Writers: Sanni Hujanen, Kamil Wojcik
This essay attempts to share part of the thinking process about of the challenges of our growing community and the possible split of Proakatemia’s community, addresses issues that we noticed. Furthermore, it argues about the possible reasons for them and solutions. An essay is a mix of intentionally strong and provoking opinions as well as research regarding the topic.
Proakatemia is 22 years old and has been slowly growing ever since. Currently with the campus in the heart of Tampere, Finlayson area, surrounded by companies and entrepreneurial mindsets. At the moment we have 10 teams and around 200 members. It’s hard to think about it because when I started to study in 2020, only an English-speaking team was allowed to be on the premises. Roughly 20 people and some dropped out. It was hard to get the idea of what that community of Proakatemia is and how does it affect us. We had no choice but to trust the process.
It didn’t take that long, and we had to spend most of our study time remotely because of the pandemic restrictions and here we are. Facing a new challenge, the much-missed community turns out, is having a problem reunite and we can blame pandemic or our generation of individuals, but the truth might be somewhere much closer. There is a human limitation where we can feel a sense of community and it’s somewhere around 100-150 people. Currently, with 200 students, we can still somehow manage, but shortly we expect to double in size, bring much more international students and implement the same team learning methods.
Many options have been discussed. Essentially, as a proud member of the management board (Jory) I can share that we would like to split the community in half creating two smaller ones while keeping them under the same umbrella. That would be possible thanks to the common “small teams” or should we call them departments? These departments would be run by students from both small communities and focus on the same issues as current “small teams”. Proakatemia’s marketing, sustainability, data collection and international relationships. Additionally, common quarterly organized events to catch up with everyone and of course one management board for the whole operation.
I personally think that’s a solid plan. Although what does current a little broken community think about this? Do we have the resilience to go through another big change? Maybe we think of it as a much bigger problem than it is, and it would not really influence our work after all people get transfers all the time and companies go on. Proakatemia as a school is run like a company. Except in a current way, too many of us think about finding a scapegoat, instead of focusing on problem-solving. When we cannot accept the situation, we start to judge it and that is the beginning of a toxic situation. Let’s go back a little and focus on what is the community and what does it even mean?
What is the meaning of community?
The need for community and connectedness is built into all humans – we have a longing for belonging. We all want to feel loved, accepted, and validated. Everyone wants someone to be cheering in their corner. To succeed, we need close communities to support us. Over millions of years, people have adapted to living in groups of a few dozen people, so the pursuit of a sense of togetherness is built into us (Harari 2018, 100).
The community has many meanings. It often refers to a neighborhood or a local area, and sometimes we might refer to an ethnic group as a community (Patridge 2018, 14%). Above all that, the community is about the sense of belonging that all humans are searching for – the need to be connected to one another and the desire to be part of something meaningful. We are wired to connect. A community is basically a group of people with the showed connections that binds them together.
According to Howard Partridge, the key to community is to be intentional about investing in others and building meaningful relationships (Patridge 2018, 14%). Humans are starving for authentic relationships so to build community, we must believe in others, see the best in them, help them to identify with their gifts and talents, recognize their accomplishments, and guide them through challenges.
The three keys to creating a true community are support, encouragement, and accountability (Patridge 2018, 16%). Support means helping others have the life they want to have and getting the help you need to have. Support could mean helping team members to reach their goals and realize their dreams. Encouragement is helping others to have the courage to do things they want to do and finding the courage yourself. Accountability is getting and giving feedback so people can become the persons they need to be. These three keys are not hard to understand, but it’s essential to learn how to apply them.
That’s why the community also requires care and leadership. Phenomenal leadership is creating a community experience that inspires the team to implement and to accomplish that, leaders need two things: meaningful, compelling vision and the ability to communicate well. (Patridge 2018, 14%.) Leaders should also value human beings as living, breathing, and feeling creations rather than a human resource.
Even though communities need leadership, the community cannot be forced. People always reach out to those who will give them information, be their allies, offer support or cheer them up. Margaret Wheatley mentions in her article “The Basic Building Blocks of Life” that often neatly drawn organizations are fictitious. The only form of organization used on this planet is the network and this is true for human organizations as well. (Wheatley 2006, 1.)
So, people find each other and form relationships because people need people – that’s how we were designed. In those relationships, new capabilities are born. But sometimes leaders ignore or are blind to these authentic relationships and other networks. They focus on rearranging the boxes of the organization without realizing that they’re ripping apart the networks of relationships people have constructed to help them perform better. Leaders or strategists don’t see further, they just blindly tear apart networks of relationships that people – employees or students – carefully wove together with time. (Wheatley 2008, 2.)
How do we create the bond and trust?
Simon Sinek in Leaders eat last argues that CEO is not a person who we often picture. Suit up deal maker who is just focusing on making money. Let it be the CEO itself or management board, these entities have much more to do than just maximize profits. A key element of a successfully run company is its culture. The culture is first envisioned by the founders and then elements of the mission including the values must be championed by the top leaders of the institution all the way down the ladder. That is the source of the trust, knowing that we are all on the same page.
Example from our own lives of working in a restaurant. We had a team of people who were dedicated to making the best dining experience possible, by providing quality food and putting in consistent effort. That way our head chef and restaurant manager who were not often around knew that we aim for the same thing. Our goal wasn’t to maximize profit, but rather focus on the food. That was all the chefs knew that we don’t need to double-check each other and focus on our own tasks. At the end that created a restaurant that is fully booked every evening and it started to bring profits in a long run. That strategy was much more effective compared to micromanagement and cost-cutting on every corner. The feeling of trust in the company reflects the final product, customer service and adds value to the customer who is willing to pay extra. Everybody wins.
Most of us start with certain credit of trust and as we go on it will strengthen unless unwanted events occur. This is how we start at Proakatemia, jump into something totally new and we are expected to trust the process. That’s possible with good leadership and a clear vision that is efficiently communicated to the members of the community. What happens if the communication is broken?
When looking at Proakatemia, who is leading us? Is it the head coach? Is it the board (Jory)? Are the small teams responsible for creating the culture? Perhaps many would say yes, but how does it show in day-to-day life? Being part of the Jory I’m deeply involved with my thinking process and try to contribute to the community, although does it really affect anything? I think we are all responsible for creating and contributing to the community. We maybe even do, but in the time of the pandemic, where everyone was separated it was perhaps hard to notice that contribution as well feeling of peer support has significantly gone down.
Perhaps communication on both ends needs to be improved, it’s not only about sending out a message, but also receiving it. A little bit like that old friend who keeps asking us out and we never join, eventually they stop.
Paragon of New Entrepreneurship was published in 2019, but what does it mean? Perhaps, we would have many answers inside the walls of Finlayson premises. That’s something that has been actively discussed in the board and the new vision and strategy are in the creation process. Although it’s almost 2022 and we might have a common agreement within Jory, but what about the community that is about to be chopped in half?
Creating the work culture – case Futurice
Tuomo Hakaoja, Head of People & Culture in Futurice, gave an interesting speech about Futurice’s work culture in Proakatemia’s Proseminar at the beginning of December. Hakaoja told us that people are the main priority in Futurice and their “People promise” is: “We empower you to become a better version of yourself and have more impact on the world.” Futurice’s values are continuous improvement, care, trust and transparency. Hakaoja told us that everyone gets a company credit card in Futurice – they automatically trust in people. But the trust is based on transparency: everyone can see who spends money on what. At Futurice people can also use part of their working time to proactively learn new stuff. They also support people’s professional development outside the projects and people can get compensated for that. (Hakaoja 2021.)
Hakaoja described the community as a big sandbox where you avoid making any rules. So basically, giving people the freedom to do and organise what they want. He also said that culture is all about the mindset. There are no shortcuts – culture is hard to build and easy to ruin. Culture is also hard to measure. Hakaoja also emphasized that people are the power and noted that clever people do clever decisions, so the community should avoid rules and embrace boundaries. (Hakaoja 2021.)
According to Hakaoja, the building blocks for success with the culture are:
- Psychological safety: come as you are, people are trusted, family-like group of people
- Finding the balance between work and fun
- Culture onboarding: clearing out the culture DNA and thinking more about what’s your identity, binding the culture in real-life stories and examples on how people are living the life
Thought about culture being a mindset is interesting. Like Hakaoja said: “Culture is hard to build and easy to ruin” – maybe that happened in Proakatemia as well? Harari writes in his book 21 lessons for the 21st century, online communities can never replace genuine communities. Proakatemia was kind of an online community for over a year – so maybe we are rushing things? Maybe it takes time to build the community and culture back again. On the other hand, we must also stop longing for the past and find the right mindset for this moment.
There are many similarities between the cultures of Futurice and Proakatemia. Futurice trusts people automatically, as does Proakatemia. Proakatemia also doesn’t have many rules, but we rely on setting boundaries – as does Futurice. But why does the Futurice community thrive and Proakatemia faces challenges with a sense of community? Is it because of the size of our community?
What could be the solution to the current situation?
To put it bluntly, the current situation is that the size of our community will double in the next few years and soon (perhaps already) we will no longer recognize each other due to a large number of people. As the number of people grows, the sense of familiarity and ownership disappears. The problem has been identified and discussed over the last couple of years among coaches.
Then there is also a global pandemic that is apparently not leaving us for a while. An emergency that has lasted for almost two years has caused trauma, the consequences of which will probably be felt for a long time to come. For a year, our community operated as an online community, which also led to people not getting to know each other properly.
However, for the first time this fall, we’ve had little glimpses of the community everyone is talking about when we’ve finally left Zoom training sessions behind us and returned to Finlayson to our premises. We have finally started weaving networks of relationships, getting to know each other. But now a shadow has fallen over to that small feeling of community: our community is being divided and the nets are being torn down. What if those people end up on the other side of the community with whom I’ve woven the strongest nets?
Wouldn’t it be enough for people to find their own small communities within our big community – like the team companies, different student departments like the team of data collection or sustainable business?
Howard Partridge talks about small groups called PODS – Power of Discovery Systems. Partridge explains that a growth POD is a small group that meets on a regular basis that helps move individuals toward true accountability and helps spread community throughout the organization. Those purpose-minded life support groups can be used for many things – to reach company goals, change habits, or develop skills. Partridge describes that PODS usually consists of seven to nine individuals who are allowed to discover what they need to do or who they need to become rather than being taught or told. When people discover something themselves, they feel a sense of ownership, which makes it more likely that they will implement it. And when they do take action, they do it with a sense of purpose. (Partridge 2018, 30%.)
Doesn’t it sound familiar? Isn’t this what the small departments (and teams) of Proakatemia do? Departments are not told exactly what they are supposed to do, but they are trusted. PODS – or our small departments – still need facilitating to be effective. Partridge emphasizes that community isn’t about small groups but about developing meaningful relationships. However, these small departments or PODS, effectively facilitated, are a powerful tool in doing so. (Partridge 2018, 30%.) The facilitation of smaller departments of Proakatemia could be enhanced to enable them to operate in the most efficient way possible.
We have found a sense of community just as we work in smaller departments: in the sustainable business team, marketing and communications team and the board of Proakatemia. The problem is that only a small percentage of students fit into these smaller departments and often the same students belong to more than one department. As a head of marketing and communications or as a head of sustainability, we belong to our own departments but also to the board of Proakatemia and the department of heads (pälet).
Partridge explains that a POD should be at least 3 people and not more than 12. With 200 students at Proakatemia, quite a few departments are needed to cover the entire community. On the other hand, your own team can also be your own department where you experience a sense of community. Perhaps learning cells could also work as a POD.
So, we already have these little departments and teams that we trust to build and create community through them. Is there still a need for a new division between the community?
Perhaps having more structure could be one element that the community would benefit from, in the multicultural environment, it’s crucial to get to know each other better and create mutual understanding. Observing the current situation, we have more of disagreeing and agreeing in our community, while much-desired dialogue is missing.
We cannot really answer what are the reasons for current crisis. Is it the pandemic itself, or remote working? It can be the individualism taking over or poor communication. Nevertheless, we want to go forward.
We can begin our journey of building a phenomenal community experience by simply finding someone to support. We also need to value our community – we cannot build something we do not value. Valuing true community is assessing our vital need for deep, trusting relationships with people of shared beliefs to help one another become all we can be (Partridge 2018, 56%). And that is the key to community: to be intentional about investing in others and building meaningful relationships. Because in the end, all of business and all of life is about relationships.
We would be more than happy to hear your thoughts on the idea of splitting Proakatemia, how would it look like and what has also caused current turbulence and provide possible solutions. Please be nice 😊 This text is intended to prove thinking and spark conversation.
Hakaoja, Tuomo. 2021. Futurice’s work culture. Seminar. 8.12.2021. Proakatemia. Tampere.
Harari, Yuval Noah. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. UK: Vintage, 2019.
Partridge, Howard. The Power of Community: How Phenomenal Leaders Inspire their Teams Wow their Customers, and Make Bigger Profits. McGraw-Hill. 2018.
Sinek, Simon. Leaders Eat Last, Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Penguin Books Ltd, 2014.
Wheatley, Margaret J, and Geoff Crinean. ‘Solving, Not Attacking, Complex Problems A Five-State Approach Based on an Ancient Practice’, n.d., 10. https://margaretwheatley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Solving-not-Attacking-Complex-Problems.pdf Read 7.12.2021.
Wheatley, Margaret ’Relationships: The Basic Building Blocks of Life’, n.d. https://margaretwheatley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Relationships-The-Basic-Building-Blocks-of-Life.pdf Read 7.12.2021.