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Form follows function – New Work and new rooms for new ideas at Seminaris Hotels

May 5, 2021

Transformation requires courage, openness and strong partners. As the “Berlin Team”, we accompany companies on the path of change towards a modern culture and leadership as well as agile organizational structures. In doing so, it plays a not insignificant role where exactly the transformation is thought through, planned and created. We have been working on the topic of new work and agile transformation since 2009. The very first meeting on this topic took place at the then freshly opened Seminaris CampusHotel Berlin. In the meantime, Seminaris itself has initiated a comprehensive change process: The conference hotels not only offer premises that are optimally tailored to working with agile methods, but they are also transforming themselves. Oliver and Susanne Grätsch from Berliner Team spoke with Jochen Swoboda, Director of Operations at Seminaris Hotels, about this transformation process.

To think differently, you need other spaces

To think differently, you need other spaces”When I arrived at Seminaris about two years ago, we were a very traditional hotel chain that hosted events such as seminars and conferences,” Jochen Swoboda tells us. “This classic business is changing. New meeting formats are popping up, and there are new demands from organizers and participants.” Swoboda noticed that many companies in the transformation process hardly ever go to hotels for appropriate workshops and meetings. They tend to opt for coworking spaces or hubs. Swoboda thinks that makes sense: “Employees who are supposed to think differently need spaces that are different for that,” he explains. “The meeting rooms that many hotels have set up are no longer sufficient for this,” he says. “If then in the break in the restaurant nevertheless again the preppy waiter with the napkin on the arm stands…for most companies this classical hotel world is simply too conservative.” For Swoboda, it’s clear: “At Seminaris, we didn’t just want to change the meeting rooms – and the premises as a whole – but also transform our own organization and ways of working.”

Happy about wrong decisions

Swoboda’s start at Seminaris was the beginning of a development with many exciting experiences – and some stumbling blocks. “We wanted to quickly get our employees to make their own decisions, in other words, give them the freedom to react to unforeseen things on their own,” Swoboda recounts. “This process continues to this day – and it’s really hard to implement.” That’s because, he says, the fear of making the wrong decisions and suffering negative consequences was initially great. “One of the most important insights in this transformation process is: trust is the basis for everything.” This trust comes from experience, he says: “I’m always happy when employees make a wrong decision. Because as management, you can then show them that their heads won’t be ripped off right away – and real transformation learns and grows from such experiences. Managers should enable their teams to have these experiences and thus promote a learning process. “If they experience this again and again, trust develops,” says Swoboda.

A new mindset? That can also take five years

“The most important success formula for transformation is to really involve the people in the company in the developments and the process,” says Oliver Grätsch from the Berlin team. “Employees need to understand why these developments are happening, what they mean for themselves and what benefits they can derive from them.” After all, not every employee is motivated to do so. According to Jochen Swoboda, even after two years of transformation, there are still employees at Seminaris who are hesitant. Others, however, are actively shaping the transformation and also feel very comfortable doing so. Swoboda therefore also sees his own role as a manager in really looking after each and every person in the team individually and understanding his or her needs. “The attitude, the mindset of everyone in the team has to change.” Susanne Grätsch from the Berlin team confirms: “It takes time and patience. As they say, to develop a new strategy, you might only need 100 days. For the corresponding structures, a year. But the mindset and thus the basis on which people then really decide and act differently sometimes takes five years.”

Real win-win situation for company and employees

Jochen Swoboda is convinced that patience pays off: “Transformation is one of the very few opportunities to create a real win-win situation in a company. On the one hand, employees can work in such a way that they live the highest degree of satisfaction and, from this satisfaction, can display a power that then also brings optimal results for the company as a whole. Such opportunities come along rather rarely – and you should take advantage of them.” In her work as a management consultant, Susanne Grätsch also experiences that new work and agile working can fulfill people: “With our work, we try to ignite the energy in people and convey to them that modern and agile forms of work can be totally fun. When the spark is lit, a wave of enthusiasm usually really goes through the company – and then transformation becomes a completely normal, permanent process. We have often seen many small fires being lit and people suddenly starting to work on their own, coming up with great ideas and then implementing them with enthusiasm. This also gives employees the much-sung about “purpose” in their jobs.

A casual, relaxed atmosphere brings better results

Seminaris has been an important event partner for Berliner Team for a decade. Susanne Grätsch reports that she has also noticed the structural and design changes in the conference hotels as a customer: “The atmosphere in the Seminaris hotels has changed: It’s more relaxed and easy-going, and there’s also a lot of laughter. You notice that everyone in the team gets along well and has fun. People are on first-name terms, which I find very pleasant. Before, of course, it was also nice and professional, but it was actually much stiffer. Today, I really have the feeling that Seminaris understands what requirements we as an agency and consultant have for the ideal venue if we want to tackle agile transformation with our customers there.”

More personal, warmer atmosphere in the team, with customers and with guests

In addition to the mindset, the design of the Seminaris Hotels has also changed. The rooms in which meetings and workshops take place at Seminaris offer everything that New Work needs: In addition to an inspiring design, modern technical equipment and tools such as writable walls, it is above all flexible furniture. Oliver Grätsch considers this to be a very important detail: “If companies set up a foosball table, that doesn’t mean their inner culture changes. The two have to go together.” That something has to happen is clear, he says – the younger generation of employees expects it as a matter of course: “The millennials who are now entering companies are simply used to working in flexible, agile and creative contexts.” They can also use it to inspire the older employees in the company: “They see that agile transformation creates a more personal, warmer atmosphere – and that more people are pulling in the same direction as a result.”

The entire set-up of the collaboration must change

Everyone in the company has to change. This is especially true for managers. “What points are you being asked about?” is how Jochen Swoboda addresses Oliver and Susanne Grätsch: “Are companies aware of what their managers need to learn?” Susanne Grätsch says she is suspicious when someone asks for training for managers: “Because it is usually not enough for a manager to learn something new. Usually, the entire setup has to change.” This could well mean that in the future there will no longer be any managers at all in the classic sense. “That’s also the biggest fear that many division managers or even team leaders have, at least subconsciously: that they will suddenly lose their personal power and importance.” Grätsch believes that it is only possible to transform an overall system: “Leadership and the team therefore remain together, which is not at all self-evident. And both develop a new form of collaboration together.”

Setting up teams differently – new forms of organization

A good approach is also to check whether teams need to be set up differently – more diversely or across several departments. “Changes are then easier because new structures demand them,” says Susanne Grätsch. Oliver Grätsch is convinced that a look at the entire system reveals new possibilities: “We also encourage our clients to ask their own customers what leadership and decision-making culture they expect from a service provider so that they are happy to remain a customer. That’s a completely different perspective in the sense of co-creation. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable to include customers in the work on a management model. At the time, people thought it couldn’t be done.” But for Oliver Grätsch, one thing is certain: “Yes, you can! And today, this approach is almost state of the art.”

Personally vetted consultant network and agile coaches

Jochen Swoboda is also happy to share his experience of transformation with other companies. “In a call, we can discuss the individual challenges. I can then recommend methods and formats, for example, as well as suitable trainers, moderators or keynote speakers from the Seminaris pool of Agile Coaches,” he explains. It is important to him that he has already worked personally with all the contacts in this network. Because: “Many come around the corner with New Work – but not all of them can really do it.” Anyone who then plans an event at Seminaris in the coming months can not only rely on the consultant network, New Work know-how, modern meeting rooms and a comprehensive hygiene concept, but also gets the necessary flexibility: “We can assign an alternative date for every date right from the start: That creates the flexibility we all need in these times.”

Productivity with real results instead of playful pastime

With its own agility, learned and lived over several years, and the agile transformation of Seminaris itself, the company is coming through the Corona crisis well. “We have shown just in the past twelve months that we are running very stable even in these times of crisis,” says Swoboda. “The pandemic is a huge disaster for the hotel industry and for seminar organizers in the MICE sector. But considering the nature and size of this crisis, Seminaris is coming through very well.”

He added that this also shows that tools of the trade such as Lego© bricks, which are used at Seminaris for new-work formats, among other things, are not a gimmick – and that they are used sensibly here. “When you look into our rooms, you might think at first glance that we’re just hanging out there all day. But anyone who has experienced a New Work workshop there and sees how much output can be generated thinks differently.”

Transformation process also possible virtually

Can all this also be done virtually? Susanne and Oliver Grätsch draw the line here at anything that is emotionally charged – and “there are a lot of emotions involved in transformation.” In their experience, meetings in which things are primarily coordinated work very well as pure video conferences. “But especially when a team we accompany is newly meeting or in very challenging situations, there is probably not enough contact and exchange via screen,” says Oliver Grätsch. “Successful transformation is based on trust and personal exchange. This is where meeting in real life is critically important, especially at the beginning of a process. “Not everything is possible virtually – but a surprising amount is possible. As soon as the most important steps have been decided, the next stage goals are clear and a team is already on its way, a great deal can be achieved with virtual meetings. This harmonizes well with New Work and agile transformation and work processes, is part of it. Grätsch concludes: “Above all, one thing is important: New Work is unstoppably on the rise. There is no point in resisting this wave. You have to take it and ride it to success.”

„With our work we try to ignite the energy in people.“

Susanne Grätsch, berliner team GbR

„Employees need to understand why these developments are happening, what they mean for themselves, and what benefits they can derive from them.“

Oliver Grätsch, berliner team GbR

„Employees who are supposed to think differently need premises that are different.“

„We wanted not only to change spaces, but also to transform ourselves.“

Jochen Swoboda, Seminaris Hotels
Juliane Gringer


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