Over the last few years, Atlassian has grown from a few hundred to a few thousand Atlassians globally. This kind of growth impacts everyone in the organization, but the People Team – who manage the ins and outs of employee experience – has a unique relationship to it. As we’ve grown, one of the ways we keep a pulse check on organizational needs is through an internal, annual survey called Vital Signs. The main goal of Vital Signs is to learn. And something we learned in our most recent surveys was this: we weren’t helping Atlassians find opportunities to learn and grow. At least, not like we’d hoped.

In order to keep growing at the company level, we needed to develop tools that would help our people build skills and relationships that would accelerate their individual growth. By emphasized individual growth, we could achieve our ultimate goal: unleashing the potential of every Atlassian team. Stronger team members, stronger team performance (or so we’ve hypothesized).

Seeking first to understand the problem at hand

In evaluating ways to help our people find opportunities to learn and grow, we realized that this challenge was not limited to Atlassian and thankfully, there’s a lot of research out there on the topic. Before we started building, we turned to existing research and eventually landed on a set of insights that would act as “principles” in our new approach to individual growth.

These are a few of the key external insights that influenced our program development:

  • Cognitive research conducted by Phillippa Lally has confirmed that habits build over time, as opposed to the conventional wisdom that you can change behavior by participating in programs or classes. For us, this meant developing a programming that could be used continuously over the course of the year.
  • Research from the Neuroleadership Institute suggests that workplace learning & development programs should focus less on having a lot of choices in their programming and more on having the right choices. For us, this meant choosing options that will develop the individual and team capabilities needed to scale Atlassian and promote from within.
  • To optimize our recall and growth experience, we need to focus on coherence and layering, where each new learning opportunity builds on an established foundation, and every part fits.

With these insights in mind, we started to see the flaws in programs where an individual is fully (and solely) responsible for their growth. While someone can attend a formal learning program, they likely cannot then orchestrate the exposure and experiences that will embed new habits. Bringing managers into the growth conversation is not a new idea, but we knew that doing this well would be as critical as the program offerings.

Our Trello-based growth plans

In order to create a culture of growth, we decided to focus on establishing “growth partnerships.” In our estimation, a growth partnership between a manager and an individual could weave together formal learning, exposure, and experience in a coherent and layered way that leads to sustained behavioral change. And, with Trello now in the Atlassian product portfolio, we realized the product functionality provided a great way to capture how growth partnerships should progress over time.

Trello allowed for us to display growth plans in a forward-looking way as our people could track how their skills were progressing over time. In the board below, you can see how an individual is mapping skills from “developing” to “advanced.” This forward-looking view was key as it allows to track progress over time and build habits to maintain that progress. Our growth plans also created a platform for managers to have more meaningful discussions with their direct reports about what success looks like in their role and to provide more coaching on growth. This ultimately helped make the feedback our people were receiving more actionable by identifying focus areas for growth.

Our Trello-based growth plans help Atlassians to identify what areas they may want to focus on developing in order to be successful in their role and in their career with Atlassian. Tailored to meet an individual’s particular aspirations and development needs, these plans encourage partnership so that self-guided activities are supported by Atlassian-provided learning opportunities.

How to structure a growth planning process of your own

Our growth plans are built and owned independently by individual contributors – in partnership with their manager – because we all understand our personal ambitions and the motivation that will get you there better than anyone else. Your manager is best positioned to support you with the experiences and exposure you need to grow. You may focus on areas that will help you be successful in your current role or opportunities that you are personally interested in for a potential future role.

So, how does it work? At Atlassian, we have a dedicated Confluence page and instructional videos that give our people insights into building effective growth plans, but here’s the short version:

  1. Individuals have a growth conversation with their manager to align on strengths and opportunities for growth.
  2. From there, individuals draft their growth plans by copying, then personalizing, the Trello growth board template. The provided templates offer guidance in identifying capabilities that individuals want to work on and the tools that can help along the way.
  3. Once built, individuals schedule a follow-up discussion with their manager to align with their growth plan and enlist support.
  4. Finally, a regular manager check-in is set and those conversations take place with Trello acting as a shared source of truth. As an individual grows, they sort capabilities (which are represented as “cards”) into growth stages (the various “lists” seen in the screenshots above) on the Trello board, from “developing” to “effective” to “advanced” to “role model.”

Protip: Using checklists within cards is a great way to keep individuals engaged with their progress!

This process facilitates a continuous conversation about growth throughout the year rather than something we visit once or twice a year.

Learning to embrace a growth culture

What’s especially exciting about the way we are now approaching growth at Atlassian is that our personal learning journey is not limited to a fixed destination or performance level – it’s what we choose it to be.

We are not born with fixed reserves of potential (thankfully); our potential is expandable. Learning develops potential, and to grow you need the tools to step out of your comfort zone in a focused way. This is achieved by preparing a growth plan with clear goals, a learning process designed with manager partnership, and a way to track your progress. It is safe to conclude that nobody develops or improves their capabilities without continuous practice.

Humans are most human when we’re developing ourselves. In a world in which rapidly improving technologies are constantly changing our work conditions, the best way to remain in control of our career is to consciously change ourselves, improving ourselves in ways we choose.

How Trello helped us reinvent our approach to individual growth