Company Culture: 3 Lessons in Transparency From Mozilla

Company Culture: 3 Lessons in Transparency From Mozilla

A lot of companies have mission statements, but they rarely carry over past the footer of a website or the sign on the reception wall. That’s not the case with Mozilla’s mission.

When I sat down with the small London team for one of their lovely daily catered lunches, the words “mission” and “manifesto” kept coming up. Those things drive their work.

Part of that may be because open Internet phenomenon Mozilla is technically a non-profit.

One teammate, Emily Toop, explained that at Mozilla, “for every major decision, we ask: How does it help us achieve our mission?”

The team told me they find themselves asking this question a couple times a week. But what does it mean for a company to truly live its mission, and how does Mozilla answer those questions?

1. Be transparent by default

When you call a company transparent, you think of it being very open internally or maybe even blogging about some stuff like Mobile Jazz and Buffer do.

Mozilla takes principles of transparency and open-source collaboration to a whole new level. When they have meetings, their minutes are published so anyone — including the public — can take a look.

This is the consequence of the 1200-person team working with five times that many external volunteers that give feedback on, and contribute to, the open-source code.

Guillaume Marty is a software engineer that’s been working on connected devices at Mozilla for two-and-a-half years now. For his team, the meetings themselves are often public and anyone can join via video.

At Mozilla, he said, “Everything is open and freely available by default. Whenever there’s something that’s confidential, we clearly state: ‘Don’t tweet that. Don’t talk about that.’”

Guillaume admits that this transparent-by-default approach does take some getting used to when you come from a more private company. But from day one, Mozilla employees are encouraged to get on board.

Jean-Yves is the project manager for the developer network and has been at Mozilla for five years. He agreed that “sharing is not easy, because you have to expose yourself by sharing things at a very early stage. Sometimes you have very negative or bad feedback. Instead of sharing with a coworker, you quickly share with 20 to 30 people.”

Mobile software engineer Emily points out that sharing all can be a risk, especially when your oversharing early on ends up getting critiqued publicly on Hacker News.

“I think the default to open is misunderstood by the public sometimes, because we often share things that are in incredibly early stages. We are sharing this at the point of conception rather than the point of completion.”

Although the early-stage designs may take some heat, there’s an upside to a transparency-first policy: “I love that if i’m working on a really exciting project that just came out yesterday, I can tell my friends all about it or tweet about it,” she said.

2. Remote or co-located: Whatever you want

The makers of Firefox are scattered around the world in 13 offices in nine counties, along with hundreds of others working remotely from about another 30 countries.

As London Office Manager Mandy Chan says, “If we have someone great in Berlin, we hire someone in Berlin.”

They simply want the best people for the job, no matter where they are.

Of the four Mozilla employees I spoke with, Guillaume was the only one to work with his team on-site. One of Emily’s team members just moved to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

At Mozilla, you either get a home office or a desk in one of the shared office spaces. If you choose the first, they will equip your home, paying for everything — including workspace and fast Internet.

For the latter, you just need to come in three days a week and they’ll make sure you have everything you need to work and eat there when you want.

Then, twice a year, the whole company gets together — in Hawaii this December, San Francisco and Cancun next year — in a massive endeavor in team bonding.

Emily calls these all-hands trips “the most amazing weeks. This is where you bond with your team on a personal level,” as well as the related teams that maybe you only email the rest of the year.

“I always come back from those weeks exhausted and not wanting to talk to other people for another week, and so full of why I work for this company,” she says. “I think the reason our team works so well together remotely is because twice a year we bond together and really get to know each other, almost like holiday romances.”

Jean-Yves takes these weeks even more seriously, as he makes a list of about 40 to 50 people he wants to meet each trip. He says that once you meet teammates face to face, the mostly-written communication is read totally differently.

But Mozilla’s flexibility extends beyond location — it carries over into the actual work.

3. Give teams the flexibility to work how they want

At Mozilla, each team can figure out its own way of collaborating. Some focus on long-term projects, while others act like mini-startups within the organization.

“We can fine-tune our working practices to achieve what we want to, iterating, discovering,” Emily said.

The organization works hard to make sure teams then share the best practices they’ve learned.

“If one team has hit upon a set of strategies or a process that really works for us, that is communicated with other teams,” she continued. These practices are shared in regular company-wide talks.

Akin to TED talks, they tend to be a blend of the inspirational and useful, with internal and external people speaking. For example, they had Google Ventures come and talk about their design sprints after a Mozilla team successfully adopted the process.

In a mostly distributed team, tools also matter. They use an Internet relay chat (IRC) to keep in touch. Even this was a conscious choice over the more popular Skype for Business or Slack because it’s more open and anyone can jump in and listen to the work conversations, whether they are employees or not, just by clicking a discoverable URL.

“IRC is more open than Slack,” Emily says. “Anyone at all in the world can join any of our conversation channels whenever they want and participate. And it really helps with the open aspect, Emily said, pointing out how volunteers face no obstacles to contribute.

Jean-Yves and Emily did reveal they had closed team channels too, to Guillaume’s complete shock.

“The goal of this one isn’t to talk about work. It’s for if someone has to pick up the kids, isn’t feeling well, ‘tomorrow I have to go to the doctor,’ and stuff like this,” Jean-Yves explained.

Emily says two of her teammates talk a lot about baseball, something distracting for the outside contributors.

But baseball discussions aside, for Mozilla teammates, it’s all about working as transparently as possible — so long as it works for everyone.

What other companies are great examples of company culture? We want to know! Post a comment below of who you recommend we should interview next or tweet your suggestion to @RedboothHQ and @JKRiggins!