's about saying, okay, what is it that we're wanting to achieve. So if this is going to be a ideation session or a creativity session, very rarely people will come out with ideas. If you just say, come up with an idea, so you need to go, how do we get them into that mindset? So what does that warm up or icebreaker need to be? So it might be, you know, diving into how many uses are there for a paperclip as quickly as you can just so people can leave what they've kind of brought into the meeting and start the meeting with a different mindset or something like that. So it's very much about thinking about what's the intention, and then how do you almost create that common ground and that connectedness before you dive into whatever the purpose of that session is that you're going to be doing?


Toby Brown: Yeah, nice. We got some decent use out of some framing questions, like beginning at the beginning of those sort of sessions, which are more about what's giving you energy and what's taking it away, because people find that a bit easier to answer because it can be a bit more sort of third person in general. These things are happening which people sort of open up to an extent about, but connects everyone instantly at the beginning of those sessions, really useful skills. And then it's a bit of a jump to go from here. But who should be in charge of fun at work? Play fun, force fun? Who should be in charge of force fun? But who's responsible because that doesn't seem to sit naturally, particularly with anyone who should be leading the charge for play at work.


Alicia Grimes: Well, I think it with anything like this, it needs to be led by example, which would come from a leadership perspective, because that needs to be setting the tone that this is a safe space for play. You can't introduce play just into any environment. You need to make sure you're thinking about who's your audience. Like, what do we need to consider for our audience, and what does that look like? Because that it's all well and good saying, right, we're going to have fun. Now, everyone. You know, we've we've been a serious business for X amount of years. But now we're going to introduce fun. So it needs to first of all you need to be able to set that space and say this is a safe place to do it and lead by example and kind of do some examples or kind of lead those sessions and also kind of feel free, like lean in as a leader to demonstrate how you're happy to lean into making potentially a bit of a fool of yourself or kind of being a vulnerability, kind of sharing that. And I think that needs to be represented so that everyone else feels that they can do that.


Alicia Grimes: And I think that's really key. Once you've then kind of shared that vulnerability and showed that you're willing to kind of lean into that and create that space, you can then encourage others to do it. And I think it's then, you know, we talked about creativity earlier, saying, okay, for those teams that really need to lean into that creativity side, which I think is every team, but there are others that might lean into more. It's then they've been given sort of that example and that permission to say, go for it. This is something that we do really dive into it, but it's a journey. And like we work with clients who we know we can push to a certain level and they feel comfortable in that, and that might be in the safer sort of space and then others that we can push a bit further. And and there is something about pushing things further because it then there's a comfortability line and you need to hit that line so that everyone feels they are really leaning into this and that vulnerability and that connectedness.


Toby Brown: With again, it can lean a bit into force. Fun. If you take that too far, it feels they're being railroaded into a sort of culture or something. It's a complicated journey for people. What are some things you see people get wrong a lot on that journey?


Alicia Grimes: I think it is when they don't think about the audience or the context. I think that can be one of the biggest issues, because it can feel like it comes back to the word fun as well. And it's like, actually, what is that intention? I really love the framing of it where you think about it's defined as map. So the acronym there is like method, audience and purpose. So your method is what is the type of play that we're going to introduce here. And how are we going to do it. So particularly if you're remote you know it's going to have to think about how will this work. Then your audience like what sort of headspace are they in? If you've got a super stressed team, what sort of play is actually going to be viable here and actually be welcomed, you know, rather than, you know, if it looks like we're just a bit.


Toby Brown: Of play and she's killed two people.


Alicia Grimes: So it's like, you know, you've got to really consider that. And then also what's the purpose of it? Because that does, you know, as much as play in its essence of what we think of in childhood should be purposeless, and you should be able to just lean into it when you're starting out. There does need to be that structure around it of what that purpose is, so that people can comfortably see. I can see why we're doing that. And it then speaks more to those people who may be more cynical about it, but they can then see the reason as to why that happened. And I think that being explicit about that as you start out is really important. So where people go wrong sometimes is they don't think of any of those factors. And it might be because it feels like fun to them. And it's about how do you think of the others and the other participants, and is it inclusive and bringing people on the journey?


Toby Brown: And how if your CEO of a business that's scaling and you look at it and think it needs to have a think about this culture where like, if you could sum up where you should start or where what's the first step for people to start ensuring they've got a bullet-proof culture? I think it's.


Alicia Grimes: Speaking to your people, and I think there's really nice ways that you can sort of dive into that, to speak to people and say, you know, what does our culture look like at its very best, and what does it look like on its bad days? And just starting to understand that because your people will know the culture sometimes more than you, and what that looks like and how it feels in the day to day.


Toby Brown: Disconnect in the culture you think you're evincing and the culture, the messages that are actually picked up in the team.


Alicia Grimes: Yeah, exactly. And I think so that's that's a really key one as well of what that looks like. And speaking to them and also saying, where do you think we can improve and getting their buy in? Because there is the perception that culture is top down, it's top down, bottom up. You have to have the two way element of that in that. So I think Speak to Your People would be the first one to go actually. How far off are you on where you think things are and what does that look like? And start that open, honest conversation. Because also leaders need to know of what their role is in it, because ultimately they will be setting the tone. And so that will be trickling down. So I think that would be the first thing. And I think the other thing is, you know, some of the key things we see where culture might be a bit off and, you know, leaders can see where this is happening. Coming back to some of those things I mentioned around, you know, how well are your team collaborating? Are you hitting those deadlines? Are you getting kind of your product delivered when you needed to? How's that working out for you? How aligned do your team feel like when you speak to one person about the direction of the business? What does that sound like compared to someone else over here in a different team? You know, how quickly are you making decisions and moving things forward? These are all the kind of, I guess, signs of how well your culture and your company is operating and ultimately how that is all manifesting both internally and externally. Because the other signal is, how good is your customer experience? Because your customer experience is only going to be as good as your employee experience, and that's your culture.


Toby Brown: That covers so much ground. It's been really good to have you on. We should probably wrap up now because we're sort of hitting the time limit, but where can people find out more about you?


Alicia Grimes: So you can find more out about us at You can also follow our pages on LinkedIn and Instagram as well at the Futurekind Co. And yeah, we'd love to chat more. So follow myself on LinkedIn, which is Alicia Grimes as well.


Toby Brown: We'll whack it in the show notes. Alicia, thank you so much for being on.


Alicia Grimes: Thanks so much. Cheers.


Toby Brown: Well, I hope you enjoyed that conversation. We'll be back in two weeks with another episode of Thrivalism. And if you enjoyed it, which I hope you did because you stayed all the way to the end, do give us a review on your podcast platform of choice. Thanks and see you soon!