How We Handle Internal Communication At Drift

Surprisingly, one of the most popular questions people ask us at Drift is how we handle internal communication.

And I say surprisingly because, well, internal communication isn’t exactly the most riveting topic.

But there’s a reason a lot of people ask us about it:

Internal communication is one of the few things that can impact everyone at a company.

And from Slack’s growth, to a push for increased transparency, to the fact that work can happen from anywhere today, a whole lot has changed in the workplace over the last few year’s that’s impacted internal communication.

So David and I sat down on Seeking Wisdom to share the tools and tactics we use for internal communication here at Drift, including:

  • How we use Slack (and when we use Slack vs. email)
  • How we use Confluence (our internal Wiki)
  • How we use 15Five for weekly progress reports and feedback
  • The format of our Monday Metrics all-hands meeting
  • Why we end the week with an all-hands Show & Tell meeting

And three core principles that we have at Drift that impact how we communicate with each other everyday:

  1. Limit meetings. Try hard to get whatever you’re working on done without a meeting.
  2. Show your work. Avoid the big reveal. Communicate early and often about what you’re working on.
  3. Autonomy. Teams and individuals should have full autonomy and ownership over what they’re working on.

You can subscribe to Seeking Wisdom right here on iTunes to catch each new podcast episode (and we’ve also got the video and podcast transcript below).

Podcast Transcript

– The number one question that people ask us, I think the most popular topics were when we talk about work and how we do things at Drift, right, just tactically. The number one question that we get is “How do we handle internal communication?”

– Really?

– Yeah.

– Wow, I would have never guessed.

– At least five people have written in to specifically ask about that.

– Let’s talk about that.

– Alright, so I have a whole outline of things I want to go through, we’ll talk about how we do it here, but I want to ask you this question, why do you think so many people ask that? Does that say something about internal communication, that so many people want to hear that topic?

– I don’t know, when you said that I was thinking, is it because I’m always railing against process and consensus?

– Maybe, that might be it. Yeah, you’re like, “No meetings, no dates, no roadmaps.” How the hell do they get anything done?

– They’re just like, “How the hell does this work? “What is this guy talking about?”

– I don’t know, I just feel like it’s because so many people have, they… We talk about this in the interview process too. I said to somebody recently, all the questions they were pushing back on us during the interview process, I said, “Somebody has obviously scarred you before.”

– It was all just like, how do you manage this? And it was all internal politics-type stuff.

– Yep, don’t have that, that’s how.

– Alright, so let’s do this. So before we go on to tactics, if somebody asked you “How do we handle internal communication at Drift?” What would you talk about our guardrails are, kinda like what’s our process? Or what’s the process you want us to have as a company?

– Sure, so I’d say the guardrails are push as much communication to be one on one as possible, so ideally face to face if you can. Right, that’s the best. You can’t always do that, and so, yes, you can do that without having meetings, and we do that by sitting closely to each other in terms of functional areas, so have as much of that as possible. We can get into tactics of when do we use email, and when do we use chat, and when do we use whatever tool there is out there but we try to have as much communication to happen in one on one, and the reason for that is we wanna reduce the chance of misinterpretation and when you use chat, you use something like Slack, we use email, or you use something else that’s hard to figure out someone’s tone, it’s hard to figure out what they actually mean, and so we have the advantage of actually being in an office together, so let’s move as much of that to be in person.

– And this is something you’ve mentioned a bunch, a couple times on this podcast and to me personally, a lot of the problems you’ve seen at companies in the past have simply come because somebody needed to go talk to Amy, what’s up Amy, and they didn’t actually roll their chair over to go talk to Amy, right, they said “Oh, I wrote a wiki post,” or “I just wrote this thing, and I mentioned Amy in it.” It always seems to come down to did you actually go over there and cut through all the BS and have this conversation.

– Yeah, I think people are scared to have one-on-one conversations. I’m not sure why, but they’re scared and they think, either they use the excuse of that it doesn’t scale, so it’s not a scalable process, or they just err towards writing something, sending an email, never following up. So there’s no follow-up, we just send these things out there and hope that someone else is on the other end picking them up.

– OK, so given that, and before we get into the tactics, how would you give us a grade, honestly.

– Internally? Communication?

– Internal communication.

– C.

– C?

– Yeah.

– Have you ran a company before this, or done other things where it’s been higher than a C?

– No, I think we’re average down to C because there’s always room for improvement and so we’re constantly, it’s peaks and valley, we’ll hit As at some point, and we go back to Cs and we need to get to the next phase. So I’d say we’re a C. Have I seen communication better? In certain times and places, but not overall. It’s always a C.

– People are always people.

– Yeah, it’s always a C, so we’re always fighting inertia, and even if we get to an A, and then something happens and then we kinda go back to old patterns, and we need to fight our way back.

– Alright, so let’s go through each one, and I just made a list of a bunch of different things that we do. As far as meetings, we have a culture of we don’t have meetings.

– Yep.

– No meetings.

– But there are meetings.

– But there are meetings. And so don’t take this complete opposite way and say we don’t have meetings. We actually bookend, so one of the things that we do is we bookend the week with meetings.

– What meetings?

– They’re very short. So Monday, 11:00 a.m., the whole team gathers around and we do a ten-minute metrics meeting.

– Yep.

– Where Will takes us through the key metrics of our business, we ask questions, and also each team shares what their big focus is for the week, and I think that’s been a great meeting for us just to get everybody on the same page.

– And Will is a guy on our team who runs ops for us and owns all the metrics and makes this place stick together.

– Yeah, and so having him run that meeting is great because he can go to each team Monday morning and say, you know, he’ll come to Marketing and he’ll say, “Hey, what’s your team’s three things for the week? “This product team, what’s your three things for the week?” And he arranges that. But also I think, goes back to what we’re saying earlier, it also brings everybody together and puts everything on the agenda for the week, right, it’s not meant to be a line-by-line tactical list of stuff, but it’s like here’s what we’re working on this week, and then this is the chance where if that doesn’t align with some other team or this isn’t right you have to speak up. Versus letting that go. So we do that on Mondays, and then Friday, we do end-of-the-week thing, we bookend it with show and tell.

– We do that at 4:00 p.m. on Fridays.

– 4:00 p.m. on Fridays.

– And we bring the team together, and it’s called show and tell. And it’s pretty popular, right, we sit back, people have beer, have whatever, and each person goes around and kind of shows what they actually did that week. Especially impactful for, of course, creative people like Amy and our other designers and our engineers.

– Yeah. Where did this start, is this something you did before?

– Yeah, we did show and tell. We did it on a monthly basis at HubSpot, and so we did that as a product team each month, invited the whole company, and the product team did that. Very different method, we’re running at a much faster cadence and so we do it for everyone in the team and we do it weekly.

– Did you have rules around that?

– Yeah, we have lots of rules.

– Like what?

– Very different.

– Today we don’t have a ton of rules.

– We don’t have a ton of rules.

– Just show what you’re working on.

– Yeah, as we grew, and remember we always talk about stages and so we were at a very different stage and we cared about like, because we were communicating with people outside of the product team, we had to be sure to have rules that said, hey, we’re only gonna show things that are actually being used by customers, even if it’s a small subset of customers.

– Because you didn’t want a sales rep.

– Running off and…

– Another person’s company, hiding in the back and being like, “I’m gonna go sell that.”

– Gonna go sell that. Not that sales ever over sells or over promises anything.

– Oh, not that they wouldn’t go find the engineer who built it after the meeting and be like, “Yo, tell me more about that.”

– Exactly, hook me up, drug deal. And so we had rules like that, we had rules for how long someone could be up there, we did it by team, we did rotations, we had lots and lots and lots of different rules to make it a well-produced event and very different than our Friday show and tell, which is more laid back and everyone just goes around kind of round robin.

– Yeah, but I think they serve different purposes, different companies.

– Totally.

– You know the HubSpot example, that’s more like an event. And it was an event.

– It was an event.

– And that was the right word.

– Ice cream, and tacos, and all that kinda stuff. It was a big event.

– Yeah, here I think it’s just a way to keep the team close, even though we’ve grown to almost 30 people now.

– We’re over 30 people.

– Yeah, we’re over 30 people. We just keep it tight and we say, we used to, six months ago we could each go around and we could each talk for ten minutes and talk about the week, and now it’s like you gotta pick your one or two things. But I think it’s cool, because you don’t see everybody. You don’t always know what everybody’s working on. Sit next to like T-Run, one of our engineers, I used to sit next to him all the time, talk to him all the time, don’t talk to him as much as we’ve continued to grow, but it’s cool because then on Friday I see, oh, he built this new thing, here’s how it works. So it keeps everybody on the same page, which is awesome.

– Exactly, so we bookend with those two meetings. Then what other meetings do we have?

– Well, in between we don’t really have any formal meetings, but you recently, I’ve been noticing you’ve been on this little charge to kill meetings.

– Yes, because they crop up.

– Yeah, I don’t mean kill meetings as like, we’re never having meetings. This isn’t like no roadmap, no dateline, but you-

– Kill meetings that just pop up.

– Yeah, you’ve been noticing that as we grow, more people have a tendency to wanna meet, and your thing is like, can you hash that out without having a meeting. And you also have given the company a free pass, if you’re in a meeting, actually you tell this. If you’re in a meeting and it’s not, just leave.

– Just leave. So if you’re in a meeting and you don’t need to be in that meeting, you should feel free to leave that meeting and go back to what you’re doing. There’s no need to feel guilted into going into a meeting. The reason we’re doing this is we’re trying to fight inertia, we try to fight the natural thing that happens which is that meetings start to proliferate, just like my waistline proliferates, I need to fight it.

– Come on man, the 32 goal is happening.

– It’s happening, it’s happening.

– You can’t have that attitude like that.

– But I’m fighting it, I’m fighting it.

– Yeah, you’re fighting it, it’s inertia. That’s why you eat all those plants.

– That’s right, plant based, hashtag plant based.

– OK, so you’re trying to fight meetings. The other couple things that I wrote down, one tool that I love just personally for our team and I think you’re a fan of it too is 15Five. Maybe explain 15Five for people that aren’t using it.

– 15Five is… I actually heard the story of how it came about, I’ve known the founder David for a long time now. We used it for years now, that tool, but his co-founder was at a dinner with us in San Francisco.

– Yeah, Shane, what’s up Shane.

– What’s up Shane. And he said, the whole story is it’s a thing that came from the founder of Patagonia, who we all admire a lot. I can’t say his name.

– That’s a soft spot. That’s a soft spot for you, too.

– Exactly, I’ve read his book a million times, but I don’t know if I can pronounce his name, which is Yvon Chouinard, you know I cannot pronounce it. But anyway, he had this thing where he would disappear, he’s known for not actually being at Patagonia and hiking and doing all these crazy things, so he would have this thing called 15Five, so like five bullet points, 15 minutes a week. It’d be like a summary that they would come up with, what every team was working on, every department was working on, and that’s how he kept in track, in touch with the company. And so 15Five as a company took that premise and built software around it.

– Yeah, so everybody on a team, basically all the 15Fives roll up to a manager, and then everybody on the team that week gets a reminder Friday morning say hey, fill out your 15Five. You go through it and you mark down how you’re feeling on a scale of zero to five, you fill out-

– Just five questions. Fifteen minutes.

– Things you accomplished that week, feedback for other people, and you can give other people high fives and everything.

– Why do you like it?

– I like it because similar to the way that show and tell bookends the week, filling out my 15Five is like a way to end the week, kinda just ceremoniously. The problem is I’m super type A so I don’t even get to enjoy the satisfaction of filling it out, cause the second I fill it out I’m like, oh, now I gotta make my list for next week, what are the things I’m gonna do next week. But I like it, and it also just, for the marketing team, for the people on my team, for example, I like it because we have our one on ones, which we’ll talk about in one second, but 15Five is just like, you can express a little more feedback or go in depth, you might not always, you know, as much as you want people to share things with you face to face in person, sometimes there’s just gonna be things that they’re just gonna write down and it’s gonna come in a different form, so one of the 15Five questions is like any things you’re struggling with, and that’s been a great opportunity for people to share feedback, and then we can be like, what happens all the time, like Amy’s sitting right here is like, Amy might say something, hey I have this suggestion, and it always ends up being like, okay, great, let’s talk about this in our one on one on Monday. So it leads to that. Which leads to one on ones. So we don’t have a culture of meetings but you’re a big advocate of one on one meetings.

– Yeah, and so that every member of the team has a one on one meeting, which ideally they’re setting the agenda for, and that those happen either weekly or biweekly for each person so that they make sure that they’re in sync.

– Yeah, and I think the big thing is that that meeting is for the person, it’s not the manager’s meeting. I think that is, this is something that we try to push and we talked a lot about, it’s not the meeting to show up and be like, so, what do you want to talk about?

– Yep, that’s a fail.

– If there’s nothing to talk about, don’t have the meeting. Cancel the meeting, you don’t have to have it every week.

– Yep.

– Okay, the last two tools before we wrap this one up, Slack, obviously, which we use daily. I don’t think we need to go into how we use Slack. It’s obvious.

– You know, one funny thing, I was reading an article this morning which was how to deal with Slack overload, it’s funny.

– I tweeted something this weekend, I was in Vermont and I had bad internet and so I was on the computer, and I got a ton of writing done because I didn’t have Slack.

– Exactly, so like email overload, the solution was supposed to be Slack.

– We’re back.

– We’re back. Slack overload.

– It’s crazy, it’s crazy. I think it’s just is discipline. You don’t have to respond to everything.

– Yep.

– Email is interesting to me, though. I think email is having a comeback. I’m trying to push email back.

– DG has an agenda, bring email back. I wrote in a wiki post, just hashtag bring email back. Because I think there’s things that like, because everything is real time today, we want, hey David, here’s this thing, here’s my feedback, check it out.

– Here’s this link, check out this link.

– That works for a lot of things, here’s a link to this thing, you might find it interesting, check it out. But if I need your feedback on something, I know you now are like, the way to get your feedback on that isn’t to send you a Slack message in the middle of the day and be like, here’s this thing, I need your feedback. I might send you a Slack message saying, hey, FYI, I just emailed you this thing. I put it in your inbox.

– That’s how to tell me to actually read my email. Since I don’t read my email.

– There’s a lot of stuff in there, I’ve seen it.

– I’ve seen it.

– But yeah, just trying to push people to rely on email more for things that aren’t real time. Not everything needs to be real time, and it’s harder to give longer, in-depth, thoughtful feedback on something via Slack, one off in the middle of the day.

– Totally, I think if it’s like an FYI, or if it’s something that people need to sleep on or ponder on, those things should be outside of Slack. Those things should be in email so that we can spend time on it and let’s declutter Slack.

– Declutter Slack, that’s where we’re at.

– Yeah, we’re overloaded.

– Alright, so let’s leave people with a couple takeaways. It’s not really the tactics, but it’s basically like we are building a culture around three pillars, and that’s no meetings, transparency, and showing your work. We didn’t talk about showing your work.

– I love that, three pillars, the power of threes.

– Talk about show your work for a sec before we wrap up though.

– Sure, show your work is one of our values. We try to push everyone from day one and continuously to do exactly that, which is show your work, right? Which means it’s kind of our version of shipping, which is more applicable to everyone else.

– Do you think that having show your work as a value, though, doesn’t that impact from top down to internal communication?

– Yeah, absolutely. So you need to show your work and so we try to err towards instead of perfecting something off in a corner, show your work or show the progress as you’re going along in that work, because there you can have things that happen, especially if you communicate with people one on one, where you might have suggestions, people might have suggestions for what you’re doing, have ways to improve it or might even point out, like hey we did something just like that that you may have not seen, and here it is, check it out and so there’s more opportunity to collaborate and to work together as we show our work.

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