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New ways of working. Is it worth it? A case study

This article was originally published on Design Voices, our design blog. Find it here.                By: Natáni van Dyk, Marc Mellone, Rachel Nielsen, Zeynep Aydin and Nadine van den Belt

Let’s begin with one simple observation: we spend our days working and most of our time with our colleagues. Our daily tasks are shaping the world around us. Our work provides for our families and our organisations drive our economies. The services and products we create impact people, cities, and communities.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

We can’t do the same things and expect a different outcome


At Fjord Berlin, we are continuously iterating and experimenting, from the way we work to the design and layout of our spaces. This is part of our culture and we cannot imagine life any other way. We believe it is important to continuously question what we do and how we work. Let’s be very honest: maintaining this culture means that we have to trust each other, communicate honestly, and allow positive friction. This requires effort and vulnerability. For us, the effort is worth it, as it gives us a shared purpose and a chance to do the work that creates a world we believe in.

This is not the case for many organisations, as they continue to struggle to bring more collaboration into their work and to address issues of inequality in the workplace. One such organisation, a Regulatory Business Office in the pharmaceutical industry, partnered with us to help them reimagine the ways they were working into something more equitable and whole. Together we embarked on a project to observe and redefine their ways, using methods inspired by Frédéric LaLoux’s, “Reinventing Organisations.”

Finding inspiration for new ways of working


A great source of inspiration for developing new ways of working can be found in LaLoux’s highly influential book. LaLoux describes five different types of organisation and leadership style, two of which are especially interesting:

The ORANGE organisation, the equivalent of the twentieth-century factory, characterized by clear command and authority and the use of power, rewards, and punishments — this is how most large and traditional companies are operating nowadays. We can compare this style to how a machine operates,programmed one time to solve similar problems over and over again. It is especially useful if the desired output is clear, but it falls short when companies need to be more flexible during times of change.

According to LaLoux, a TEAL organisation is the ideal as it relies on dynamic self-management and constant evolution, where change can be initiated from all corners of the organisation. It is the equivalent of an ever-evolving living organism, steadily adjusting to any type of environment. Therefore, being TEAL has unbeatable advantages if you are looking for radical and pioneering solutions.

Seeing the elements of new ways of working


We realise that being TEAL will not work for all organisations. It is not a one size fits all solution. That is why we focus on four different levels when assessing and designing solutions for organisations:


We start by taking a look at the individuals within a company. Each personshould be enabled to self-organise and to make their own decisions rather than waiting for instruction from leadership. This autonomy also applies to how, when, and where they work.

Organisations that embrace diverse thinking and skills, as well as decentralised decision-making, are in a much better position to create products and services that resonate with customers and employees. Not only will the individual benefit from such a culture but it can also generate business value and returns.

It can be accomplished with more user-centric approaches or design-led methodologies that help democratise decision-making through co-creation and teamwork. Coaching and an authentic feedback culture are other examples of how to empower the individual in your organisation.


As we form an understanding of the diverse individuals that create an organisation, we assess how teams are built: Are they autonomous? Can they adapt quickly? Do they have the skills required to solve their challenges? Our experience has shown us that people are more committed to their responsibilities and goals if you put them in charge. Teams that can adapt quickly are more productive and produce substantially higher quality outcomes. And you should also look at how you employ the talents needed at your organisation. Most companies still focus on fixed roles when staffing a team. But to enable employee-centric, bottom-up, and skill-based assignments, it makes much more sense to put together teams based on skills. That’s why it often proves useful to apply skill-based planning, a kind of matchmaking between employees’ skills and opportunities.

Ways to enable your teams, increasing quality and productivity, include agile methodologies like Scrum, Lean, and Kanban, and the concept of Holacracy can revolutionize decision-making across a network of self-organizing teams.

In Fjord Trends 2021, Sweet teams are made of this, we unpack the impact of the millions of office workers still working at home. This new way of working comes with features and challenges, but there are many opportunities for organisations to innovate and re-imagine the employee experience.

Evolutionary purpose

Building off the newly found understanding of individuals and teams, we look next at the organisational level. Asking the right questions can support you in developing an evolutionary purpose, where the values of the individual align with the organisational purpose and vision. The purpose itself is not dictated, but rather co-created together with employees to foster ownership and commitment. They will become brand ambassadors if they believe in what the organisation is doing. This will aid in attracting and retaining the right talent.

To bring this evolutionary purpose to life, you can capitalize on intrinsic motivation: intrinsically motivated employees are committed to the solution of the broader problem the organisation has set out to solve; which is healthier and more sustainable than extrinsic motivation. Methodologies from Transition Design, Cultural Transformation and Brand Strategy can help to develop a shared purpose and a new way of working.


Using all the knowledge we have gathered, we take a look at what rituals an organisation has in place,as they are essential for human connection. Rituals come in many shapes and sizes, from large and energetic to small and intimate — we also covered rituals in our 2021 trends report. What they have in common is the ability to help employees form new relationships with one another: building trust, the foundational element of a company’s success.

Rituals and team activities are therefore extremely important if you want to build a productive team. They can take the form of “retrospectives”, where teams reflect on their experiences working together on a project or initiative, or “Demo Days”, where teams can share project outcomes, relevant topics, or passion projects, for instance. Aside from activities, the design of the workspace is especially important. If you spend four million Euros on training people in agile methodologies, you also need to consider whether they can practice this in their physical space. The environment in which you work has a significant impact on how you work; the two go hand in hand.


All these elements — the individual, the teams, the organisation, and their employed rituals are what culture is made of. It is important to acknowledge that culture is more than the sum of its parts. It cannot be created with emails, virtual meetings, and a checklist, but it has to evolve from everything anybody in your company does, at any level, on any given day. Culture cannot be ordered, it’s evolving.

Case study: How a Regulatory Business Office transformed their ways of working


To see these methodologies in action, let’s have a look at the work we did with the regulatory business department of one of our clients; one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Their team was looking for a new way to work that would transform them into an organisation that is prepared for the future.

Working together with the client, our team from Fjord aided in the adoption of new mindsets within the organisation. Following a successful integration of new ways of working, the team continues to deliver excellent and innovative results in an environment that enables employees and teams to do their work through joyful collaboration and satisfaction.

Once meeting the team, we decided to adopt the TEAL organisational paradigm, layering on Fjord’s design approach to human-centricity. Our methodologies enabled us to understand real human behaviour and the core needs of the team, resulting in a solution developed with them and for them. The story doesn’t end there — we continue to be their partners in the iterative improvement of these new ways of working.

The project included four key phases:

Qualitative research: we conducted shadowing and in-depth interviews with employees to understand the real-world experience and provide context to their working styles and behaviours. This included learning from their thoughts, beliefs, needs, pain points, motivations, behaviours, in their daily life.

Synthesis: next, we digested the qualitative data generated through the research and analysed the material for behavioural patterns and insights. We then translated these insights into personas to help communicate key user needs and behaviours.

Co-creation: we facilitated focused and energetic idea generation sessions to co-create methods and concepts for the organisation. We initiated constructive discussions and brought various ideas to the table, reaching a considerable number of conclusions. We had the client team members decide what was important to them and what they wanted to focus on.

Implementation: by clustering all the ideas from the workshops, we prioritized concepts and defined an implementation roadmap. Together with the client, we implemented the prioritised concepts based on effort and impact.

The team was inspired to transform the organisation in order to empower every single employee. They discovered they could achieve considerably more if they reduced the need for control and micromanagement, allowing them to redistribute their capabilities for greater productivity. They radically re-organised their teams; leveraging their abilities and competencies, abolishing well-established hierarchies and silos, and implementing new procedures and regulations to support their new ways of working.

What we learned


As moderators and facilitators, we provided the tools and methodologies, but in the end, our client’s team felt empowered enough to lead the way to organisational change. Through our process, we discovered a few indispensable learnings:

1. Make the effort to understand the people that work with you. To define and implement a conceptual model that fits, it is simply not enough to apply any given framework and assume the organisation will simply respond in the way intended. You have to be flexible to the different ways you can create change, that is personalized to the needs of your employees.

2. Ask the right questions. Most re-organisation projects are focused on cost reduction, which limits opportunities for real change as well as the potential for business value creation. If you want to know how best to unlock the potential of your people, you need to understand what tools they need to keep them engaged and what they need to execute their work properly.

3. Don’t expect a walk in the park. Adopting new methodologies to support a transition from outdated structures is not an easy endeavour. In the process, organisations learn that they have to communicate a lot more, and they have to collaborate and ideate together with employees from multiple divisions and silos. This is especially harder for legacy organisations that are slower to implement new programmes and initiatives, as people will need to unlearn old behaviours and be open to new mindsets and processes.

Now the answer to the question: Was it worth it?


After the project ended, the client asked employees if they are proud to be part of the team. The employees responded with how inclusive and authentic the community had become and that there is now the trust and support they need to feel valued. Ultimately, it is now a team that manages to bring their whole self to work and by doing so, they are bringing business value as well. That sounds like a worthwhile outcome to us.

Fjord Family

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