If you’ve ever walked away from an interaction with a colleague feeling misunderstood, unheard, or even taken advantage of, chances are there was something broken about the value exchange of that interaction.

“Value exchange” is a term rooted deeply in business fundamentals; it literally means that a consumer should receive some value for the service or product they are purchasing from you, but it also has interesting applications in the world of teamwork and collaboration.

At work, a value exchange means that when people work with you, they feel they are getting something valuable out of it (and they are consequently able to offer value back to you as well). Value might look like a range of things including time, connections, knowledge, insight, or even just good vibes

When value exchange is at play, people come away from interactions closer to their own professional and team goals. That’s why value exchange is relationship-building magic, especially in the workplace. 

To help you harness its power, we sat down with Stephen Root, Atlassian’s Head of Integrated Brand and Communications. We discussed what value exchange can do for workplaces, how to apply it to your professional relationships, and what it means to us here at Atlassian. 

What is Value Exchange?

Research confirms the importance of healthy workplace relationships

“The idea of ‘value exchange’ is fairly simple but extremely powerful. Simple in that each side gets something meaningful out of the exchange, powerful in that if it happens repeatedly, the relationship will get stronger as each side will develop a level of trust in what the other can deliver and continue to seek out the other for assistance – even if at times, the value only goes one way,” Root explains.

Knowledge, ideas, connections, and mentorship are all equally valid types of value to exchange. It’s a part of all human relationships. If two people are choosing to interact, they’re exchanging value – it’s just a matter of how satisfying the exchange is for both parties. 

If two people are choosing to interact, they’re exchanging value – it’s just a matter of how satisfying the exchange is for both parties. 

Value exchange in relationships

Today, we’ll explore how value exchange can benefit our professional relationships, and help us work in a more reciprocal, collaborative way. 

“I believe that everything in life comes down to relationships,” explains Root. “Most studies have shown that people working in groups have better outcomes. Those group relationships should be healthy. People should feel that their colleagues understand each other, and care about each other’s growth.”

When people feel that they’ve exchanged value, they’re excited, inspired, and more likely to work with each other again. That’s why value exchange is such a powerful framework for building relationships in our professional lives. 

Exchanging value isn’t about closing a deal. It’s about showing people that you’re here to support them, their growth, and their needs. Later, that pays off. You’ve built a foundation of trust and communication that will help you accomplish incredible things together.

Value exchange in action

The new rules of building business relationships virtually

Here’s what it could look like to forefront value exchange in your professional relationships.

Value exchange in client relationships

Let’s say you designed a full rebrand for your client. You’ve come up with a new brand identity, including colors, a logo, and language guidelines.

You believe in the designs, but you know it will be a lot of work for the client to implement them. They’ll have to update their website, social accounts, signage, and more.  So when you present the new branding, you focus on the value they’ll derive from it. 

“It’s the age-old, ‘listen before you talk,’” Root explains. “What do your customers want? What do you think will get them there? How can you deliver that?” 

So, in our hypothetical example, when you present the rebrand, you share data and research on why it’s aligned with their customers’ preferences, and how that will improve outcomes. Later, you follow up to ask how the rebrand is landing. What do customers think? Is there anything you could revisit or revise? 

Value exchange on teams 

Imagine your colleague is giving a presentation on something you’re knowledgeable about. You helped them with this task, but it was their project and responsibility. 

After the presentation, you ask them if they want your thoughts on how they did – and also, would they like them now or later? Do they have the mental space for feedback? Would that feel valuable? If so, you share constructive thoughts on where they excelled, and how they could improve. 

Then, ask if they got what they needed from you, if your feedback was helpful. How could you have supported them before, during, and after the presentation? Once you’ve shown them you’re committed to meeting their needs, you’ve laid the groundwork to share your thoughts. Maybe they could apply their strengths to workshop your next presentation? 

The workplace impact of value exchange 

“I believe more information flows more quickly, with more energy, when value is being exchanged,” says Root. “If you’ve supplied me with things that were helpful or fun, I’ll want to have another conversation with you. If you reach out and ask to set up a meeting, there’s a better chance I’ll say yes.”

On an individual level, value exchange helps people feel heard, fulfilled, and respected. Interactions don’t feel draining and obligatory, and people have a sense that work is supporting their personal goals. That translates into greater loyalty, trust, and commitment.

Value exchange can elevate nearly all kinds of outcomes, across an organization. “I think there’s a lot of evidence in business right now that people aren’t making decisions as fast as they can,” shares Root. “Decision-making is often a problem, and so is communication. Those are two big things that value exchange can address.”

  • Collaboration is enhanced, because information flows more quickly.
  • Engagement skyrockets, because work feels more supported and reciprocal. 
  • Creativity and innovation thrive, because teams have built trust and psychological safety.

Value exchange could mean the difference between a spontaneous smile or a spike of anxiety at a Slack notification. It means going into a meeting energized, because you know you’ll be listened to – not bored, distracted, and preoccupied by your to-do list. 

5 ways to put value exchange into action
  • Ask questions to help you understand other peoples’ needs and goals. What do they want from the interaction (and generally)? How can you help them get it? 
  • When you ask for help, emphasize that you intend to return the favor – and ask what meaningful help might look like for the other party. 
  • Show appreciation. Thank your collaborators for taking the time to work with you, and be specific about the impact they had. 
  • Actually act on what people share. If your offer to help feels empty, it’s worse than nothing at all. Try taking some quick notes and giving yourself action items to make good on your word.
  • Follow up after the interaction. Did the other party get what they needed? If not, how can you fix that? 

Value exchange at Atlassian 

Value exchange is woven throughout Atlassian’s company values. Our way of working centers honesty, communication, and meeting staff and customers needs. 

Here are our core values, and how each contributes to a culture of value exchange:

  • Open company, no bullsh!t
    • Information flows openly at Atlassian. Everyone can share their thoughts, perspectives, and knowledge. 
  • Build with heart and balance
    • We consider all options carefully. Then, we collectively choose the best one and get to work. 
  • Don’t #@!% the customer
    • Without happy customers, we’re doomed. So, we consider their needs and experiences first.
  • Play, as a team
    • Whether in a meeting room or on a football pitch, we put what’s right for the team first.
  • Be the change you seek
    • Continuous improvement is a shared responsibility. All Atlassians should have the opportunity to improve our products, our people, and our organization.. 

“Value exchange is core to who we are, and how we were founded,” Root says. “That’s rare, and it’s rare that a company this size has been able to hold onto it.”  

How understanding the concept of value exchange can strengthen your workplace relationships