If we had to name one person who knows more about what’s going on in Sangre than anyone else, that would be Tiina. Tiina has gone from managing the office to handling all of Sangre’s HR and financial management, shaping her role as she goes. In this interview, she shares her journey, what it’s like to work an HR role in a self-managing organisation, and how people and numbers fit together in one role.
When did you first join Sangre, and what was your role back then?
I joined Sangre in spring 2016, so a bit over 3 years ago. As I was reading the job post for an Office Manager position, I remember thinking that Sangre sounded like a company where I could learn a lot and potentially shape my role as I go. Little did I know back then what a rollercoaster I was getting myself into!
When I joined Sangre, the company consisted of 7 partners and one remote consultant, so I was technically the first employee. My title was Office Manager, but since Sangre was at the beginning of its journey and no one really knew how it would evolve, it wasn't really possible to have a fixed set of tasks and responsibilities. In a larger context, my role was basically to help our CEO make sure everything in the background was running smoothly so that our specialists could focus on client work.
How has your role evolved over the years, and what is it made up of now?
At first, my role involved everything from setting up the office (which was pretty much empty, except for one room where everyone was crammed with their work stations, and a meeting room with just a table and some chairs) to coordinating external accounting and payroll. As Sangre grew, we needed to hire more people. Recruitment and everything related to employment life-cycle management needed to be set up. At the same time, we also needed to get a better view of the numbers to be able to control the growth, so we started setting up financial control systems. We set up our Polish entity pretty much simultaneously, so there was a lot of work involved in that too.
Since all of this was set up very quickly from scratch, it has been a continuous effort to develop our processes to become more scalable. Now I have two great team members, Monica and Arletta, who have been a tremendous help in keeping the operations running smoothly both in Helsinki and Warsaw. Monica and Arletta are running everything so well that I've been able to get involved in strategically important projects, like setting up our new business area Sangre + ventures and further developing our operations in Warsaw.
Financials are often seen as something "hard" and HR as something "soft". In your experience, how do financials and HR go together in one role?
I think they go together pretty well. Numbers are very straightforward - something either is or it isn't - whereas HR is about people, which makes it much more complex. Being in project business, our main resources are people and our financial performance is pretty much dependent on how our people perform. This adds an extra layer when it comes to trying to predict the future in numbers. It's easier for me to adjust my forecasts since I know our people as individuals, not just resources. HR issues also reflect heavily on numbers, so there's less coordinating when one person does both.
On the other hand, it's a pretty wide range of work for one person to juggle, so at a given time my focus is a bit more on either one.
Sangre has quite a flat organisation structure, and we work in self-managing teams. We don't have a lot of managers around here. What's the role of HR in a self-managing organisation?
In a self-managing organisation, collaboration happens directly between individuals, whereas in more hierarchical companies it might happen between HR and line managers. In a self-managing organisation, we need to work on setting up ground rules for things that normally would be a line manager’s responsibility. In the end, being self-managing doesn't mean that there isn’t any leadership. Much of the work that line managers traditionally do just flows directly to individuals or to people in roles like mentors, project managers, or HR. That means there must be clear mechanisms in place for different situations.
"In a self-managing organisation, individuals need to be able to understand the impact of their work on the company's strategic goals."
What do you see as the challenges of a flat structure and self-managing teams? And how do you handle those?
One of the major challenges is making sure there are mechanisms to take care of people and make sure they get the support they need. As I said previously, individuals have a lot of responsibility for managing their work, which means that they need to be able to access tools that help them succeed in their work.
Another major challenge is keeping everyone informed. Since there are no managers to make sure everyone works on the right things, individuals need to be able to understand the impact of their work on the company's strategic goals. Everyone is different, so the challenge is communicating such a way and frequency that is understandable to everyone.
How do teams handle problems that arise? Do people come to you?
It depends on the team and the people. The longer the team has worked together, the better they are at solving conflicts on their own, since they trust and understand each other better. Some people come directly to me, and some may come to me as their last option to get the issue resolved, if they haven't been able to solve it otherwise. For me, it's extremely important to always follow through, so that people can trust that if they've come to me with a problem, they won't have to face it alone.
What role does culture play in all of this? How do you facilitate a good culture in the workplace?
Culture is everything in this. The world changes so fast, especially in technology, that organisations nowadays have to be able to change direction at a much quicker pace than before. It’s extremely problematic for our competitiveness if our culture doesn't support change. Facilitating a good culture requires very strong leadership from the management to create trust and transparency.
What are some of the biggest things that Sangre is working on right now when it comes to developing the workplace?
Our biggest focus now is improving communication and transparency. We have a project with Kakadu to make collaboration easier between our two offices and remote teams. We work with our Warsaw office on a daily basis, so it's important to enable remote collaboration as much as possible.
Of course, we also have our annual autumn kick-off event coming up, which is always a nice way to get people together and just have fun.
You do a lot of the "behind-the-scenes" work in Sangre. What's it like working an internal management role in an agency where most of your colleagues work in client projects? Do you get lonely?
It definitely requires a lot of independence, and at times I feel like I'm completely out of the loop on other things happening at Sangre. It helps that we have weekly meetings and other get-togethers like breakfasts and demos, and we have lunch together almost every day. Most of our Slack channels and meetings are open for anyone to join, which helps a lot as well. It takes a bit of extra effort to make time to get to know people and ask how they’re doing since I don't work with everyone on a daily basis.
What are the things currently inspiring and motivating you for the starting autumn?
I recently visited Tampere and noticed that they have a pretty vibrant start-up scene and great entrepreneurial spirit going on right now. We've spent a lot of time on developing Sangre + ventures and getting to know start-ups here in Helsinki, so I definitely look forward to seeing how the start-up scene in Finland is going to develop in the near future.
If you want to more about Tiina's role and working at Sangre, don't hesitate to get in touch with Tiina on Linkedin. If you want to work with us, keep an eye on our Careers page for job openings or send an open application to firstname.lastname@example.org.