How Atlassian built an award winning culture using feedback

How great would it be if throughout your company, people are working together seamlessly. There are no silos, work is getting done and people have no problem regularly sharing feedback with one another. Sounds amazing doesn’t it?

While this sounds ideal, it actually takes a lot of work to create this environment. We decided to take a closer look at one of our customers, Atlassian, who’ve been consistently nominated best place to work in Australia, the US and Asia four years in a row, to bring you some insights on how they do it. They have a strong company culture and we’ve witnessed first-hand how they support it by regularly exchanging feedback.

Find out about the foundations of their company culture, how feedback fits in, and lessons you can apply to your own business.

How did Atlassian create and scale a thriving company culture?

It’s easy to think that company culture just happens organically, or that if you create an environment that’s fun to work in, culture will follow. Particularly when you’re starting out and don’t have any prior experience, it can be a question of trial and error until you find what sticks and creates a positive working environment. And, that’s fine. When all goes well and you’re experiencing rapid growth like Atlassian and DoorDash, there will come a point when you need to scale quickly without losing the unique culture you created. That’s where it starts to become tricky!

Although the company is 17 years old, President Jay Simons says that “The culture is the same today at 3,000 people as it was when I joined – when there were only 100 people on staff.”

The foundation of any good company culture, is a set of strong core values that everyone lives and breathes. In addition, they need to be firmly embedded into your people processes and how you operate so they’re more than just words.

Atlassian’s core values that guide everything else they do

One of Atlassian's core values is “play as a team” this is the number one driving force behind the work they do, their approach to business, and the atmosphere that pervades the workspace. It’s the first thing you see when landing on their company page.

On the science of happiness and productive teams, researcher and author Shawn Achor says, “When people work together better, every metric of potential rises for everyone involved.”

Putting teamwork first is a powerful thing as it helps create a sense of belonging, and gives employees the feeling that they are contributing to the “greater good” of the company’s overall success. The positive knock-on effects include increased productivity, higher retention rates, and attracting talent, all of which have a positive effect on the bottom line.

One of the other main values that drives their success is “Open company, no bullshit”, which has been fundamental to them being able to scale all while staying true to themselves. What has that got to do with company culture? Being able to speak your mind freely and openly is the mark of a company that has a high culture of trust and psychological safety.

The regular exchange of feedback builds trust, and ultimately creates better teamwork, bringing us full circle. As Scott Farquhar, Co-Founder and CEO says “When information flows freely, it provides everyone in the organisation with the right context to unlock their creative ideas.”

Develop your own culture of feedback

Organizations often assume performance reviews provide enough feedback for employees to develop and perform at their best. We’ve heard time and again how unsatisfactory it is for everyone involved. But this approach is evolving into something that helps people perform better in their role and grow their career, which is where exchanging regular feedback comes in.

Be it positive or constructive, feedback helps your employees receive the signals they need in order to improve. When it comes to teamwork, regularly exchanging feedback can help team members play on each other’s strengths and rally together to deliver better results.

And while feedback is often seen as top down, there are other ways of exchanging it that help people get a more well-rounded picture.

At Atlassian, they believe that “peer reviews are an integral part of getting the whole picture when it comes to employee performance. [...] When you involve your colleagues in your performance evaluation you cut through the competitiveness and elevate collaboration. This approach focuses on development, and strengthens the team.”

How to lay the foundations for a culture of feedback

There are a few key ingredients to success that we’ve seen both at Atlassian, and with our other customers.

1. Psychological safety

Before shooting off feedback right left and center, people need to be in a safe environment. One where they feel able to speak honestly and openly, where they do not fear being judged or reprimanded for doing so. For example at Atlassian, people are encouraged to share their opinions, but they also have a sense of trust in the company thanks to constant open communication.

2. Strong company values

Everything your company does should be easily related back to the core values. They should be easy to understand and embodied by everyone. For example, at Atlassian, the values are known by everyone and they live by them every day, be it in the way they work together, or how they approach customers.

3. Support it with the right tools and process

Research from Bersin by Deloitte found that the highest performing companies are much more likely to train their people on feedback, and they give them guides and tools to make it easier.

For example at Atlassian, peers are encouraged to regularly share feedback with one another via Impraise, outside of formal processes. Managers and direct reports also use lightweight check-ins to to stay on the same page with performance and development.

Depending on the platform, you can also setup a 360 review to facilitate peer to peer feedback in a structured, scalable and less time-consuming way. This allows you to move away from clunky processes such that rely heavily on email or Google docs.

When considering the right performance management platform for you, it's important to look for something that can also support real-time feedback. Allowing employees to informally give and receive feedback after every feature released, deal closed, or webinar hosted.

Interested in learning more about how to develop a culture of feedback? Download our guide on How to Evolve Your Company Culture with Feedback.

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