Talking New Work with Goethe-Institut and IXDS

New Work: catchy-sounding buzzword? promise of salvation? or even a nightmare?

Click here for a German version of the interview!

While the topic is widely discussed, the exact definition of New Work varies. For the innovation agency IXDS, New Work is a lived and highly valued reality. For the Goethe-Institut, the globally active German cultural institute, it is a way of increasing enjoyment and cooperation in the workplace.

To coincide with the relocation of their Munich Headquarters, the Goethe-Institut wanted to introduce new working methods and culture and found a strong partner in IXDS. After the project, Tina Lierheimer and Daniela Gollob (Goethe-Institut) and Stephan Rein (IXDS) talked about visions, successes, challenges, and highlights.

The move to new premises was the catalyst for introducing a new working culture and methods. When did you realize it was time to take this step?

Goethe-Institut: For quite some time now there has been a strong desire to restructure our offices to accommodate for new needs and working methods. We also wanted to further increase cooperation across departments. The location change was therefore the perfect moment to introduce new forms of working as well.

What was behind the decision to partner with IXDS?

Goethe-Institut: IXDS is an innovation agency with a very pragmatic approach. Their work with prototypes offers us a lot of potential to apply these methods in the longer term. IXDS also practice New Work themselves.

What were your first impressions of the working arrangement at the Goethe-Institut, and the innovation possibilities within these structures?

IXDS: After the first meetings and interviews with the staff it was clear that the institute was classically hierarchically organized. Nevertheless, we immediately experienced a lot of motivation and openness to new ideas. From our point of view, the relocation was a great opportunity indeed to create changes from within, which are crucial in order to implement sustained change in a company.

Seemingly complex topics can be simplified by looking at them from another angle with your colleagues. In diverse teams you often come up with surprisingly simple solutions.

What was particularly appealing about working with the Goethe-Institut?

IXDS: The people! Their openness and the courage, and the trust placed in us from the beginning was a perfect foundation for our work. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to introduce New Work to.

What were the main results of the collaboration? Could anything be implemented yet?

Goethe-Institut: In a two-day hackathon we developed simple, quickly developed prototypes that have since been introduced to the workplace and are currently being tested. It became clear to us that New Work is above all, a mindset and attitude towards working. Together with IXDS, we developed Goethe-Institut-specific New Work principles that can be used as guidelines going forward.

IXDS: From the very beginning, we were able to work with a dedicated team of internal change agents who developed the previously mentioned concrete principles.
For example, a signaling system for personal availability in shared offices; a platform to share qualifications with colleagues; and agile, pragmatic problem-solving processes.

What advantages do these new methods offer the Goethe-Institut? How can it benefit from them?

Goethe-Institut: We see an inspired culture of innovation and more connected work as important building blocks for functioning as a modern organization in a digital world, and for fulfilling our goals as a German cultural institute.

IXDS: The most important thing is that the jointly-created environment strengthens the team’s skills. Workloads and responsibility can be shared more easily, which in turn strengthens the motivation to create individual projects and initiatives. This then benefits the organization as a whole. Another big advantage is that a New-Work-based Goethe-Institut becomes a more attractive prospect for potential employees, which should not be underestimated in the so-called "Talent War".  

What are the biggest challenges on the way to establishing a New-Work-based Goethe-Institut?

IXDS: The biggest challenge is to ensure that the will to change continues to run through the entire organization. Teams have to push for change individually, and the management also has to want it. New Work isn’t self-perpetuating, and things don't immediately get easier. As always, with more freedom comes more responsibility.

Goethe-Institut: Change will always be associated with letting go. Farewells are easier for some, and harder for others.

The biggest challenge is to ensure that the will to change continues to run through the entire organization. Teams have to push for change individually, and the management also has to want it.

What does New Work mean to you personally?

Goethe-Institut: That our work makes sense to us. That we can help shape our work and workplace together. And that we enjoy it – what we do, we do with passion.

IXDS: We have very successfully implemented New Work at IXDS. Personally, I also enjoy working in teams that assign each member their desired role. I am convinced that teams work better when all members do what they do best and pull together. This way, there is increased focus and enjoyment at work – and less friction due to politics or hierarchical back and forth.

When should a company introduce New Work principles?

IXDS: When team members, whether or not they are in a leadership position, feel frustrated by lengthy meetings or constant internal discussions, it's high time to look into New Work.

Goethe-Institut: There are various instances, for example, if you want to be an attractive and modern employer, keep up with the digital VUCA world, or become sustainable.

What do you personally value the most from the cooperation?

Goethe-Institut: Seemingly complex topics can be simplified by looking at them from another angle with your colleagues. In diverse teams you often come up with surprisingly simple solutions.

IXDS: I have learned a lot about how important it is to understand and pay attention to the needs of different interest groups. Everyone should be on board, or at least understand the vision that drives organizational change.

Was there a specific moment from working together that you particularly enjoyed?

Goethe-Institut: There were actually two moments: The hackathon, which brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm, coupled with concrete results. And the first day in the new building with the presentation of the new prototypes.

IXDS: My favorite moment was during the hackathon. When the teams developed their ideas, you could see how initial doubts turned into enthusiasm! There was an energy in the air that was just contagious.

This interview was conducted with Tina Lierheimer and Daniela Gollob (Organisational Development Officer, Goethe-Institut), and Stephan Rein (Director of Human Industries, IXDS)

The Goethe-Institut e.V. is the cultural institute of Germany and operates worldwide. It promotes knowledge of the German language abroad and fosters international cultural cooperation. It conveys a comprehensive picture of Germany by providing information about cultural, social and political life in Germany, and runs educational programs to promote intercultural dialogue and facilitate cultural participation. They strengthen the development of civil society structures and promote worldwide mobility. With a network of Goethe-Institutes, Goethe-Centres, societies, reading rooms and educational centers, the Goethe-Institute has been the first point of contact with Germany for many people for over sixty years. It is a partner for anyone who actively associates with Germany or German culture and remains politically and operationally independent.

IXDS was founded in 2006, and today is one of the leading innovation agencies in the German-speaking world. IXDS is a strategic partner for innovation processes and technology development. Clients include DB AG, BVG, Hamburger Hochbahn, BMW, Google, Allianz, BOSCH, Trumpf, SAP, Roche, Siemens, E.ON, VW, SPIE and many others. Media outlets such as WIRED, Focus and The Financial Times have repeatedly ranked IXDS among the most important innovators, new work and growth champions in Germany.

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All pictures (c) IXDS 2019