Company Culture as Principles Pt. 1


How it Started

When we founded Mighty Bear, I spent a lot of time speaking to other founders about their experiences and the most valuable lessons they learned. During one of these discussions, a founder spoke about how they wished they’d defined their company culture at the start of their journey. Their point being that once a company’s culture has taken on a life of its own, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to go back and reshape it.

This struck a chord with me. I’ve worked in the games industry for the best part of 20 years, and I’m lucky enough to have worked at a number of different places – all with very different cultures. These cultures defined working environments which ranged from the awesome and powering, to the toxic and political. For Mighty Bear I was keen to replicate the best elements, while actively avoiding the parts that made places unpleasant to work at and unproductive.

Around this time, I came across “Principles” by Ray Dalio (you can find a summary here), in “Principles” Dalio sets the rules and observations that he uses to guide his life choices. Inspired by this, I wrote a set of principles defining Mighty Bear’s culture and best practices based on my professional experience. The idea was that by defining our culture early on, we would be able to proactively shape and guide the company culture in order to create the best possible working environment.

We found having our company principles spelled out to be very useful for a number of reasons:

  • When we’re unclear on a course of action, referring to the principles helps steer us to the right choice. It’s usually pretty clear which choice is consistent with the company principles and which is not. It provides a frame of reference for all key decisions, from hiring to product.
  • Writing a principles document is a great way to have a meaningful discussion between founders about the kind of company you want to build. It’s also a great way to weed out potential founders who are not a fit before you commit your savings or millions of dollars in VC funding.
  • It gives staff clarity on how you expect them to work and what you value.
  • Sharing company principles with potential hires is a great way to give them a window on how you work and what you value.

The First Three Principles

Below are the first three items in our principles document, along with an explanation for each.

1. There can be no success without effective communication.

1.1 Always use the most effective method first.

1.1.2 If you need to communicate with a team member you should (in order): speak to them face-to-face, call them, use instant messaging. Email as a last resort, and only if the others are not an option.

1.1.3 If your request is not urgent, and the person you need to speak to is in deep concentration, consider using instant messaging.

Teams that cooperate effectively will always outperform teams of individual performers. This is true in everything from sports, to warfare, to software development. Communication is key at Mighty Bear and we encourage people to use the most effective communication methods first.

The exception to this rule is when someone is busy and the request doesn’t require an immediate response. In this instance we encourage people to use a method of communication which doesn’t break the other person’s flow (especially important when dealing with programmers or anyone dealing with numbers).

2. Be “radically transparent” when giving feedback. Don’t shield people from the truth.

2.1 All feedback should be given with the objective of improving the recipient’s chances of success.

2.1.1 If the recipient succeeds, then we all have a greater chance of succeeding

2.2 Be to the point, don’t hide information.

2.2.1 If you think someone is wrong, tell them respectfully why. Be specific. Give examples and explain the rationale.

2.2.2 Don’t allow mistakes to fester for the sake of protecting people’s egos. This only makes things worse for everyone in the long run.

2.2.3 Don’t waste time with trying to qualify or massage feedback. Speak plainly and save everyone’s time.

We’re a small team and we can’t afford to not correct mistakes or behaviours that are harming the team. We believe that the best way to help people is not by trying to protect their feelings, but by being honest with them and trying to help. We tell them what needs to be corrected in a respectful but direct way, this saves everyone’s time and ensures that there are fewer misunderstandings.

2.1.3 Don’t wait to give feedback. If you observe something that needs to be addressed then do it as soon as you have the possibility to have a private discussion. If the discussion is likely to be emotionally charged then give yourself the time required to think through the problem and give the feedback calmly.

To be effective, feedback needs to be timely. The event will be fresh in everyone’s minds and there won’t be misalignment around who did what (which you will get if you refer to an incident several weeks later). If the person giving the feedback is feeling emotionally charged, we encourage them to wait a day or two until they can talk about the event calmly and constructively.

2.2 Everyone has a different level of tolerance for directness. Be empathetic and don’t stray into rudeness.

Basically, don’t be a dick and consider the person you’re giving feedback to.

3. Most people are poor at listening. Teams which don’t listen to each other always fail.

3.1 When someone is giving you feedback, embrace it. They’re doing you a favour. If you disagree and can disprove the feedback, it will strengthen your convictions and solidify your arguments. If they point out something you missed, that’s even more valuable.

3.2 When someone is giving feedback or challenging your views, it’s not the moment to be formulating your response. Clear your mind while they’re speaking, focus on what they’re saying and take it in.

Poor listeners and people who can’t accept feedback have no place at Mighty Bear. We encourage people to embrace difficult feedback and use it to develop and improve. Discussions should never be about “winning” or “losing” at Mighty Bear, they’re an opportunity to exchange thoughts and grow.

Coming Up with Your Own

It’s worth calling out that companies change over time. The things you value today may become less important tomorrow and vice-versa. As such, you should think of your company principles document as a “living document” which will change over time as you add, change, and remove principles.

Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing the rest of the document and explaining the thinking behind the principles. If you enjoyed this then please leave claps and comments below!

Company Culture as Principles Pt. 1 was originally published in Mighty Bear Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.