As a research company, Generally Intelligent has a unique culture that is distinct from your typical startup. To give you a better sense of our culture, we thought it might be helpful to show some of the ways that our values have manifested as habits and processes. Below are some examples of things that we do as a team that capture who we are and how we interact on the SF-based, in-person team.
We foster both collaboration and agency
When we do weekly planning on Monday’s, we simply ask the question "What would you like to do this week?", then write the answers together into a doc. There is little top-down direction about what someone must do, but instead, a more flexible allocation of tasks depending on interests and priorities. The assumption is that only major tasks are recorded—we know that everyone else is doing lots of other stuff as well. It's specifically not about accountability (though we do look at the previous week to see how we did, and it usually feels pretty great!)
Our standup is our only daily recurring meeting and is different than most places. We individually fill out a template in a shared, real-time collaborative document. It asks what your goal is, what you did previously, what you plan to do next, if you need any help, and one detail about your life. As people write their updates, we read and comment on others' updates. We find it to be a very efficient way of getting out all of the context, surfacing places where people need to sync or have questions, and which is flexible to people being late, missing it, etc. Our standups are very specifically not about accountability--while one could look at previous days to see if the tasks were completed, no one does, and it's not even expected that everything is written. We have a high trust and high-performance environment.
After standup, we have optional "hot tubs". The idea is that it's like a "hot seat", but more friendly, hence, "hot tub". Anyone who wants to is able to present their in-progress work, answer questions from others, and get ideas about what to do next. We find it particularly helpful for research, as often others will have ideas that can help unblock us. Hot tubs can sometimes go on for a long time (if the topic is particularly meaty or interesting), and people are welcome to leave at any time. They're generally quite fascinating, and help us all to stay on roughly the same page. We find that they help us be much better and clearer in our thinking.
We encourage learning and growth
"Unlimited" budget for coaching and learning
In much the same way that we care about getting the best tools for our team members, we think it is critical that people are able to grow and learn effectively. Again, this is something that is very person-dependent: some people have coaches, therapists and/or tutors to help them learn and grow more quickly, while others are more interested in buying books, attending conferences, or going through classes to learn. Our perspective is that investing in yourself is one of the highest-leverage things someone can do, and we strongly encourage it. Much like the “unlimited” budget for tools and compute, this is limited simply by us being reasonable.
On Fridays, we have blocks of time dedicated to learning. Sometimes this will be a paper club (see below), working through lectures together, or presenting recent learnings from a conference or book. Other times we simply take the time to learn individually, spending the time on whatever we feel is personally most interesting or important, whether that be brushing up on some math fundamentals or learning about neuroscience.
We often have a "paper club" during our Fun Friday learning time. Our paper clubs are open to outsiders and are run by a single person. The person running the paper club changes from paper to paper. The point of having a single person is that they are responsible for reading the paper in detail and understanding everything about it. Everyone else merely needs to skim the paper. The responsible person starts the paper club by giving a brief overview, then everyone else writes out (and votes on) questions in a shared doc. Then, we go through and answer the questions in order of importance. We generally find this to be a very effective way to learn about a paper very quickly!
We spend time getting close to each other
Every Friday, we spend the second half of the day just hanging out as a team, often doing a fun activity together (anything from playing a board game or hanging out in the park to going to the spa or going out to play minigolf). We think it's critical to have space and time to build relationships, relax, reflect, etc. Plus, it's just fun!
Another Friday activity we have is what we call "Feelings Friday". It's a space for people to share how they're feeling. We find that it really helps to connect with other teammates, and also to contextualize our own experiences—it's a great way to find out that, for example, a person wasn't annoyed by your Slack message, but was just having a rough time at home. This meeting is facilitated and structured in such a way that it is comfortable, but it's a delicate thing. It's part of why we require emotionally aware and mature coworkers, who are skilled at interacting interpersonally. Not everyone needs to be a master, but we find the psychological safety that comes from this (and other similar practices) to be invaluable in a research setting.
Frequent team dinners and events
We value the time spent together, both because it’s fun, and because it’s a way to talk and have ideas in a more casual setting. We have frequent (non-mandatory) team dinners and events to make sure that there is space for everyone to become comfortable and build closer relationships. By having events and dinners frequently, we find that it reduces the pressure to go to every one. They’re also just really fun, which is a big part of the reason we do them 🙂
If you’re interested in what we’re doing, we'd love to hear from you.