When the whistle blows at 10:20 a.m., everyone gets down on the floor and gives Adrian Mason 20 pushups. No, we are not at boot camp.

We are at the Atlassian Austin office on a Wednesday morning.For the past two years, Adrian has been leading his office in twice-daily workout sessions, literally creating a strong culture with every pushup. These workouts are designed to give Atlassians a chance to get up from their desks and get some exercise during what otherwise can be a sedentary day at work. Not merely just a workout, these sessions have become a distinct part of Atlassian’s corporate culture.

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Everyone wants to work at a place with a great culture. But corporate culture is a bit of a fuzzy concept. It can’t exactly be defined and written about in a how-to guide. Many assume culture just “happens.” In reality, it takes effort to create culture. And sometimes cultural traditions are driven by particularly dedicated people. But being a culture creator can be difficult, and many people with great ideas often give up before even getting started.

In thinking through how culture is created, we sat down with Adrian (known around the Austin office as Major Payne), to pick his brain about how he got the inspiration to lead these daily workouts and keep them going.
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Adrian, how did you get involved in the daily workout challenge?

Pushups and Planks, as we call it, came to the Austin office from the San Francisco office, and a couple of colleagues introduced me to the regimen when I first started. I joined in with everyone on a daily basis, and eventually they invited me to lead a session. That’s how I got started.

What exercises do you do?

We do 10 pushups followed by a 30-second plank, then mountain climbers for 20 seconds, a 30-second plank, 10 more pushups, and then a 30-second freestyle (when people can do whatever other exercises they want to do). I broke up the exercises into these segments so that people can join or rest depending on their experience level.

Was it easy to get everyone to participate? Did you face any challenges in getting people into it?

You know, I would have to say yes, it actually was easy. The fun thing about the workouts is the viral effect they have; when one person sees another coworker doing it, they jump in, too. The biggest challenge was assuring people that the sessions weren’t like a boot camp workout because that tends to scare people off. The last thing I wanted to do was to have the sessions become too intimidating that people don’t join in.

Did anybody drop out? How did you encourage people to start up again?

I wouldn’t necessarily say people dropped out, but I have had participants who’ve had to fall back due to scheduling conflicts. It doesn’t upset me as I understand that these things happen. This is a workplace after all! I always encourage them by saying, “There’s always a spot for you.” Everybody is ALWAYS welcome to join at any time.

What’s more, I maintain the mindset that if no one else shows up, I’ll continue to do it myself. Luckily, it’s never come to that as I have a great group of colleagues in the office that will even lead the sessions in my absence. It’s an amazing feeling to know that others love it enough to keep it going.

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We’ve heard that you run around the office getting people to participate. How did that start?

When we were located in a different office, my colleague, Tyler, sat in the very back. Since he wouldn’t always see me inviting people to join our sessions, he half-jokingly suggested that I run a lap around the office so that everyone would see me, which was essentially the equivalent of running a lap in a gym. I took him up on his offer and it became a tradition after that.

Tell us how you got your nickname, Major Payne. And the famous whistle?

The nickname comes from a hilarious movie about an army commander named Major Payne who trains new recruits at a prep school’s JROTC program. I’m a huge fan of the main actor in it, Damon Wayans, and the nickname was bestowed upon me during the very first stages of leading the sessions. Plus, I needed a Hipchat nickname, so it stuck.

The whistle was given to me by a colleague, Stephen, who handed me a box and told me to open it before we got started. Inside was the whistle. It was totally unexpected and I still use it today. Then, some designers created t-shirts for everyone with our workout logo on them. The latest gift I’ve gotten is a pair of custom kicks with my name on them. I wear them almost every day.

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What benefits have you seen from these daily workouts (besides the obvious physical ones!)?

I’d say it’s the camaraderie that’s developed between coworkers in the office, and between those visiting from other offices. More often than not, the majority of participants hail from different departments or sit on different floors so our workouts help people meet face-to-face. It’s not just about the exercise; it’s also about the relationships. The sessions have become a melting pot of sorts for the company.

How do you think corporate culture is created? Are there any mistaken beliefs people hold about it?

When a company has a shared vision of what culture looks like and allows anybody, no matter their position or department, to bring that vision to life, that’s how company culture is created.

I think it really depends on someone’s previous work experience. If you, and I include myself in this before I joined Atlassian, work in a place that explicitly or implicitly believes that any kind of major cultural changes could only come from the top down, people won’t be inspired to create in their own way. If you’re in a place where your ideas are either frowned on or shut down completely, that’s a major loss for the company’s overall culture.

Culture is created when a company has a shared vision that anybody can bring to life.

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What advice would you give to someone trying to start a tradition like this in their own company?

Do it. Not only do it, but truly believe in it. Inspiration comes from confidence. If your peers see the confidence in you, it’ll inspire them as well.

One of my favorite quotes from the wrestling manager Paul Heyman is, “You cannot achieve success without the risk of failure. You cannot achieve success if you fear failure. If you’re not afraid to fail, man you have a chance to succeed, but you’re never gonna get there unless you risk it all the way. I’ll risk failure, sometimes half the fun is failing. Learning from your mistakes, waking up the next morning and saying ‘Okay, watch out, here I come again; a little bit smarter, licking my wounds, and really not looking forward to getting my ass kicked the way I just did yesterday. So now I’m just a little more dangerous.'”

Finally, how many pushups can you do? 😉

Non-stop? 81

We’ve loved learning from the example of people like Adrian, who encouraged us all to take culture into our own hands. And we aren’t the only ones who appreciate Adrian; he was recently named the IT Admin of the Year for his admirable leadership in promoting a healthy and active workplace. Check out Adrian’s winning video, submitted by a few Austin office colleagues. Thank you for being a culture creator, Adrian!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgQjwuv8E5c&w=560&h=315]

This is a post from our Inside Atlassian blog series that gives you an inside look at all things Atlassian, from product, to code, and our company culture. Check out more Inside Atlassian blog posts and get to know more of our story.

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Portrait photos courtesy of zusjourney

How to (literally) build a strong corporate culture