At software and web development firm Table XI (pronounced “ex eye”), no one ever says, “my office or yours?” No one has a strange fragrance wafting from their office. There are no offices. There once were offices, but they’ve been converted into rooms for small group work.
The professionals at Table XI work their magic sitting at long benches in a large open space that is minimally broken up with partitions. It’s a space that contraindicates hierarchies, and in a minute we’ll see just how egalitarian the tech firm is.
Mark Yoon, Table XI’s Director of Talent, explains, “we expect people to be open and mature, and adult and very humane to each other. And that carries through in almost everything we do.”
The company’s founders and execs don’t ask for any humanity that they themselves don’t extend to their team members. Table XI is adamant about being accommodating to its employees and making sure their humanity is always nurtured. Team members set their own schedule, sick leaves are unlimited, and lunch is served by an in-house chef.
It takes money to do many of the things the company does for its team. That’s what’s so striking about about Table XI and how it operates. It consciously and willingly keeps a low percentage of profits so it can invest back into the company.
Yoon says that while the founders felt this compassionate and generous approach would help morale and ultimately lead to great work, they really just thought it was the right thing to do.
Person to Person
You can have all the family leave time and gourmet lunches you want, but no matter what, you expect to have a boss. She could be a pretty good boss, but still a boss.
Table XI upends this expectation. No one “reports to” a supervisor.
So that’s no offices and no reporting.
Instead, everyone at the company has a career mentor. The mentor—not always someone with more seniority, since Yoon has mentored one of the people involved in his hire—has similar experience and interests to the mentee. He or she may give general job advice, point the mentee in the direction of articles to read, or advise on how to keep growing as a professional. The two have one-to-one meetings every other week.
The mentors do get shuffled at certain milestones, with mentees who’ve been at the firm longer working with mentors with different specialties.
One component of the mentorship experience is the Sticky Note Game. Twice a year, small teams get together and write goals or ideas for growth and improvement on sticky notes. As these are read aloud, they are placed on the wall. From there, goals are grouped by theme, which can help people see how individual goals may fit into a larger avenue for improvement.
Ultimately, each person compiles their list of goals for the next six months. “It’s pretty holistic,” Yoon says. “It goes beyond just ‘I want to learn React and React Native…’ he exudes, adding that the goals sometimes have personal components, giving as one example, getting married.
The list of goals from the sticky sessions are documents used by mentors, explains Yoon, adding that during the year, mentor and mentee will look at the mentee’s progress, amend goals as necessary, etc.
Diversity, most would agree, is both important and beneficial in the workplace. Indeed, Table XI has held workshops on unconscious bias and other elements of diversity. But the concept that Yoon—and the company—value is inclusiveness. This is of course facilitated by the open, non-hierarchical, and one-on-one nature, but the company makes a concerted effort to empower all of its employees. Yoon says, “we can get a lot of different voices in the room, but if they don’t have the empowerment and the ability to contribute then we miss out on the value of bringing them into the room.”
What Yoon is describing is a carefully-wrought culture of valuing various backgrounds, personalities and styles. One of the reasons for this, Yoon explains, is that in a workplace culture of great freedom, people who, aren’t “insiders” may feel a bit bewildered and in need of a bit of structure. Creating such an ecosystem, he says, cuts across “everything that we do: our reviews, our feedback, down to how we define our jobs for candidates, how we define the levels that people progress through in their careers, different career paths, who to go to for what, all of that.”
As a component of Table XI’s open culture, feedback is important and valued. Yoon emphasizes that if there are problems or areas for improvement, people will know it as soon as possible. As for positive feedback, the company turned to Disco (when it was Growbot). He found it especially advantageous as a way of emphasizing and promoting company values, and calls it “a crucial part of us building this ecosystem of feedback.”
Yoon in fact has given plenty of feedback to Disco itself, and he says, “they’ve learned a lot from us and we’ve learned a lot from them.” Table XI’s “ecosystem of feedback” has a wrinkle that shows something very interesting about feedback culture and how software like Disco can be transformative. Feeling that more in-person feedback might be a point of growth for less outgoing team members—and the team as a whole—Yoon has instituted a policy of giving face-to-face kudos, which is only fitting for an office-less office. This entails a crew member receiving a token for good work, then having a week in which to pass it on to a colleague. It’d be like a group of Words with Friends mavens getting together and setting up a Scrabble board.
If you were given a compliment by your co-worker, wouldn’t you want it to be in a wide-open space with everyone around?