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About feedback culture and celebrating

At Fundamentals, the focus is on the group of professionals working for them in education and on client projects. The interaction of this group of professionals with each other and with their students is essential to the team. The organisation values the exchange of knowledge and developing projects together. Fundamentals provides a home base, and a hotspot for learning together. It’s a close-knit community of senior and junior professionals, clients, and other stakeholders. Who together, also take the time to celebrate successes.

Writer Mariek Hilhorst spoke with five people from the Fundamentals network about their experiences with the organisation in the past five years. In this article you can read about what Erwin, Francine, Ilya, Leonie and Ruud had to say about the Fundamentals community.


“Fundamentals is a hotspot, where different types of people in different roles and from different age groups come for personal and professional development,” Erwin Elling, a senior programme developer, explains. “I’m still learning myself. Everyone is always in the collaborative-learning mode here, even the coaches, teachers, and principals. It’s quite exceptional! You’ll sometimes run into former students who have returned in a coaching capacity. The hierarchy isn’t rigid, and there is always room for feedback on the positives and the negatives. High on exchange, low on taboos - that’s a core value of this community. As a result, people enjoy a lot of freedom and personal responsibility. They need to improvise and make ad hoc decisions. This isn’t for everyone, though, so the company culture tends to work as a filter.”

Feedback culture

“It’s unique how everyone here has a reflective mindset, they’re willing to take a think about themselves and listen to others,” Francine Groenewoud-Knüppe, a psychologist, coach, and trainer, says. “We have a feedback culture. It’s not just the students who learn from each other – so do the coaches and clients. As a senior coach, I’m still learning from the junior coaches. And Jens Gijbels, the founder of Fundamentals, is still learning from others, too. The feedback we give each other may sometimes be blunt and confrontational, but it always stems from commitment, good intentions, and integrity.”

Home base

“The Fundamentals community is a thing of beauty,” Ilya Zitter agrees. She is the senior lecturer in Learning Environments in Vocational Education at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht. “At HU, we educate designers, but after they have obtained their bachelor’s degree, they sometimes struggle to find their place in the field. At Fundamentals, they meet like-minded people and can start building a network. This often results in new businesses. In the past, newly graduated young designers were eager to work for large design agencies. These days they reflect on questions such as ‘What do I really want?’, ‘Should I start my own business?’ and ‘How do I retain my flexibility?’. It fits in with our times. They are looking to develop as designers after graduation, for instance at Fundamentals. I’m hoping for a fruitful collaboration between the HU and Fundamentals and for all parties to benefit from the interaction between the HU students and Fundamentals’ alumni, coaches, and designers. For a learning network to arise in the interface between the university and the outside world.”


“I love the sense of connection between the coaches,” Francine says, “and their connection inspires the others. Most of us are self-employed, so we want to make money, but we have a tremendous drive and will show up for unpaid hours, too. We celebrate together, and we eat en drink together. That’s why we can be direct in our feedback: because we have bonded during those events. Recently, because of the coronavirus, there were fewer get-togethers, and I have noticed the difference. Socialising in person is really important, and it has such an impact on community-building. During these events, everyone is challenged to talk to at least two or three people they don’t know yet. There’s a reason for that.”

Work hard, play hard

“The Fundamentals community is one of a kind,” according to Leonie Vlaar, a slow-fashion designer and coach. “Jens Gijbels brings together large and small companies and students. Students often have a broad outlook that is not primarily money-driven. The combination of the three is super valuable and innovative. We organise events, coaching festivals, weekend getaways, workshops, and drinks – lots of opportunities for socialising. And we need them, too, because we work hard and need the release. Work hard, play hard. It’s a close-knit team.”

Self employed professionals

“Even as a freelancer, you feel part of the Fundamentals team,” Ruud de Voijs, a creative strategist and coach, says. “That’s what Jens is very good at: creating a team spirit. As a freelancer, you usually hop from one assignment to the next, but Fundamentals keeps you involved, even when you’re not on assignment. It’s a team of self-employed professionals. And we learn a lot from each other, as coaches, designers, and students. You get to know people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and who you can call upon for your own work. Such a network is a wonderful platform.”

Text: Mariek Hilhorst

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