Mapping Atlassian’s Open, No-Bullshit Workplace Culture
Atlassian went from being an unknown Australian tech startup in 2002 to becoming a $50 billion business.
The company’s success is partly based on developing a loyal customer base by building a best-in-class project management tool for engineering teams.
Also, Atlassian strategically expanded its offerings through smart acquisitions, such as Trello and Opsgenie.
However, Atlassian’s founders attribute the company culture to a crucial element that helped them achieve a huge success.
“From the beginning, our goal was to build a long-term company. We want to build a company that will stand the test of time. That’s why we spend a lot of time on company culture.”— Scott Farquhar
Building a strong culture has helped Atlassian achieve tremendous business success:
- Market capitalization surging to $50 billion.
- Operating income: $1.2 billion for the fiscal year 2019, up 37% from 2018
- Over 125,000 customers
- Raised $40 million for charity with the 1% pledge
This post captures the key elements of Atlassian’s workplace culture, using the Culture Design Canvas.
The sources are listed at the end of the article. A special thank you to Kelsey Castellow, Global Innovation Communications Lead at Atlassian, for her input and feedback.
Atlassian’s Culture Design Canvas: The Core
Atlassian’s purpose is “To help unleash the potential of every team.”
The power of teamwork: Atlassian believes that behind every great human achievement, there’s a team.
As they state on their website: “From medicine and space travel, to disaster response and pizza deliveries, our products help teams all over the planet advance humanity through the power of software.”
Atlassian has five core values:
Open company, no bullshit: Openness is root level for us. Information is open internally by default and sharing is a first principle. And we understand that speaking your mind requires equal parts brains (what to say), thoughtfulness (when to say it), and caring (how it’s said).
Build with heart and balance: “Measure twice, cut once.” Whether you’re building a birdhouse or a business, this is good advice. Passion and urgency infuse everything we do, alongside the wisdom to consider options fully and with care. Then we make the cut, and we get to work.
Don’t #@!%the customer: Customers are our lifeblood. Without happy customers, we’re doomed. So considering the customer perspective – collectively, not just a handful – comes first.
Play, as a team: We spend a huge amount of our time at work. So the more that time doesn’t feel like “work,” the better. We can be serious, without taking ourselves too seriously. We strive to put what’s right for the team first – whether in a meeting room or on a football pitch.
Be the change you seek: All Atlassians should have the courage and resourcefulness to spark change – to make better our products, our people, our place. Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility. Action is an independent one.
Behaviors that are rewarded or punished
The company rewards:
Philanthropy: Atlassian founders have been committed to charitable causes since the get-go. The company has contributed more than $40 million with its 1% pledge.
Atlassian was founded with a “1% model,” which means that 1% of its profits and equity are donated to charity. Employees are also given five days of paid leave each year to volunteer for non-profits.
Openness: At Atlassian, openness is core to everything the company does. Every employee can access the majority of information on their collaboration software program “Confluence.”
The entire company knew they were going public four months before Atlassian filed. People knew about the sale of their products Stride and Hipchat, to Slack four days before it happened.
The company punishes:
No salespeople: At first, this decision was simply based on cost: sales executives were too expensive. However, following their gut and powered by a popular solution, the founders decided to sell the product directly on their website.
As Cannon-Brookes once said, “We had a hunch early on that salespeople break software companies.”
No “brilliant jerks” allowed: Teamwork is the end benefit that Atlassian delivers; they apply that to the people they hire, too. They prefer to pass on a good candidate than to hire a brilliant jerk.
Atlassian’s Workplace Emotional Culture
Conversational Turn-Taking is an effective way to increase participation and make sure everyone’s voice is heard. At meetings, all participants take their turn expressing their ideas or providing feedback, one-at-a-time.
This process avoids interruptions and makes it safer for everyone to speak. The loudest voices and most senior people in the room go last. This helps prevent groupthink or people feeling intimidated.
Unlimited access to information: Everybody in the company can see what’s happening with every project. “Project Central” is a tool where engineers continually update whether a project is on track or off track, and why.
Speak your mind freely: At Atlassian, employees are encouraged to speak their minds all the time. The company wants people to behave according to one of its core values: “Open company, no bullshit.”
Atlassian’s teamwork research shows that teams which use an open workstyle are 80% more likely to report high emotional well-being, and 60% more likely to be effective and productive.
Everyone’s an insider: As I mentioned before, information that’s usually treated as confidential is public at Atlassian. Everyone knew that the company was going public long before it happened.
Rituals At Atlassian
Painted Picture: A crowdsourced exercise practiced every couple of years to imagine how the future would look.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself 10 years into the future; what do you see? Would Atlassian have delivered a TED talk? How big will our customers be and what would our product portfolio look like?
The company says that it has been able to achieve more than half of what its employees visualized.
ShipIt: What started as a hackathon has become a key ritual at Atlassian. ShipIt is a 24-hour quarterly innovation event where ad-hoc teams form to deliver a solution to a problem, or ideate on a personal project.
“It’s about the creativity. It’s all about being daring and a bit nuts, and doing it collectively. There’s nothing like a group of people doing something crazy, together.”–Judd Garratt, designer
From creating a better portal to address client issues, to improving the quality of the office bulbs, to brewing beer. ShipIt is an opportunity for people to set their creative juices free once the 24-hour countdown starts. The ultimate prize: bragging rights!
Atlassian Friends & Family Day: A company-hosted global event where every office hosts all of its employees and their families or friends. In total, it’s available to 4,000 employees.
Rocket Fuel: A day-long orientation to help acclimate new hires to the company, how Atlassian works, the culture, and more. This is followed by a 30-day well-defined education and familiarization program. For the next 30 days, people receive suggestions about what they could explore. For the final 30 days of the induction program, new staff are encouraged to design their own learning adventure.
A new type of performance review: Altassian’s revised review process focuses on the contributions employees make to their teams and company culture. Rather than focusing on personal accomplishments, performance reviews give more weight to collective behaviors.
Peer-to-peer reviews: At Atlassian, the belief is that peer reviews are an integral part of getting the whole picture of how people perform. This approach helps cut through competitiveness and fosters collaboration.
Radical Candor: Atlassian ascribes to Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” approach. The company believes that it’s possible to give direct, honest feedback without being a jerk.
Transparency: Confluence is another example of how Atlassian eats its own dog food. All information, both internal and external, is public by default –true teamwork doesn’t have room for secrecy.
Weekly manager 1-on-1s: Every week, designers and their managers get together to discuss challenges and growth opportunities. Here’s the 1:1 Template that the company uses; check it out.
The 1-on-1s aren’t just about evaluating performance, but also about strengthening working relationships.
Atlassian’s Culture Design Canvas: The Rational Culture
Open Town Halls: A weekly half-hour global all-hands meeting that offers employees a chance to engage directly with founders and top executives. 25% of the time is devoted to a Q&A which provides a space for everyone to voice concerns, showcase victories, and more.
Pre-mortems: Similar to a post-mortem, but done before the fact. This prospective type of meeting helps teams identify risks at the outset. Atlassian uses them to identify threats, opportunities, and issues in advance when they have a chance to do something.
Weekly Business Review: An hour with the whole performance marketing team to discuss problems, progress, and planning for each team.
Would you give a new hire a paid vacation before they actually join your company? That’s precisely one of the many exciting norms that Atlassian has.
Holiday before you start: In many organizations, you must wait 6 or 12 months to receive certain benefits. Why wait to show your employees that you value them?
Atlassian offers paid time off for employees to devote to fun, volunteering, and personal development. However, the company has taken trust to a new level.
Atlassian tells new hires, “You are hired, but first take a vacation.” It provides a travel voucher for a “Holiday before you start” to all new employees.
The rule sends a clear message: the company trusts every employee, regardless of their tenure.
Volunteer time-off: As part of its 1% pledge encourages employees to do volunteering work on their own or through its foundation.
20% exploration and discovery time: This could be one day per week or 20 percent of one’s work commitment. Some teams have changed this to tackle more complex problems–instead, they allocate an entire week to innovation, once a month.
Role of team leaders: They should both inspire and mentor their teams–they should amplify their people. Team leaders set the vision and direction.
Balanced rhythm and cadence: The goal is to avoid the “pigeon boss” effect; managers who promote autonomy but then get nervous because they don’t know what people are doing. Atlassian expects team leaders to find a middle-ground between laissez-faire and micromanagement.
Momentum, not perfect decisions, leads to success: Atlassian’s approach is to make sound decisions without losing momentum on a project.
Then, teams can act on them, collect feedback, and make necessary adjustments.
Visualization of decisions: Atlassian uses a framework that considers both the requirements and the solution, creating four categories: simple, complicated, complex, or chaotic. Decisions that are complicated on both the requirements and solutions fronts are the hardest – Atlassian’s teams break them down into smaller, digestible chunks.
Many Atlassian teams use the DACI decision-making framework:
- D = Driver. The person responsible for leading with stakeholders, collecting the necessary information, determining the scope of the decision, and getting to “yes” on time.
- A = Approver. The one person (yes: one!) who makes the decision. This turns the approver into an active “decision-maker” role.
- C = Contributors. Subject matter experts, or people who bring new perspectives – they have a voice, but not a vote.
- I = Informed. People whose work may be affected by the decision; and should be informed once it’s been made – no vote, no voice.
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Key Sources used for Atlassian’s Culture Design Canvas
Atlassian Website: Mission & Values
Best Examples of Company Cultures
Atlassian: How to Scale An Open Culture
The First Experience of Being Australia’s First Billonaires
Atlassian’s New Performance Review Weeds Out Brilliant Jerks
How to Make Team Decisions without Killing Momentum
How Culture Drives Atlassian’s Ambition
The Future of Work in A Distributed World
Atlassian: The Untold Story
Atlassian Has Raised $40 Million with Its 1% Pledge