IBI Group, a design and technology firm, was tasked with bringing employees from at least eight different acquisitions under one umbrella as it moved its head office to midtown Toronto.
“That’s always a challenge when you’re integrating companies that were previously separate entities,” said senior HR business partner, Phillip Farinha. “This is really the first office space that everyone could call their own because previously people had been a bit of a mishmash under one roof.”
With the firm was pushing for a concept of “one IBI”, Farinha says the executive team looked to the move as an opportunity to integrate staff from different offices and merge the company cultures – ultimately, the patio challenge was born.
With patios built into each floor plate of the new office, IBI launched a competition in which teams could put forward a design for the new spaces and the winner would eventually see their creation come to life.
“One of the challenges in a building like this is that you can become siloed across your floors but came up with this really easy way for people to meet socially across different departments and different floors while also having an element of competition in there.”
In order to encourage participation, employees were allowed to put themselves forward by themselves or with a partner but IBI then assigned them to larger teams, ensuring cross-function collaboration and building ties between those who typically wouldn’t work together.
As a result, many architects and designers found themselves working alongside corporate lawyers and HR professionals for the first time.
“Never in a million years would someone in our transportation systems team have worked alongside an architect because their paths don't always cross but this facilitated that conversation and it was done really socially,” says Farinha.
The entire patio project was pushed with an underlying tone of a social connection and Farinha says bosses were sure to emphasise the initiative was meant to be “fun and light” with some friendly competition.
“It was really important for us to sell this as a social initiative because we wanted to create those personal connections,” he explains. “When you know someone on a personal level you're more apt to call them and talk to them about a business initiative, you're more apt to be involved in the company, and you're more apt to have higher engagement.”
With over 80 participants and 13 teams committed to the competition, Farinha says he has happy with the level of participation but was blown away by how much other employees got involved too.
“We had a social event were the teams presented their design concepts and over 300 employees attended,” he told HRM. “The teams acted as our media to the rest of the company, they spread the news, got other people interested and it really did have a much larger reach than we had originally even intended to.”
While the votes are still being counted, Farinha says whatever happens, the initiative has been a success all round.
“We've got fantastic designs that will be delivered for a fraction of the price, we’ve managed to bring staff together and create professional and social bonds, and we’re also going to have these amazing spaces for employees to meet and collaborate that people are far more likely to use because they’ve designed them.”
Although IBI has an advantage because it’s a design firm, Farinha says employers in all industries should look for similar opportunities if they’re keen to encourage collaboration.
“I think it's something that can be emulated from lots of different companies and you just need to pick the theme that brings people together on a social basis,” he says. “Usually that happens through sport but in this instance it happened through design and there needs to be common themes or grounds where people can feel like they're part of something a little bit bigger.”
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