Small Business

Building A Team · Foolscap Studio

Author Stephen R. Covey famously suggested that business owners should, ‘always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers’. Yet in our race to build a sustainable and profitable business, we can overlook the need to source, mentor and continuously engage with our staff.

For this month’s small business column, we spoke with Adele Winteridge, founder of award-winning Melbourne design firm Foolscap Studio, about balancing people, purpose and profit.

Fiona Killackey

The team at  Foolscap Studio. Photo – Emily Weaving.

Adele Winteridge, founder Foolscap Studio. Photo – Emily Weaving.

Studio details. Photo – Emily Weaving.

Studio details. Photo – Emily Weaving.

The team at  Foolscap Studio. Photo – Emily Weaving.

Photo – Emily Weaving.

Photo – Emily Weaving.

Fiona Killackey
23rd of March 2018

‘We always hire staff based on attitude, outlook, sensibility and diversity,’ starts Adele Winteridge, founder and director of Foolscap Studio, an independent cross-disciplinary design practice responsible for the interior architecture, industrial design, identity and cultural programming behind a host of iconic and respected global brands (think Noma, LVMH, Dentsu, St Ali, Chandon and Clemenger BBDO). ‘You don‘t want an office full of people who share very similar perspectives at every turn, you want a rich conversation.’

It’s this rich conversation that has led Adele and her team to win numerous design awards (including Best Installation Design (2017 Eat Drink Design Awards), Best Workplace Design (Belle Interior Design Awards 2013) and Small Bar of the Year (Time Out Sydney 2010)). Foolscap has become the go-to for local and international clients seeking to create spaces that encourage human interaction and connection.

Enabling diverse conversations is also central to the internal workplace culture Adele has crafted since launching Foolscap Studio back in 2009. ‘We have a non-hierarchical office environment, whereby everyone is encouraged to take part in the conversation and speak their mind. Staff are of course assigned projects, but they will be involved across a number of projects in order to share ideas and input.’

While many businesses tout the idea of open communication, at Foolscap Studio it’s become a reality, by creating regular processes that encourage conversation and connection. ‘We have ideas sessions over morning tea every single Monday, Wednesday and Thursday – Monday is a general catch up, Wednesday we will sometimes do a walking chat out or have coffee and alternate between baked treats and fruit delivered to the studio,’ says Adele. ‘Fridays we will have staff members team up and do a presentation to the group – we currently have ongoing research into various sectors, and these interactions up-skill the entire Foolscap Studio team.’

The team also catch up once a week to work on their “travel guide”, an internal procedures manual that’s kept alive and is constantly evolving through staff input. ‘We catch up once a week to stay on top of practical office procedures and protocol… but [the travel guide] also talks to the culture and approach that we hold high. It’s not a boring document that sits on a shelf, it is always evolving.’

On the cusp of celebrating a decade in business, Adele admits processes and people management haven’t always been smooth sailing. ‘Finding the right staff for the job is really tricky, we spend a lot of time trying to communicate who we are, so that when we need someone new they already know deep down if they are a fit. It’s important to make sure you understand the role and the responsibilities really well before advertising for the position. Make sure the person is the right fit for the job, but also for the greater team, for the clients you work with and your style. Above all try to ensure they have a great attitude.’ Even with the greatest planning in the world, sometimes people need different levels of managing or, in cases, they just don’t work out. ‘Being a good manager is challenging; I have had to learn how to work with different personalities and work styles,’ admits Adele. ‘I find as a designer we have honed our communication with our clients, however within our own studio great communication can be harder to achieve.’

In addition to taking on lessons learned from previous roles working at larger practices, and teaching design students, Adele has sought out advice from experts in HR and business to help her source and retain good staff.  ‘It sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to get caught up in the immediacy of running a business, this is something I continually work on’ the designer admits. ‘I have had a business coach/mentor for some time and we work through HR issues and complexities together. I also have an accountant, bookkeeper, lawyer and practice manager whom I work with to make sure we are on top of contracts, reviews, new business and recruiting. I firmly believe in getting the right people for the task and not trying to do everything yourself. It is liberating once this becomes possible.’

Most of all, says Adele, creating engaged staff comes down to respecting people and their skill set, being open to hearing (and implementing) their ideas, and understanding that attitude can often be the deciding factor between a business failing or flourishing. ‘For me, someone with the right attitude will succeed over someone who has the (mainly) technical abilities; these skills can be taught and learned but attitude is a little harder.’

Read more about Adele and her team at Foolscap Studio via their website and follow their latest news via Instagram.

Photo – Emily Weaving.

Photo – Emily Weaving.

The team at  Foolscap Studio. Photo – Emily Weaving.


1. Figure out the gaps

When you’re building a business it’s tempting to hire people that are just like you, but for a business to scale there needs to be diversity. Before recruiting anyone, spend time making a list of all the skills currently within your business (even if it’s just your own as a solo operator) and the outputs your business delivers on. Next, review the diversity existing within your team – does it reflect your business values? Now, review the gaps. Do you need someone who understands digital advertising in order to scale leads to the website? Do you need someone with international experience to elevate your own understanding of global trends in, say, eCommerce? Are you always hiring only one gender or people from a similar background? By figuring out the gaps, you begin to see the skills, experiences and traits required for both your new recruit — and your business — to flourish.

2. Set clear expectations

Whether you’re hiring someone new or working with seasoned staff members, setting clear expectations is crucial. Without these, you set yourself (and staff) up for frustration. This may mean setting 30, 60 and 90-day goals for new recruits, or meeting with current staff on a fortnightly or monthly basis and helping them prioritise and map out the key objectives for the next fortnight, month or quarter. Always ask your staff for their input on this; a collaborative approach means better outcomes for all.

3. Share your vision

When people know the destination, they’re more likely to enjoy the journey. By sharing why you started the company and what you hope its legacy to be, you’re allowing people to opt-in to the story, share this with others and figure out how they contribute to the overall business goals. Invest the time in going through this with everyone who works with you and revisit it regularly with offsite strategy days, visible goals and values around the office, or even by asking staff in a monthly catch up for what they would start, stop and keep about the business to maintain its vision.

4. Check yourself

Whether you want it to or not, the mood of a business founder, CEO or MD sets the tone for the rest of the business. If you’re overly stressed around a project or client (or even something in your personal life), try not to spread that stress around your team. While it’s fine to share some elements (particularly if it’s a very open culture), look at discussing the major issues with someone who isn’t part of your staff — a mentor, business coach or fellow business owner. Your job, as a small business owner, is to engage and inspire your team to strive for success, not to feel stressed about their bosses’ mood swings or personal issues.

5. Work smarter, not harder

We all have limited time so if you find your staff regularly working overtime or completing work during the weekend, look at what’s not working. Can things be automated? Can one-hour meetings be swapped for a 10-min daily standup? Where can you and your staff save time by implementing better processes or ways of working? Always ask yourself, are you working on what’s most important (and aligns with your vision)? Books like 168 Hours and Work Smarter, Live Better, may help you figure out what’s getting in the way of an efficient and effective team.

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, a consultancy that provides information and education for starting and growing a creative small business.

Need help with your marketing? Fiona is running a full-day workshop on Marketing for Your Small Business Sunday 15th April at Oak & Monkey Puzzle in Daylesford. Buy the last remaining tickets here.

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