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Connected sponsors its six houses to go for lunches, throw company-wide socials, and even compete against one another at quarterly 'disconnects.'

A book about wizards might not be the first place you’d expect to find business team-building tactics. But sometimes great ideas come from unusual places.

Remember Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and the other houses from Harry Potter? Well, here at Connected we recently introduced the Connected House System, an organization-wide practice that promotes socialization across our different disciplines. Not unlike the houses found in the novels of J.K. Rowling, the Connected Houses are made up of people from across the organization, mixing together individuals from different departments, project teams and levels of seniority.

More than a source of fun, Connected House System allows us to lay a strong cultural foundation for the rigorous teamwork required in the emerging field of product development. Building great products requires strategists, designers and engineers to come together and work collaboratively. That’s how we help our clients make progress.

How it works

Upon joining Connected, each employee is assigned to one of our six houses: Bellwoods, Kensington, Liberty, Rosedale, Riverdale and York (we based our house names on Toronto neighbourhoods).

We then sponsor those houses to go for lunches, throw company-wide socials, and even compete against one another at our quarterly “disconnects,” all in the name of getting closer as a cross-disciplinary group.

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Each Connected House has a mascot, a logo and a team captain.

Just a few weeks ago, for instance, the entire company was up in Ontario’s Algonquin Park for our biggest disconnect of the year. Since this year’s theme was the arts, each house was tasked with performing a talent show and building an art installation.

We’ve also had house-on-house scavenger hunts, trivia lunches, spelling bees and all manner of activities in between.

Benefits to our organization

  • Onboarding: Joining a new organization can be overwhelming, but with the Connected Houses, new employees are made to feel welcome from day one by making new friends, finding mentors and discovering a sense of collegiality in a group not defined by a functional silo. I had a house system in high school, too, and I remember my first-day jitters quickly fading away because I was immediately welcomed into a group of seniors. They showed me the ropes and made me feel protected.
  • Leadership: Another benefit of the house system is that assigning house captains gives promising future leaders an avenue to develop leadership skills and help champion our culture and values. Organizing off-site events, calling planning meetings and rallying the team to compete is very good training.
  • Cross-disciplinarity: Finally and most importantly, the Connected House System has allowed us to cement a thoroughly non-siloed, cross-disciplinary, integrated culture – one in which designers, engineers and strategists simply see themselves as Connectors on a mission to build great products by taking a holistic approach to product development.

Truly connected

This idea of “holistic” is worth pausing over. You know the expression, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Well, it’s important at Connected that we see ourselves, not as a software shop, not as a design agency, not even as a strategy firm, but as an integrated product development firm. Product is our “nail.”

Because ultimately, that’s what the user is buying. All the technology, all the design, all the strategy – all of it has to sit under the roof to create something that sings in the user’s hands.

And just as importantly, this integrated approach is what helps our clients make progress in their quest to build ambitious new products. Far too often, businesses trying to develop products hit major stumbling blocks, or don’t ship their products, or ship the wrong products, because they didn’t have the right people in the room working together from the beginning. Being holistic is all about overcoming those challenges to make something impactful.

So thanks for the idea, J.K. Rowling. The house system is a great organizational tool and the result is a team that’s truly stitched together.

I believe it’s one of the reasons we were chosen by The Globe and Mail as a Top Small & Medium Employer two years running and were recently selected by LinkedIn as one of the Top 25 Startups in Canada. It helps us build better.

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