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Humans of Atlassian: Why people are our greatest asset

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In Brene Brown's groundbreaking TED Talk, "The Power of Vulnerability," she discusses her years of psychological research into what leads some people to feel constant shame, and others to become capable of loving themselves and giving selflessly to others. After hundreds of interviews, she found one element that set these two groups apart: the willingness to be vulnerable.

"These folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with others if we can't treat ourselves kindly," she says.

Here at Atlassian, that message resonates. We seek people whose first reflex is towards openness and honesty, even when they may show vulnerability. Our company values are a core part of our community identity: We have candidates who may pass their technical interviews with flying colors, but if we don't see alignment in their values, they won't be offered a position. 

Each of our core values revolves around openness, honesty, and a focus on considering others' perspectives, whether that's the customer or your fellow teammates. Building a community of caring, compassionate people who are not afraid to show weakness and always focus on how they can support their colleagues ultimately leads to trust. While there are a ton of perks and benefits associated with working At Atlassian, we firmly believe that our most important asset is something more intangible: the people of Atlassian. 

So, when Atlassians in Sydney gathered for a recent Ship-It—our quarterly 24-hour hackathon during which employees are free to collaborate on any project they like—a multidisciplinary team, including Engineers and People Team members, came up with an idea to help present Atlassian's culture of compassion in action. 

The team of nine, consisting of Andy Mountney, Cathy Meade, Ric Wang, Camilo Gomez, Joshua Navarro, Hayden Cooper, Kelly Kirby, and Kimberley Rutherford, decided to capture testimonials from their colleagues and create a video focused on the Atlassian culture of caring, entitled, "Humans of Atlassian."

"We started thinking about what do we see as the true reasons to work here," says Cathy Meade, Head of Special Ops. "And the general consensus in the room was that what really keeps us here are the people and the genuine interactions that we have here. I don't get up and come to work here because we have snacks in the kitchen or free drinks. What keeps us here—in my case, for nearly eight years—is the people we get to work with."

After just a week at Atlassian, says Ric Wang, Campus Development Lead, "I sensed that there was something special about this place. The authenticity I saw extended outside the business— into Atlassians' homes and families." 

For instance, Ric was amazed to see that just about everyone seemed to know the names of all five of a co-worker's cats at the global all-hands. He'd also witnessed many acts of kindness in the community at large: A group of Atlassians putting together care packages for someone in need in the neighborhood, for example, or giving a farewell card and gifts to a coffee shop worker as she moved on to a new job. 

"So many people go out of their way to make their teammates' lives better or easier, or to reach out a helping hand," echoes Kelly Kirby, Global HR Business Partner. "This is all the way from our Founders and throughout the rest of Atlassian. It's the most special thing about working at Atlassian, that we have a culture that cultivates this care for others as humans, not just work colleagues."

The spirit of this project resonated with Kelly because "I don't feel like we share this enough or even recognise it enough internally," she says, "so I thought this Ship-It was a great way to celebrate this unique element of Atlassian."

“[At Atlassian], so many people go out of their way to make their teammates' lives better or easier, or to reach out a helping hand.”

How it came together

The team knew that they wanted to produce a short video demonstrating what's special about Atlassian's people. So they put out a call for responses on our internal communications platform, Confluence, asking for stories about the kindness of their colleagues: "We want to capture the human side of working at Atlassian, what makes Atlassian truly unique with a human lens, the things that people do for each other, the genuine care that is shown," they wrote in their call for stories.

They also reached out personally to employees who'd previously discussed stories of kindness in the workplace with them privately. "We all knew enough initial stories to fill a video, but we didn't know if people would want to share them with Atlassian at large. It turned out that the project really resonated with everyone we asked," says Andy Mountney, Talent Acquisition Site Lead in Sydney.

Each person who agreed to participate in the video shot a short clip of themselves, sharing a reflection on how they'd been touched by the kindness of their fellow employees. The team then stitched those short clips together into a nearly three-minute-long video to present to the entire Sydney team at the Ship-It.

Telling their stories

Stories came in from Atlassian offices worldwide, in Sydney, New York, Manila, and San Francisco.

One participant shared a story of getting in an accident and being asked by an EMT whether her office knew that she wouldn't be coming in that day. She responded that the people in the ambulance with her were her colleagues. "They were shocked that these were the first people who came in an emergency," she says.

Another told the story of how her tea infuser in the shape of a duck went missing one day, and a colleague gave her a replacement. "Me and my tea duck have been happy together ever since."

One man shared his experience after losing a parent to suicide. A colleague who he hadn't previously been close to shared that they had lost a parent in the same way. "They spent time sharing their experience and listening to mine, months after friends and even family had moved on. They made sure that I always knew I wasn't alone. They were there for me during one of the hardest moments of my entire life, and the impact was profound."

The stories dealt with big and small moments alike, but all of them showcased the sense of compassion and vulnerability innate in the Atlassian community. 

When it came time to share the video, "we could measure our success in the tears that we raised in every room. One of the judges remarked to us that that was the first time he'd ever cried at a Ship-It," says Cathy.

​​​​​​​The impact

The process of making and then presenting the video helped to showcase the power of even the smallest acts of kindness. "Until people tell you, it's sometimes hard to realize the impact that people have on others by very simple acts. There were a lot of stories of someone noticing that it's just not your week, and finding one little thing they could do to break that cycle," says Cathy.

"The thing here is that there are so many acts of kindness that we all do because that's just the type of people that we are, versus even being aware that we've done it."

Creating the ShipIt project helped to showcase, in a concrete way, what's so special about the people of Atlassian. "It was quite poignant for people to think about, 'yeah, actually, this is the reason I work at Atlassian,'" says Cathy. "I work here because I want to come to work with these people because they're amazing."

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