Company Blog

We Eat Culture for Breakfast Series: Vol. 2 The Forum Program

At Underground Elephant, our company culture has always been a cornerstone of our organization. While we have always had a compilation of fun events and activities over the years, the most beloved initiative to date has been our Forum Program. Established last October, this full fledged program incorporates all that our company culture is about – collaboration, unity, fun, and creativity. Through a unique drafting process, ten cross-departmental teams are created and have a year to bond through various challenges and activities. As a result of this program, friendships have been made, donations have been raised, and the competitive side of our employees has been seen in full force. As our program enters its second year this month, we want to share the six essential keys to the culture program’s success.

Determine the “Why?”

In order to run a successful company culture initiative, we understood the importance of solidifying the reasoning behind it. Was our aspiration for the program to increase collaboration in the office, to help the community, or simply to establish a creative outlet for hard working employees? Without a purpose, employees could become disinterested in the program or feel like they are wasting their time by participating.  Even if the mission of the program is simply to get everyone in the company to know each other’s names, the initiative needs to be founded with a goal in mind.

When building our program, we wanted to create a fun way for employees to engage and collaborate with one another. Rachel Van Berkel, a member of last quarter’s winning team, shares her thoughts on the purpose of the program. “I think the Forum Program is a great way to get employees engaged in company events, and to encourage friendship across departments.” The captain of Rachel’s team, Ross Bixler, also thinks the program’s mission to bring employee’s together is full of purpose. “The more the program helps people to understand what other people at the company do on a daily basis, the better,” he says.

Establish Teams Creatively

Once the mission is in place, it’s time to implement the program. Our first step towards getting the program off the ground was to build the Forum Teams. While it may seem easiest to split the company up by departments, creativity is key here. Since one of the main goals of our program was to increase cross departmental collaboration, we needed a way to create teams at random with members of varying departments. Since our program kicks off each year in October, we host a fantasy-football style draft to break the company into teams. Selected employees serve as team captains, and spend an afternoon drafting their teams from a roster of the entire company. Ross, who participated in last year’s draft as a captain, says, “A draft is a perfect way to create teams because you start by seeding the teams with a strong leader so everyone is motivated. Everyone is then split fairly and teams are multi-talented. ” Building the teams with a variety of talents can also translate to helping with collaboration during a typical work day. “Because of the program, I feel comfortable going to talk to people I typically wouldn’t go to otherwise for help,” says Rachel. “By working with people from different departments, you are provided with more options to go to to solve a creative problem, rather than always asking the same three people you work with every day.”

Bring the Competition

The ultimate success of our Forum Program relies on its inherent competitive spirit. The race to gain points throughout the quarter and win spectacular prizes encourages employee engagement and even “gamifies socialization,” thinks Ross. “The competitive nature of the program adds to the overall experience, and makes for more in-depth personal interactions,” he says. This aspect also helps to bring out the best of employee’s individual skills, which can in turn lead to a collaborative success  “During the Easter Egg Challenge, I was able to help out with the riddles, while someone else was better at running to collect the eggs,” shares Rachel. “Figuring out what everyone’s strong skills are in the group can be used to your advantage both in the program and at work.”

Incentivize the Fun

Encouraging employees to participate in the program is easiest when they have fun goals to work towards. At UE, we evaluate winners on a quarterly basis so that the endgame is always within reach. If a winner was only announced once a year, we felt like employees may be more likely to grow disinterested in the program, and only check back-in once the end of the year came near. As for the program’s prizes, these have ranged from over-the-top to simple perks. While each of our challenge winners collect points towards a quarterly prize, some of the intermittent activities have also included bonus perks, like a free lunch or a team happy hour. No matter what types of prizes are offered, though, they need to align with something employees are interested in so they want to participate. Past quarterly prizes in our program have ranged from private museum tours to a San Diego Zoo experience. Project Manager Thiago Brandao, whose team won the first quarter of the program, thinks the prizes serve as a great form of motivation. “It was so fun getting to go to the San Diego Zoo when we won the first quarter. We did a VIP tour where we got to play with animals and go behind the scenes – and it made us want to continue competing our hardest every quarter!”

Create Value

The bulk of our Forum Program is based on activities and challenges that occur throughout the quarter. We believe it’s important to have a blend of experiences that range from fun after-work activities to month-long philanthropic events, that each create some type of value. Our challenges have had a huge range, and include food and clothing drives, flip cup tournaments, a Park(ing) Day design competition, and our crowd-favorite annual Scavenger Hunt. By creating a mix of activities, the program is only be beneficial for our employees, but it makes an impact in the community as well. As a newly commissioned captain for this year’s edition of the program, Thiago thinks the community-facing events have had the greatest impact on him and the company.  “I definitely find personal value in the philanthropic causes we’ve participated in, like the toy and food drives. Even though we are all competing, we aren’t really divided when we are all working towards the same goals of helping the community.” These philanthropic events have also helped to bring out the charitable passions in employees that can otherwise be neglected. Rachel shares, “The food drive was definitely one of the challenges where I saw the most value. I used to be really involved in charity work, but I got out of the swing of it when I started working full time. I loved getting to see employees participate and compete, especially those who may not have done any charity work before.”

Reevaluate

In order to continue the success of the program throughout the year, reevaluation and maintenance is required periodically. We are constantly gauging the levels of engagement in the various activities, and making sure that employees are still finding fun in the program through various surveys. Asking for feedback or input on events throughout the quarter also helps ensure the program is geared towards our audience. “It’s important to ensure the program is easy for employees to balance with their workload and schedules,” says Thiago. “It can be tempting to overload the program with too many exciting challenges, which can lead to employee burnout.” Additionally, we continue to evaluate how the program is impacting the employees, company and community, to ensure that our mission is still strong.

So there you have it, our six essential keys to an enhanced company culture program. Based on the feedback of our employees so far, this has definitely been one of our company’s most unique and fun aspects of our culture, so we encourage you to try it out for yourself!

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