By Ben Kamens
You know those super-frustrating movie scenes where the entire plotline is driven by some sort of completely avoidable communication failure?
Where if the two characters WOULD JUST FRIGGIN’ TALK TO EACH OTHER, the whole shebang could’ve been avoided? And you, you poor shmuck in the audience, just have to sit there and watch the author jump through all sorts of hoops to justify why these two otherwise-humanesque characters seem to be woefully incapable of talking like humans?
The “communication failure” trope seems super contrived when I’m watching a movie. But when playing my role as part of a growing company, I’m part of an intricate system that’s constantly creating communication failures just as epic and just as avoidable.
Growing, changing companies are breeding grounds for communication failures, no matter how thoughtful and brilliant and well-spoken every single employee is. Sad!
One of the ways to innoculate your company against such a painful reality is by building a team that doesn’t require perfect communication to succeed.
That’s how a lot of “company values” documents get started: with a desire to give every single person the context they need such that without perfect communication, one can make decisions in stride with the rest. By establishing a few key cultural messages that can be repeated — as new hires join, as processes change, as teams rearrange, as priorities shift — you can create a team that gets stronger while communication keeps getting harder.
Our principles, shared with you
Our engineering team is growing, communication is getting harder, and it’s important that every single person wields a few key principles that can be used to make decisions in the face of ambiguity.
So we wrote ours down and are now sharing ’em with you. You’re free to use this doc however you want — remix it, disagree with it, print it out and fold it into boat.
In writing this we were inspired by Gusto’s version. If you read ’em, notice that they’re meaningful in that they take guts and inflict pain. Gusto’s “we’re here to help” value is particularly gutsy in today’s Silicon Valley culture.
It’s certainly taken guts to stick with Khan Academy’s “shipping beats perfection” and “anybody can fix anything” values. It’s also been hugely valuable.
I’m proud whenever I see our principles help somebody move forward in the face of ambiguity. That’s exactly the point — empower people to get going without requiring perfect communication. We’re gonna need more and more of that strength as we grow.