The Way We Work

By Lauren Anderson, Brand & Content Manager at 15Five

In December, I wrote about the power of the global startup team, describing how 15Five’s core team is globally distributed—and thriving!

We received a number of questions about the culture, logistics, and organizational structure of our successful experiment in remote work. I’d like to elaborate on some of the specific questions posed.

Why meets how

How can you align your team with the same vision and values when the people in your organization are in different parts of the world?

It starts with clarity; being really clear about why your organization exists is the anchor that will keep your remote team united. Try asking your team members to articulate the mission or purpose—the “why”—of your company; you might be surprised by the variety of answers you get.

By being clear and building on our “why,” 15Five has established core values that form the foundation of how we do business and why we show up each day. They are the 10 commandments that we all agree to honor; they imbue intense dedication in each of us and direct our progress as a company.

If your company doesn’t have a clear purpose, now is the time to develop one. You already know what product or service you are offering; the goal is to take a step back and ask how you want to change the world through what you offer. Publicize your mission on your website and clearly articulate it to every team member. That way, everyone will be aligned no matter where they are in the world.

The see-through culture

How do you build a culture of transparency when you rarely even see each other?

Part of our success hinges on drinking our own medicine. We use 15Five as a communication tool internally to facilitate a culture of trust, accountability and transparency.

Transparency is one of the values that we live every day. The accompanying vulnerability and authenticity embraced by every team member strengthens our relationships and drastically shortens the geographic distance between us.

We are always open and available to listen to feedback. This fundamental promise of open communication helps us peer within the mind and heart of each member of our team. It creates a safe place for them to share challenges, triumphs and ideas that they may not otherwise freely share.

Transparency is often too difficult to bake into an established organization that hasn’t historically valued it. One way to start to open the doors is to flip the traditional “manger gives feedback to employees” model on its head. If you’re a manger, try asking your team members for feedback on your own performance. Make sure they really feel heard; it will help you take the first step to instilling transparency at an organizational level.

There’s no I in TEAM

How do titles that reflect seniority, for example “senior” vs “junior,” impact communication and culture?

Another benefit to strong values and solid internal communication is that everyone has an equal voice. So while it’s important to have clearly defined roles for each member on the team, title and position are far less important than the substance of each person’s responsibility and how they perform. In other words, we place emphasis on contribution over seniority.

The language of “junior” vs “senior,” or “superior” vs “subordinate” has a tendency to perpetuate a culture where communication does not flow as freely. We have our sights set on transforming organizations to be more open and productive, based on a culture of feedback. Shifting the language is an important part of increasing the flow of communication, and eradicating the fear of being honest with someone who has the power to terminate your employment.

Being your own boss

When you don’t know what each person is working on, how do you hold each other accountable?

We temper our workplace equality with another deeply held value: “Hold and be held accountable.” We seek talent that has the highest degree of personal integrity, people who will keep their commitments to fulfill their duties.

Individual and group objectives must be clearly communicated and understood. Everyone has to be willing to not only call each other out but also take the heat when they drop the ball themselves.

Our weekly 15Five reports are a powerful tool for maintaining that accountability. Each person fills out a report each week on their progress and priorities, which takes no more than 15 minutes to write. Managers can then spend five minutes reviewing, offering feedback and support where needed. Important insights can be passed up so business leaders have company-wide visibility.

Ultimately, this practice helps teams maintain alignment and massively cut down on dropped balls. Why? Because what start as small issues can be resolved before they ever become consequential problems.

Tiny leaps of faith

Do you think transparency has led to openness on your team?

The other side of the transparency coin is granting trust. We equate “openness” to vulnerability which requires a high level of trust. We hire people inherently trusting them, so we don’t believe in a probationary period; trust is granted immediately.

By creating a culture of  trust and transparency, greater openness will naturally follow.  Team members freely and proactively share where they are stuck, what they don’t understand, or where they fell short on an objective. Those comments are well received and immediately acted upon with support or direction from the rest of the team.

Sure, we have conflicts come up, just like any other organization. However, because we share values of accountability, trust and transparency, we’re usually able to transform conflict into productive problem-solving. By sharing a common mission, we know we’re all on the same page every day, regardless of whether we differ on the small stuff.

On a scale of 1 to 10, what level of transparency does your company have—with 10 being wide open, vulnerable, trusting and transparent?

Lauren Anderson

Brand & Content Manager at 15Five

Lauren Anderson is the Brand & Content Manager at 15Five, a SaaS company that enables organizations to streamline communication and feedback. Hailed by Fast Company as the "15 Most Important Minutes of Your Work Week" 15Five creates an internal communication process that allows the most important information to flow seamlessly throughout an organization, to surface issues before they become problems, to celebrate wins, discover great ideas and stay tuned in to the morale of the team. Follow her on Twitter: @ideeahh.