This page, used and adapted under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license, is a snapshot of some of GitLab's values page when I left in December 2022. I spent 5 years living by these values, and I didn't want to forget what I learned. Thus, I took this snapshot as I would no longer be there shaping the values. I also think it would be an interesting time capsule in another 5 years or so to see what's changed...even though anyone could do that with the git repository they live in, this is a little simpler 😀.
GitLab's six core values are 🤝 Collaboration, 📈 Results, ⏱️ Efficiency, 🌐 Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, 👣 Iteration, and 👁️ Transparency, and together they spell the CREDIT we give each other by assuming good intent. We react to them with values emoji and they are made actionable below.
About our values
We take inspiration from other companies, and we always go for the boring solutions. Our CEO, Sid Sijbrandij, has shared the origin of each of the CREDIT values, but just like the rest of our work, we continually adjust our values and strive to make them better. GitLab values are a living document. In many instances, they have been documented, refined, and revised based on lessons learned (and scars earned) in the course of doing business.
We used to have more values, but it was difficult to remember them all. In response, we condensed them, created an acronym (CREDIT), and listed operating principles to guide behavior.
Everyone is welcome to suggest improvements. Please assign MRs to update these values to our CEO Sid and @mention him in Slack if you work at GitLab Inc. or on Twitter if you don't.
To achieve results, team members must work together effectively. At GitLab, helping others is a priority, even when it is not immediately related to the goals that you are trying to achieve. Similarly, you can rely on others for help and advice—in fact, you're expected to do so. Anyone can chime in on any subject, including people who don't work at GitLab. The person who's responsible for the work decides how to do it, but they should always take each suggestion seriously and try to respond and explain why it may or may not have been implemented.
We value caring for others. Demonstrating we care for people provides an effective framework for challenging directly and delivering feedback. We disagree with companies that say Evaluate People Accurately, Not "Kindly". We're all for accurate assessment, but we think it must be done in a kind way. Give as much positive feedback as you can, and do it in a public way.
There are aspects of GitLab culture, such as intentional transparency, that are unintuitive to outsiders and new team members. Be willing to invest in people and engage in open dialogue. For example, consider making private issues public wherever possible so that we can all learn from the experience. Don't be afraid of judgement or scrutiny when sharing publicly, we all understand it's impossible to know everything.
Everyone can remind anyone in the company about our values. If there is a disagreement about the interpretations, the discussion can be escalated to more people within the company without repercussions.
Share problems you run into, ask for help, be forthcoming with information and speak up.
Negative feedback is 1-1
Give negative feedback in the smallest setting possible. One-on-one video calls are preferred.
Negative feedback is distinct from negativity and disagreement. If there is no direct feedback involved, strive to discuss disagreement in a public channel, respectfully and transparently.
In a GitLab Unfiltered interview on values, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij offers the following context.
We deal with negative all the time at GitLab. If it's not a problem, then why are we discussing it? We deal with negativity a lot, and that's also part of our ambition.
If you want to get better, you talk about what you can improve. We're allowed to publicly discuss negative things; we're not allowed to give negative feedback in a large setting if it could be feasibly administered in a smaller setting.
Negative feedback can be given in a group setting if it's to someone higher in the management chain. This shows that no one is above feedback. GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij and former CTO Eric Johnson discuss this in this GitLab Unfiltered video.
Provide feedback in a timely manner
We want to solve problems while they are small. If you are unhappy with anything (your duties, your colleague, your boss, your salary, your location, your computer), please voice your concerns rather than keeping them to yourself. If you need to escalate beyond your manager, you could consider speaking to your skip-level, a more senior person, or a people business partner.
Recognize the people that helped you publicly, for example in our #thanks chat channel.
When publicly thanking, it's important to recognize the following:
- Showing thanks in as large a setting as possible (company-wide) at a company as large as ours is the exception instead of the norm, it takes some getting used to.
- Being thanked at the company level for what you view as a relatively small or minuscule contribution can feel awkward.
- Thanking a person in #thanks should be done sincerely and summarize why you are thankful so the person on the receiving end can easily understand why they are being thanked. Even while assuming positive intent, not all folks are comfortable with public praise. Help this person understand how they went above and beyond and why you felt it was important for the team member to be recognized.
- There are a number of good ways and places to say thanks. We shouldn't limit saying thanks to just the
Give feedback effectively
Giving feedback is challenging, but it's important to deliver it effectively. When providing feedback, always make it about the work itself; focus on the business impact and not the person. Make sure to provide at least one clear and recent example. If a person is going through a hard time in their personal life, then take that into account. An example of giving positive feedback is our thanks chat channel. For managers, it's important to realize that team members react to a negative incident with their managers six times more strongly than they do to a positive one. Keeping that in mind, if an error is so inconsequential that the value gained from providing criticism is low, it might make sense to keep that feedback to yourself. In the situations where negative feedback must be given, focus on the purpose for that feedback: to improve the team member's performance going forward. Give recognition generously, in the open, and often to generate more engagement from your team.
Get to know each other
We use a lot of text-based communication, and if you know the person behind the text, it will be easier to prevent conflicts. So we encourage people to get to know each other on a personal level through informal communication, for example, social calls, virtual coffee chats, and during GitLab Contribute.
Reach across company departments
While it's wise to seek advice from experts within your function, we encourage GitLab team members to do the same across departments. This enables the company to iterate more quickly, embrace the understanding that everyone can contribute and include more diverse perspectives when possible.
Don't pull rank
If you have to remind someone of the position you have in the company, you're doing something wrong. People already know our decision-making process. Explain why you're making the decision, and respect everyone irrespective of their function. This includes using the rank of another person - including the CEO - to sell an idea or decision.
Assume positive intent
We naturally have a double standard when it comes to the actions of others. We blame circumstances for our own mistakes, but individuals for theirs. This double standard is called the Fundamental Attribution Error. In order to mitigate this bias, you should always assume positive intent in your interactions with others, respecting their expertise and giving them grace in the face of what you might perceive as mistakes.
When disagreeing, folks sometimes argue against the weakest points of an argument, or an imaginary argument (e.g. "straw man"). Assume the points are presented in good faith, and instead try to argue against the strongest version of your opponent’s position. We call this arguing against a "steel" position, instead of a "straw" one. This concept is borrowed from argue the "steel man" as described in Robin Sloan's newsletter.
A "steel" position should be against the absolute most effective version of your opponent’s position — potentially even more compelling than the one they presented. A good "steel" position is one where the other person feels you've represented their position well, even if they still disagree with your assumptions or conclusion.
Address behavior, but don't label people
There is a lot of good in this article about not wanting jerks on our team, but we believe that jerk is a label for behavior rather than an inherent classification of a person. We avoid classifications.
If you made a mistake, apologize as soon as possible. Saying sorry is not a sign of weakness but one of strength. The people that do the most work will likely make the most mistakes. Additionally, when we share our mistakes and bring attention to them, others can learn from us, and the same mistake is less likely to be repeated by someone else. Mistakes can include when you have not been kind to someone. In order to reinforce our values, it is important, and takes more courage, to apologize publicly when you have been unkind publicly (e.g., when you have said something unkind or unprofessional to an individual or group in a Slack channel).
Don't defend a point to win an argument or double-down on a mistake. You are not your work; you don't have to defend your point. You do have to search for the right answer with help from others.
In a GitLab Unfiltered interview, GitLab Head of Remote Darren M. adds context on this operating principle.
In many organizations, there's a subtle, low-level, persistent pressure to continually prove your worth. And I believe that this fuels imposter syndrome and wreaks havoc on mental health.
What's so troubling to me is how often perception is reality. In other words, those who have mastered the art of being perceived as elite reap benefits, though this has nothing to do with actual results.
At GitLab, "no ego" means that we foster and support an environment where results matter, and you're given agency to approach your work in the way that makes sense to you. Instead of judging people for not approaching work in an agreed-upon way, "no ego" encourages people to glean inspiration from watching others approach work in new and different ways.
Being no ego is a standard we hold ourselves as people to but is not one that applies to GitLab as a company or product. We want to celebrate and highlight GitLab's accomplishments, including being one of the largest all-remote companies. This doesn't mean we don't recognize our mistakes, including how we handled telemetry.
See others succeed
A candidate who has talked to a lot of people inside GitLab said that, compared to other companies, one thing stood out the most: everyone here mentioned wanting to see each other succeed.
Don't let each other fail
Keep an eye out for others who may be struggling or stuck. If you see someone who needs help, reach out and assist, or connect them with someone else who can provide expertise or assistance. We succeed and shine together!
People are not their work
Always make suggestions about examples of work, not the person. Say "You didn't respond to my feedback about the design" instead of "You never listen". And, when receiving feedback, keep in mind that feedback is the best way to improve, and that others giving you feedback want to see you succeed.
Do it yourself
Our collaboration value is about helping each other when we have questions, need critique, or need help. No need to brainstorm, wait for consensus, or do with two what you can do yourself. The Bolt Handbook refers to this as the Founder Mentality, where all team members should approach the problem as if they own the company.
Blameless problem solving
Investigate mistakes in a way that focuses on the situational aspects of a failure’s mechanism and the decision-making process that led to the failure, rather than cast blame on a person or team. We hold blameless root cause analyses and retrospectives for stakeholders to speak up without fear of punishment or retribution.
People joining the company frequently say, "I don't want to step on anyone's toes." At GitLab, we should be more accepting of people taking initiative in trying to improve things. As companies grow, their speed of decision-making goes down since there are more people involved. We should counteract that by having short toes and feeling comfortable letting others contribute to our domain. For example, pointed, respectful feedback to a proposal by GitLab's CEO led to his own merge request being closed. However, it is not required to respond to comments.
It's impossible to know everything
We know we must rely on others for the expertise they have that we don't. It's OK to admit you don't know something and to ask for help, even if doing so makes you feel vulnerable. It is never too late to ask a question, and by doing so, you can get the information you need to produce results and to strengthen your own skills as well as GitLab as a whole. After your question is answered, please document the answer so that it can be shared.
Don't display surprise when people say they don't know something, as it is important that everyone feels comfortable saying "I don't know" and "I don't understand." (As inspired by Recurse.)
Collaboration is not consensus
When collaborating, it is always important to stay above radar and work transparently, but collaboration is not consensus. You don't need to ask people for their input, and they shouldn't ask you "Why didn't you ask me?" You don't have to wait for people to provide input, if you did ask them. We believe in permissionless innovation—you don't need to involve people, but everyone can contribute. This is core to how we iterate, since we want smaller teams moving quickly rather than large teams achieving consensus slowly.
We do what we promised to each other, customers, users, and investors.
Measure results not hours
We care about what you achieve: the code you shipped, the user you made happy, and the team member you helped. Someone who took the afternoon off shouldn't feel like they did something wrong. You don't have to defend how you spend your day. We trust team members to do the right thing instead of having rigid rules. We trust team members to show up and do their best work. Do not incite competition by proclaiming how many hours you worked yesterday. If you are working too many hours, talk to your manager to discuss solutions.
Our focus is to improve the results that customers achieve, which requires being aware of the Concur effect.
Arvind Narayanan, a Princeton Professor, described his frustration with Blackboard in a viral Tweet:
It has every feature ever dreamed up. But like anything designed by a committee, the interface is incoherent and any task requires at least fifteen clicks (and that's if you even remember the correct sequence the first time).
Software companies can be breathtakingly clueless when there's a layer of indirection between them and their users. Everyone who's suffered through Blackboard will have the same reaction to this: try having less functionality!
Ryan Falor followed up on Narayanan's tweet with his definition of the Concur Effect:
- decision makers are not direct users
- features are overwhelming and disjointed
- user experience gets worse over time
See the Hacker News discussion for a specific UX example.
At GitLab, we want to drive customer results through focusing on platform enhancements that drive the most value for direct users.
Customer results are more important than:
- What we plan to make. If we focus only on our own plans, we would have only GitLab.com and no self-managed delivery of GitLab.
- Large customers. This leads to the innovator's dilemma, so we should also focus on small customers and future customers (users).
- What customers ask for. This means we don't use the phrase "customer focus", because it tempts us to prioritize what the customer says they want over what we discover they actually need through our product development process. Often, it’s easier for a customer to think in terms of a specific solution than to think about the core problem that needs to be solved. But a solution that works well for one customer isn’t always relevant to other customers, and it may not align with our overall product strategy. When a customer asks for something specific, we should strive to understand why, work to understand the broader impact, and then create a solution that scales.
- Our existing scope. For example, when customers asked for better integrations and complained about integration costs and effort, we responded by expanding our scope to create a single application for the DevOps lifecycle.
- Our assumptions. Every company works differently, so we can’t assume that what works well for us will support our customers’ needs. When we have an idea, we must directly validate our assumptions with customers to ensure we create scalable, highly relevant solutions.
- What we control. We should take responsibility for what the customer experiences, even when it isn’t entirely in our control. We aim to treat every customer-managed instance downtime as a $1M a day problem.
- We use our own product. Our development organization uses GitLab.com to manage the DevOps lifecycle of GitLab itself.
- Our entire company uses GitLab to collaborate on this handbook. We also capture other content and processes in Git repos and manage them with GitLab.
- When something breaks, doesn't work well, or needs improvement, we are more likely to notice it internally and address it before it impacts our larger community.
We give people agency to focus on what they think is most beneficial. If a meeting doesn't seem interesting and someone's active participation is not critical to the outcome of the meeting, they can always opt to not attend, or during a video call they can work on other things if they want. Staying in the call may still make sense even if you are working on other tasks, so other peers can ping you and get fast answers when needed. This is particularly useful in multi-purpose meetings where you may be involved for just a few minutes.
Write promises down
Agree in writing on measurable goals. Within the company we use public OKRs for that.
You don't always get results and this will lead to criticism from yourself and/or others. We believe our talents can be developed through hard work, targeted training, learning from others, on-the-job experience, and receiving input from others. It is in our DNA as a company and individuals to look for opportunity, stay humble, and never settle. We try to hire people based on their trajectory, not their pedigree. We also strive to foster a culture of curiosity and continuous learning where team members are provided and proactively seek out opportunities to grow themselves and their careers. We believe that with the right expectations and direction, people can grow to take on new challenges and surpass expectations.
This name comes from the quick guide to Stripe's culture. Our definition of global optimization is that you do what is best for the organization as a whole. Don't optimize for the goals of your team when it negatively impacts the goals of other teams, our users, and/or the company. Those goals are also your problem and your job. Keep your team as lean as possible, and help other teams achieve their goals. In the context of collaboration, this means that if anyone is blocked by you on a question, your approval, or a merge request review, your top priority is always to unblock them, either directly or through helping them find someone else who can, even if this takes time away from your own or your team's priorities.
We refer to this as "persistence of purpose". As talked about in The Influence Blog, tenacity is the ability to display commitment to what you believe in. You keep picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and quickly get going again having learned a little more.
We expect team members to complete tasks that they are assigned. You are responsible for executing with attention to detail, connecting the dots across the organization and anticipating and solving problems. As an owner, you are responsible for overcoming challenges, not suppliers or other team members. Take initiative and proactively inform stakeholders when there is something you might not be able to solve.
Sense of urgency
At an exponentially-scaling startup, time gained or lost has compounding effects. Try to get the results as fast as possible, but without compromising our other values and ways we communicate, so the compounding of results can begin and we can focus on the next improvement.
While we iterate with small changes, we strive for large, ambitious results. We achieve these through:
- Keeping the focus on the results and the outcome
- Aiming to be best in the world across all our functions
- Not being satisfied with the status quo and setting higher goals
- Ambitious mission and vision
- Ambitious OKRs
- Having and reporting against KPIs with guiding targets
- Having other people adopt our way of working
- Promotion of processes
- Blog posts
- Community Forum
- Job board
- Proactively critiquing ourselves
- Highlight where we fall short
- Have outside experts rate us
- Have users compare us to the alternative
- Increasing engagement with GitLab
- Not tolerating low performance
- Preventing risk aversion
Working at GitLab will expose you to situations of various levels of difficulty and complexity. This requires focus and the ability to defer gratification. We value the ability to maintain focus and motivation when work is tough and asking for help when needed.
Bias for action
It's important that we keep our focus on action, and don't fall into the trap of analysis paralysis or sticking to a slow, quiet path without risk. Decisions should be thoughtful, but delivering fast results requires the fearless acceptance of occasionally making mistakes; our bias for action also allows us to course correct quickly. Everyone will make mistakes, but it's the relative number of mistakes against all decisions made (i.e. percentage of mistakes), and the swift correction or resolution of that mistake, which is important. A key to success with transparency is to always combine an observation with (1) questions (to ensure understanding) and (2) suggestions for solutions / improvement to the group that can take action. We don't make general complaints without including and supporting the groups that can effect change. Success with transparency almost always requires effective collaboration.
Disagree, commit, and disagree
Everything can be questioned, but as long as a decision is in place, we expect people to commit to executing it. Any past decisions and guidelines are open to questioning as long as you act in accordance with them until they are changed. This is a common principle. Every decision can be changed; our best decision was one that changed an earlier one. In a manager-report circumstance, usually the report is the directly responsible individual (DRI). The manager may disagree with the final decision, but they still commit to the decision of the DRI.
In a group setting, participants may disagree with a proposal but not articulate their views for one reason or another. Sometimes, many or all individuals may disagree yet choose not to speak up, because no one believes they would get agreement from the group. As a result, everyone loses out on their feedback. Dissent is expression of that disagreement. However, it can be difficult and even socially expensive. Expression of feedback is a way for everyone to grow and learn, and is based on facts rather than opinions. Share your perspective, rather than agreeing simply to avoid conflict or to go along with everyone else.
When you want to reopen the conversation on something, show that your argument is informed by previous conversations and assume the decision was made with the best intent. You have to achieve results on every decision while it stands, even when you are trying to have it changed. You should communicate with the DRI who can change the decision instead of someone who can't.
We should strive to accept that there are things that we don’t know about the work we’re trying to do, and that the best way to drive out that uncertainty is not by layering analysis and conjecture over it, but rather accepting it and moving forward, driving it out as we go along. Wrong solutions can be fixed, but non-existent ones aren’t adjustable at all. The Clever PM Blog
Escalate to unblock
We should be diligent to define Directly Responsible Individuals (DRI). DRIs are empowered to escalate to unblock. Managers at GitLab seek to increase the output of the work of those on their team, a core concept in High Output Management. Early escalation, delivered with context of the challenge, enables managers to function as an unblocker.
Working efficiently on the right things enables us to make fast progress, which makes our work more fulfilling.
Only Healthy Constraints
Most companies regress to the mean and slow down over time. While some changes are required as a company grows and matures, not all change is inevitable or should be allowed to passively happen. As GitLab grows, we are conscious of how we operate and how it enables our ability to continue to operate with the agility of a startup. We try to limit ourselves to healthy constraints.
Write things down
We document everything: in the handbook, in meeting notes, in issues. We do that because "the faintest pencil is better than the sharpest memory." It is far more efficient to read a document at your convenience than to have to ask and explain. Having something in version control also lets everyone contribute suggestions to improve it.
Use the simplest and most boring solution for a problem, and remember that “boring” should not be conflated with “bad” or “technical debt.” The speed of innovation for our organization and product is constrained by the total complexity we have added so far, so every little reduction in complexity helps. Don’t pick an interesting technology just to make your work more fun; using established, popular tech will ensure a more stable and more familiar experience for you and other contributors.
Make a conscious effort to recognize the constraints of others within the team. For example, sales is hard because you are dependent on another organization, and development is hard because you have to preserve the ability to quickly improve the product in the future.
Self-service and self-learning
Team members should first search for their own answers and, if an answer is not readily found or the answer is not clear, ask in public as we all should have a low level of shame. Write down any new information discovered and pay it forward so that those coming after will have better efficiency built on top of practicing collaboration, inclusion, and documenting the results.
Efficiency for the right group
Optimize solutions globally for the broader GitLab community. Making a process efficient for one person or a small group may not be the efficient outcome for the whole GitLab community. As an example, it may be best to discard a renewal process that requires thousands of customers to each spend two hours in favor of one that only takes sixty seconds, even when it may make a monthly report less efficient internally! In a decision, ask yourself "For whom does this need to be most efficient?" Quite often, the answer may be your users, contributors, customers, or team members that are dependent upon your decision.
It is easy to prioritize consistency over efficiency because consistency is often more efficient initially. We should slow down when optimizing for consistency. Taking a company-wide lens when evaluating changes will help ensure that new processes will improve efficiency for GitLab as a whole and be the best decision for the company as a whole.
Be respectful of others' time
Consider the time investment you are asking others to make with meetings and a permission process. Try to avoid meetings, and if one is necessary, try to make attendance optional for as many people as possible. Any meeting should have an agenda linked from the invite, and you should document the outcome. Instead of having people ask permission, trust their judgment and offer a consultation process if they have questions.
Spend company money like it's your own
Every dollar we spend will have to be earned back. Be as frugal with company money as you are with your own. In saying this, we ask team members to weigh the cost of purchases against the value that they will bring to the company.
Consider the degree to which a purchase increases your ability to better accomplish your work and achieve business results relative to cost.
We have guidelines around this operating principle to help team members better understand our expensing process and expectations.
Amazon states it best with: "Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense."
Short verbal answers
Give short answers to verbal questions so the other party has the opportunity to ask more or move on.
Keep broadcasts short
Keep one-to-many written communication short, as mentioned in this HBR study: "A majority say that what they read is frequently ineffective because it’s too long, poorly organized, unclear, filled with jargon, and imprecise."
Managers of one
We want each team member to be a manager of one who doesn't need daily check-ins to achieve their goals. Team members are given the freedom to own projects and initiatives and are trusted to see them through to a successful end.
Freedom and responsibility over rigidity
When possible, we give people the responsibility to make a decision and hold them accountable for that, instead of imposing rules and approval processes. You should have clear objectives and the freedom to work on them as you see fit. Freedom and responsibility are more efficient than rigidly following a process, or creating interdependencies, because they enable faster decision velocity and higher rates of iteration.
Not every problem should lead to a new process to prevent them. Additional processes make all actions more inefficient; a mistake only affects one. Once you have accepted the mistake, learn from it.
Move fast by shipping the minimal viable change
We value constant improvement by iterating quickly, month after month. If a task is not the smallest viable and valuable thing, cut the scope.
Adoption of features, user requirements, and the competitive landscape change frequently and rapidly. The most successful companies adapt their roadmap and their organization quickly to keep pace. One of the things that makes this challenging is the impact on our team. People may need to change teams, subject matter, or even who manages them. This can rightly feel disruptive. If we coach ourselves to embrace the positive aspects of change, such as increased opportunity and new things to learn, we can move faster as a company and increase our odds of success. It is important to hold management accountable for being deliberate.
🌐 Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging
Diversity, inclusion and belonging are fundamental to the success of GitLab. We aim to make a significant impact in our efforts to foster an environment where everyone can thrive. We are designing a multidimensional approach to ensure that GitLab is a place where people from every background and circumstance feel like they belong and can contribute. We actively chose to build and institutionalize a culture that is inclusive and supports all team members equally in the process of achieving their professional goals. We hire globally and encourage hiring in a diverse set of countries. We work to make everyone feel welcome and to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities and nationalities in our community and company. For example, we celebrate our sponsorship of diversity, inclusion & belonging events and double the base referral bonus amount.
Bias towards asynchronous communication
Take initiative to operate asynchronously whenever possible. This shows care and consideration for those who may not be in the same time zone, are traveling outside of their usual time zone, or are structuring their day around pressing commitments at home or in their community.
This is demonstrated by communicating recordings of meetings, using GitLab Issues and Merge Requests rather than texts, calls, or Slack messages, and being sensitive to local holidays and vacation statuses. Encourage others to default to documentation rather than pressuring others to be online outside of their working hours.
Embracing uncomfortable ideas and conversations
Part of embracing diversity is a willingness to embrace often uncomfortable conversations and situations. This concept is also at the core of inclusion and helping to eliminate the problems that are faced by certain GitLab team members who may not be in the majority.
We believe that being willing to embrace discomfort is the path forward to a safe, balanced and inclusive work place for all. Challenge yourself, challenge your own pre-set notions and ideas about different cultures or things you don't understand. When we are willing to embrace being uncomfortable, we can focus on actually fixing the issues at hand rather than simply "appearing to care".
Understanding the impact of microaggressions
Microaggressions are much more than merely rude or insensitive comments. They can wear people down by slowly chipping away their sense of belonging/safety/inclusion over time. What is a microaggression?
"The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of color, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people." - Derald W. Sue
At GitLab we believe that everyone is entitled to a safe working space where they can express who they are and participate in conversations without worry of being spoken to in a harmful way, given that we want to encourage everyone to be mindful of what is a microaggression and be mindful of their potential impact.
Seek diverse perspectives
We believe that team members seeking feedback from a diverse group of team members, inside and outside of their group or function, leads to better decisions and a greater sense of team member belonging. For more guidance on how we define Diversity, please refer to GitLab's definition of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging. Feedback from a more heterogenous group often leads to better business outcomes as we incorporate diverse perspectives and uncover unconscious bias.
An example of this operating principle in action showcases the value of actively seeking diverse perspectives. The term "Brag Document" was used to describe when individuals documented their accomplishments. Documenting accomplishments is critical to team member development. However, team members had the psychological safety to raise the question of whether or not the title of the document made some feel uncomfortable. In an effort to seek a diverse perspective, a survey was conducted in one of the TMRG channels. The poll results showed that 100% of those polled preferred a different title and the title was changed.
Make family feel welcome
One of the unique elements to an all-remote culture is the ability to visit a person's home while collaborating. If the tenor of the meeting allows, feel welcome to invite your family members or pets to drop by and greet your colleagues. Be mindful of language and use of profanity to encourage a family-friendly environment.
Shift working hours for a cause
Caregiving, outreach programs, and community service do not conveniently wait for regular business hours to conclude. If there's a cause or community effort taking place, feel welcome to work with your manager and shift your working hours to be available during a period where you'll have the greatest impact for good. For colleagues supporting others during these causes, document everything and strive to post recordings so it's easy for them to catch up.
Be a mentor
People feel more included when they're supported. To encourage this, and to support diversified learning across departments, consider GitLab's Internship for Learning program.
Culture fit is a bad excuse
We don't hire based on culture or select candidates because we'd like to have a drink with them. We hire and reward team members based on our shared values as detailed on this page. We want a values fit, not a culture fit. We want cultural diversity instead of cultural conformity, such as a brogrammer atmosphere. Said differently: "culture add" > "culture fit" or "hire for culture contribution" since our mission is that everyone can contribute.
Religion and politics at work
We generally avoid discussing politics or religion in public forums because it is easy to alienate people that have a minority opinion. This doesn’t mean we never discuss these topics. Because we value diversity, inclusion and belonging, and want all team members to feel welcome and contribute equally, we encourage free discussion of operational decisions that can move us toward being a more inclusive company. GitLab also publicly supports pro diversity, inclusion & belonging activities and events.
There is sometimes a grey area where advocating for diversity and political activities may intersect. Team members should use discretion in grey area communications, because a culture of belonging requires us to be respectful of the broad spectrum of views within our work environment. What does this mean in practice? Please feel empowered to share information that highlights diversity, inclusion and belonging issues and how GitLab and GitLab team members can get involved. In line with our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, avoid posting articles that reference specific political figures or parties.
While it is acceptable for individuals to bring up politics and religion in social contexts such as coffee chats and real-life meetups with other coworkers (with the goal to understand and not judge), always be aware of potential sensitivities, exercise your best judgment, and make sure you stay within the boundaries of our Code of Business Conduct and Ethics.
We're a global company where perspectives and local norms may differ from culture to culture. Diversity, inclusion and belonging is about broad inclusion at a worldwide level. If there is a question or concern, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or #diversity_inclusion_and_belonging.
Unexpected and unconventional things make life more interesting. Celebrate and encourage quirky gifts, habits, behavior, and points of view. Open source is a great way to interact with interesting people. We try to hire people who think work is a great way to express themselves.
Building a safe community
Do not make jokes or unfriendly remarks about characteristics of the people who make up GitLab and how they identify. Everyone has the right to feel safe when working for GitLab and/or as a part of the GitLab community. We do not tolerate abuse, harassment, exclusion, discrimination, or retaliation by/of any community members, including our team members. You can always refuse to deal with people who treat you badly and get out of situations that make you feel uncomfortable.
We recognize that unconscious bias is something that affects everyone and that the effect it has on us as humans and our company is large. We are responsible for understanding our own implicit biases and helping others understand theirs. We are continuously working on getting better at this topic.
We list our Parental Leave publicly so people don't have to ask during interviews.
Inclusive language & pronouns
Use inclusive language. For example, prefer "Hi everybody" or "Hi people" to "Hi guys", and "they" instead of "he/she". While there are several good guides from folks like 18f, University of Calgary, and Buffer on using inclusive language, we don't keep an exhaustive list. When new possibly non-inclusive words arise, we prefer to be proactive and look for an alternative. If your goal is to be inclusive, it is more effective to make a small adjustment in the vocabulary when some people have a problem with it, rather than making a decision to not change it because some people don’t think it is a problem. And if you make a mistake (e.g. accidentally using the wrong pronoun or an outdated phrase), acknowledge it, apologize gracefully and move on; there is no need to dwell on it, and you can work to avoid making that mistake in the future. Please also visit our Gender and Sexual-orientation Identity Definitions and FAQ page if you have questions around pronouns and other topics related to gender / sexual orientation.
This is documented on our page about interviewing.
Be consciously inclusive in meetings by giving everyone present an opportunity to talk and present their points of view. This can be especially important in a remote setting.
With internal meetings, consider using an agenda document for questions. For example, with GitLab Group Conversations, every meeting has a numbered list that GitLab team members can add questions to. During the meeting, questions are answered in turn and discussions noted in the same document. Sometimes, these documents can have so much traffic (during the meeting) such that only a limited number of people can edit the document. In these situations, those who have questions should post on zoom chat and those who can edit the document should help copy the question over to the document. In addition, those who can edit the document should also post in zoom chat to see if anyone has any questions that they could help add to the document so that meeting attendees are more empowered to contribute to the conversation.
Customers are not used to working in this way. To promote inclusion with customers: ask participants for their goals; make sure during demos that you pause for question; leave time for discussion.
Inclusive and fair policy to regions with fewer employees
Being globally distributed has the benefit that someone can cover for you when you are off work. However, population density is not balanced across timezones. Policies should remain fair to those in less dense regions.
For example, the Asia Pacific region covers more timezones but has fewer team members. If we use an algorithm to assign tasks to those in later timezones, all American tasks would fall on the fewer Asia Pacific employees. This can damage belonging and inclusivity and should be avoided.
When planning an event, the organizer should cater for location density differences to maximize participation in all regions.
See Something, Say Something
As a globally-dispersed company, we have team members from many different backgrounds and cultures. That means it is important for each of us to use great judgment in being respectful and inclusive of our teammates. At the same time, we may sometimes not fully realize we have said or done something to offend someone. It is important that our teammates hold each other accountable and let them know if they have unintentionally or intentionally done something so they can learn and gain additional understanding of perspectives different from our own. It is also important that our teammates don't feel excluded or minimized by the words we use or the things we do. Thus, we all need to speak up when we see something that isn't respectful or inclusive.
Neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain regarding learning, attention, sociability, mood, and other mental functions. There are various neurodevelopmental conditions, like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, cognitive impairment, schizophrenia, bipolarity, and other styles of neurodivergent functioning. While neurodivergent individuals often bring unique skills and abilities which can be harnessed for a competitive advantage in many fields (for example, cybersecurity), neurodivergent individuals are often discriminated against. Due to non-inclusive hiring practices, they sometimes have trouble making it through traditional hiring processes. Neurodiversity inclusion best practices benefit everyone, and at GitLab, everyone can contribute. The handbook, values, strategy, and interviewing processes must support the ability for everyone to thrive.
At GitLab we embrace Neurodiversity through adopting a variety of different work styles and communication styles, and we lean into transparency, asynchronous as a default working style, and pre-filled meeting agendas. These best practices become even more important when embracing neurodiversity. Providing multiple ways to consume information (written / video / audio) allows everyone to contribute independent of their preferred comprehension style. It is important to ask team members specifically what their preferred communication method is in order to provide them information in a format that is easily consumable for them.
Remember, brains work differently and always assume positive intent, even if someone behaves in an unexpected way. While it may be an unexpected behavior to you, it may not be unexpected to the individual exhibiting the behavior. That is the beauty and value of diversity, embracing differences and becoming stronger and better as a result.
We also recommend that all team members review the Reasonable Accommodation process. A Reasonable Accommodation for a team member could include noise-cancelling headphones, scheduling smaller group session zoom calls, providing very explicit and precise instructions and due-dates when given tasks, or providing a variety of supportive software tools.
The most important thing that managers can do is facilitate an environment in which all team members feel psychologically safe enough to make requests for what they need in order to do their job.
Family and friends first, work second
Long-lasting relationships are the rocks of life, and come before work. As someone said in our #thanks channel after helping a family member for five days after a hurricane: "THANK YOU to GitLab for providing a culture where "family first" is truly meant". Use the hashtag: #FamilyAndFriends1st
We do the smallest viable and valuable thing, and get it out quickly for feedback. This thing may be additive (adding something) or subtractive (removing something). If you make suggestions that can be excluded from the first iteration, turn them into a separate issue that you link. Don't write a large plan; only write the first step. Trust that you'll know better how to proceed after something is released. You're doing it right if you're slightly embarrassed by the minimal feature set shipped in the first iteration. This value is the one people most underestimate when they join GitLab. The impact both on your work process and on how much you achieve is greater than anticipated. In the beginning, it hurts to make decisions fast and to see that things are changed with less consultation. But frequently, the simplest version turns out to be the best one.
People that join GitLab all say they already practice iteration. But this is the value that is the hardest to understand and adopt. People are trained that if you don't deliver a perfect or polished thing, there will be a problem. If you do just one piece of something, you have to come back to it. Doing the whole thing seems more efficient, even though it isn't. If the complete picture is not clear, your work might not be perceived as you want it to be perceived. It seems better to make a comprehensive product. They see other GitLab team members being really effective with iteration but don't know how to make the transition, and it's hard to shake the fear that constant iteration can lead to shipping lower-quality work or a worse product. It is possible to ship a minimally viable product while continuing to adhere to the documented quality standards.
The way to resolve this is to write down only what value you can add with the time you have for this project right now. That might be 5 minutes or 2 hours. Think of what you can complete in that time that would improve the current situation. Iteration can be uncomfortable, even painful. If you're doing iteration correctly, it should be. Reverting work back to a previous state is positive, not negative. We're quickly getting feedback and learning from it. Making a small change prevented a bigger revert and made it easier to revert.
However, if we take smaller steps and ship smaller, simpler features, we get feedback sooner. Instead of spending time working on the wrong feature or going in the wrong direction, we can ship the smallest product, receive fast feedback, and course correct. People might ask why something was not perfect. In that case, mention that it was an iteration, you spent only "x" amount of time on it, and that the next iteration will contain "y" and be ready on "z".
In the GitLab Unfiltered video embedded above, GitLab CEO and co-founder Sid Sijbrandij shares key operating principles to reinforce iteration in an organization.
Don’t wait. When you have something of value like a potential blog post or a small fix, implement it straight away. Right now, everything is fresh in your head and you have the motivation. Inspiration is perishable. Don’t wait until you have a better version. Don’t wait until you record a better video. Don’t wait for an event (like Contribute). Inventory that isn’t released is a liability since it has to be managed, becomes outdated, and you miss out on the feedback you would have received had you implemented it straight away.
Set a due date
We always try to set a due date. If needed, we cut scope. If we have something planned for a specific date, we make that date. For example we shipped over 100 releases on the 22nd of the month. But every one of them doesn't contain all the features we planned. If we planned an announcement for a certain date, we might announce less or indicate what is still uncertain. But we set a due date because having something out there builds trust and gives us better feedback.
Cleanup over sign-off
As discussed in Sid's interview on iteration, waiting for approval can slow things down. We can prevent this with automation (e.g. tests of database migration performance) or clean-up after the fact (refactor a Pajamas if something was added that isn't coherent), but we try to ensure that people don't need to wait for signoff.
Start off by impacting the fewest users possible
If you do a gradual rollout of your change prefer: few users over many users, internal users (dogfooding) over external ones, environments you get faster feedback about (SaaS) over low feedback ones (self-managed), etc.
Reduce cycle time
Short iterations reduce our cycle time.
Work as part of the community
Small iterations make it easier to work with the wider community. Their work looks more like our work, and our work is also quicker to receive feedback.
Minimal Viable Change (MVC)
We encourage MVCs to be as small as possible. Always look to make the quickest change possible to improve the user's outcome. If you validate that the change adds more value than what is there now, then do it. This may be additive (adding something) or subtractive (removing something). No need to wait for something more robust. More information is in the product handbook, but this applies to everything we do in all functions. Specifically for product MVCs, there is additional responsibility to validate with customers that we're adding useful functionality without obvious bugs or usability issues.
Make a proposal
If you need to decide something as a team, make a concrete proposal instead of calling a meeting to get everyone's input. Having a proposal will be a much more effective use of everyone's time. Every meeting should be a review of a proposal. We should be brainwriting on our own instead of brainstorming out loud. State the underlying problem so that people have enough context to propose reasonable alternatives. The people that receive the proposal should not feel left out and the person making it should not feel bad if a completely different proposal is implemented. Don't let your desire to be involved early or to see your solution implemented stand in the way of getting to the best outcome. If you don't have a proposal, don't let that stop you from highlighting a problem, but please state that you couldn't think of a good solution and list any solutions you considered.
In this GitLab Unfiltered video, GitLab CEO and co-founder Sid Sijbrandij converses about iteration in engineering, leveraging proposals to break work into smaller components.
Everything is in draft
At GitLab, we rarely mark any content or proposals as drafts. Everything is always in draft and subject to change.
As we get more users, they will ask for stability, especially in our UX. We should always optimize for the long term. This means that users will be inconvenienced in the short term, but current and future users will enjoy a better product in the end.
Educating users on the longer-term plan helps create a shared understanding of how a small change will incrementally grow into something more. For example, we could share how a dropdown will evolve into a much more nuanced solution in the future. We can take the following steps to articulate our plan:
- Open a feedback issue that provides context about the initial MVC (example)
- Ensure the direction page articulates a long-term plan (example)
- Announce the MVC in a release post, link to the feedback issue, and link to the direction page (example)
Low level of shame
When we talked to Nat Friedman, he said: "A low level of shame is intrinsic to your culture." This captures the pain we feel by shipping something that isn't where we want it to be yet.
GitLab Head of Remote Darren M. adds context on this operating principle.
In many organizations, you take a risk when you put forth any work that's not perfect — where you haven't spent endless cycles planning for contingencies or counterpoints. Because of this, you're incentivized to invest a lot of time and effort into preparing for 'What if?' scenarios before any work is presented.
The downside to that is clear. If you do eventually put forth the work, but it needed to be course corrected a long time ago, you've now squandered a lot of time that you could have spent improving it via iteration.
Having a low level of shame requires you to combat a natural inclination to conceal work until it's perfect, and instead celebrate the small changes.
Cultural differences can bring unique challenges and expectations to iteration. For some, expressions like "it doesn't have to be perfect…" can challenge cultural norms. We encourage you to bring your authentic self and seek shared understanding when iterating. Giving feedback and ensuring psychological safety are necessary for every iterative attempt.
Focus on improvement
We believe great companies sound negative because they focus on what they can improve, not only on what is working well. In every conversation, inside and outside the company, we should ask a question: What do you think we can improve? This doesn't mean we don't recognize our successes; for example, see our Say Thanks value.
We are positive about the future of the company. We are Short Term Critical And Long Term Optimistic (
STeCALTO, for short).
Be deliberate about scale
First, optimize for speed and results (and be deliberate about how your change affects other processes/functionality); when it is a success, figure out how to scale it. Great examples are in this article by Paul Graham.
Resist the urge to bundle a series of smaller iterations so team members don't see a project as their last (or best) opportunity to contribute. It's tempting to create encompassing projects or initiatives that roll many smaller projects up. This incarnation of scope creep drives up cost, encourages fewer risks, and incentivizes perfection (via longer cycle times) over progress.
Make two-way door decisions
Most decisions are easy to reverse. In these cases, the directly responsible individual should go ahead and make them without approval. Only when you can't reverse them should there be a more thorough discussion.
Changing proposals isn't iteration
Changing something without shipping it is a revision, not iteration. Only when the change is rolled out to users can you learn from feedback. When you're changing a proposal based on different opinions, you're frequently wasting time; it would be better to roll out a small change quickly and get real world feedback. Never call a revision an iteration because it is almost the opposite.
A few challenges have arisen with how we approach iteration. The best example may be the proposal of a two-month release cycle. The argument was that a longer release cycle would buy us time for bug fixes and feature development, but we don’t believe that is the case. As detailed above, we aim to make the absolute smallest viable and valuable thing possible, and that doing otherwise will only slow us down.
That said, we would love to work on a two-week release cycle, but that should be another conversation.
In order to embrace iteration, we should have the attitude that we are trying to achieve as much as possible in a small amount of time; it's where we are at the end state of an iteration, that counts. The benefit of iteration is to get feedback from the end-user. Focus on sharing context on the end of the first iteration rather than a hypothetical future state requiring multiple iterations.
Make small merge requests
When you are submitting a merge request for a code change, or a process change in the handbook, keep it as small as possible. If you are adding a new page to the handbook, create the new page with a small amount of initial content, get it merged quickly via Handbook Usage guidelines, and then add additional sections iteratively with subsequent merge requests. Similarly, when adding features to GitLab, consider ways to reduce the scope of the feature before creating the merge request to ensure your merge request is as small as possible.
Always iterate deliberately
Rapid iteration can get in the way of results if it's not thought out; for example, when adjusting our marketing messaging (where consistency is key), product categories (where we've set development plans), organizational structure or product scope alignment (where real human stresses and team stability are involved), sales methodologies (where we've trained our teams) and this values page (where we use the values to guide all GitLab team members). In those instances, we add additional review to the approval process; not to prohibit, but to be more deliberate in our iteration. The change process is documented in the GitLab Handbook Usage page and takes place via merge request approvals.
See it in action
Iteration is so important to GitLab that the CEO hosts Iteration Office Hours to provide guidance and assist in breaking large, complex topics into MVCs and smaller iterations of work.
You can view these on our GitLab Unfiltered YouTube channel.
Examples of iteration in other companies
Iteration is a key value in many disruptive and successful organizations. Below are some examples:
12 things that are not iteration
Iteration is often counterintuitive and difficult to do. To clarify what an iteration is, it helps to see examples of what is not an iteration. Below are 12 examples of things we've seen mistaken as iteration, but don't meet our definition of iteration.
- Reducing quality
- Avoiding or reducing documentation
- Compromising on security
- Delivering something that's not the recommended path or on by default
- Shipping something of no value
- An excuse to focus on unimportant items
- Changing or lowering goal posts
- Revisions you don't ship or publish
- An excuse to impose unrealistically tight timelines
- An excuse to avoid planning
- Imposing long hours
- Expecting others to fix your work
In this GitLab Unfiltered video, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij elaborates on each of these 12 things that are not iteration.
Be open about as many things as possible. By making information public, we can reduce the threshold to contribution and make collaboration easier. Use public issue trackers, projects, and repositories when possible.
An example is the public repository of this website that also contains this company handbook. Everything we do is public by default, such as the GitLab CE and GitLab EE issue trackers, as well as marketing and infrastructure. Transparency creates awareness for GitLab, allows us to recruit people that care about our values, gets us more and faster feedback from people outside the company, and makes it easier to collaborate with them. It is also about sharing great software, documentation, examples, lessons, and processes with the whole community and the world in the spirit of open source, which we believe creates more value than it captures.
There are exceptions. Material that is not public by default is documented. We are above average at keeping things confidential that need to be. On a personal level, you should tell it like it is instead of putting up a poker face. Don't be afraid to admit you made a mistake or were wrong. When something goes wrong, it is a great opportunity to say "What’s the kaizen moment here?" and find a better way without hurt feelings.
Even as a public company, we know that our value of transparency will be key to our success. This value can be hard to follow at times. You might ask yourself: what should be shared, how much to share, whether or not to speak up but definitely take the time to always opt for maximum transparency by adhering to the operating principles below. Often, company values get diluted as they grow, most likely because they do not write anything down. But we will make sure our values scale with the company. As a public company, we declare everyone in the company as an insider, which allows us to remain transparent internally about our numbers, etc. Everything else that can be transparent will continue to be so.
Public by default
Everything at GitLab is public by default. If something is not public, there should be a reference in the handbook that states a confidential decision was taken with a link to our Not Public guidelines, unless legal feels it carries undue risk. The public process does two things: allows others to benefit from the conversation and acts as a filter. Since there is only a limited amount of time, we prioritize conversations that a wider audience can benefit from.
In line with our value of transparency and being public by default, all GitLab team member profiles should be public. Public profiles also enable broader collaboration and efficiencies between teams. To do so, please make sure that the checkbox under the Private profile option is unchecked in your profile settings. If you do not feel comfortable with your full name or location on your profile, please change it to what feels appropriate to you as these are displayed even on private profiles.
If you believe something shouldn't be public that currently is (or vice versa), then make a merge request to the relevant page(s) suggesting the change so that you can collaborate with others and discuss with the DRI.
We make information public by default because transparency is one of our values. However it is most important to focus on results. Therefore, a category of information is public unless there is a reason for it not to be.
When information is not public, it may also be treated as limited access, only shared with certain GitLab roles, teams, or team members due to privacy considerations, contractual obligation, or other reasons that the author or DRI can specify. Certain kinds of information default to limited access, including details about team members or customers who did not give permission to share the information.
Most companies become non-transparent over time because they don't accept any mistakes. Instead, we should always err on the side of transparency when there is a choice to be made between caution or inaction, and transparency. If we make a mistake, we now know what the limits of transparency are for the company and we should document this. The only exception to this rule would be in the case when there are legal concerns.
We document what is not public by default on our communication page.
Being direct is about being transparent with each other. We try to channel our inner Ben Horowitz by being both straightforward and kind. Feedback is always about your work and not your person. That doesn't mean it will be easy to give or receive it.
Articulate when you change your mind
If you state one thing, and then change course and support a different direction, point, or outcome, articulate this. It is OK to have your position changed by new data. Articulating that an earlier stance is not your current stance provides clarity to others and encourages data-driven decision making.
Surface issues constructively
Be transparent to the right people (up) at the right time (when still actionable). If you make a mistake, don't worry; correct it and proactively let the affected party, your team, and the CEO know what happened, how you corrected it, and how—if needed—you changed the process to prevent future mistakes.
Transparency is most valuable if you continue to do it when there are costs
We practice transparency even when hiding the facts would be easier. For example, many companies do not give you the real reason why they declined your application because it increases the chance of legal action. We want to only reject people for the right reasons and we want to give them the opportunity to grow by getting this feedback. Therefore, we'll accept the increased risk of holding ourselves to a high standard of making decisions and do the right thing by telling them what we thought. Other examples are being transparent about security incidents and participating in and contributing to Live Broadcasts.
Transparency has costs (distraction, mis-interpretation, etc.) but also great benefits (productivity, hiring, retention, brand awareness, etc). Team members can view more details on these benefits by referencing the "Transparency Benefit Quantification" slides in Google Drive). We should carefully weigh the tradeoff between costs and benefits, to prevent a knee-jerk reaction to reduce transparency when it has costs.
Single Source of Truth
By having most company communications and work artifacts be public to the Internet, we have one single source of truth for all GitLab team members, users, customers, and other community members. We don‘t need separate artifacts with different permissions for different people.
Our transparency value means more than just making information accessible to all. In order to improve performance it's important that we not only ensure information is accessible, but also ensure it flows to the correct places and is findable by those who need it. Focusing on information flow will ensure you, for example, utilize multi-modal communication, or that you keep your stakeholders informed of changes by posting links to MRs in Slack.
Say why, not just what
Transparent changes have the reasons for the change laid out clearly along with the change itself. This leads to fewer questions later on because people already have some understanding. A change with no public explanation can lead to a lot of extra rounds of questioning, which is less efficient.
This also helps with institutional memory: a year from now when you want to know why a decision was made, or not, the issue or MR that has the decision also shares why the decision was made. This is related to Chesterton's fence - it's much easier to suggest removing or changing something if you know why it exists in the first place.
Avoid using terms such as "industry standard" or "best practices" as they are vague, opaque, and don't provide enough context as a reason for a change.
Similarly, merely stating a single value isn't a great explanation for why we are making a particular decision. Many things could be considered "iteration" or "efficiency" that don't match our definition of those values. Try to link to an operating principle of the value or provide more context, instead of just saying a single value's name.
Saying why and not just what enables discussion around topics that may impact more than one value; for instance, when weighing the efficiency of boring solutions with the focus on customer results. When decisions align with all of our values, they are easy to discuss and decide. When there are multiple values involved, using our values hierarchy and directly discussing the tradeoffs is easier with more context.
Articulating why also helps people understand how something changed when you articulate that you changed your mind.
Saying why does not mean justifying a decision against all other suggestions. The DRI is responsible for their decision. The DRI is not responsible for convincing other people, but they should be able to articulate their reasoning for the change.
When a GitLab Team Member comes across an ask or material (MR, handbook, etc.) that does not provide a "why" with sufficient context, the Team Member is responsible for getting the why and, if needed, working with the DRI to ensure that it is adequately documented and communicated to give context to other team members. In the absence of a why, team members may speculate the why. This is something that can lead to disruption and inefficiency.
Enable everybody involved to come to the same conclusion as you. This not only involves reasoning, but also providing, for example: raw data and not just plots; scripts to automate tasks and not just the work they have done; and documenting steps while analyzing a problem. Do your best to make the line of thinking transparent to others, even if they may disagree.
Why have values
Our values provide guidelines on how to behave and are written to be actionable. They help us describe the type of behavior that we expect from GitLab team members. They help us to know how to behave in the organization and what to expect from others.
Values provide a framework for distributed decision making, detailed in GitLab's TeamOps management philosophy. They allow individuals to determine what to do without asking their manager and they allow teams to make consistent decisions. When teams across the organization reference the same values in their decision making, there is consistency in how decisions are made. This ensures that our culture remains driven by our values.
Lastly, values create a conscious culture that is designed to help you prosper and experience exceptional personal growth through work.
Our values also help us to prevent the five dysfunctions:
- Fear of conflict Seeking artificial harmony over constructive passionate debate => prevented by transparency, specifically directness and collaboration, specifically short toes
- Absence of trust Unwilling to be vulnerable within the group => prevented by collaboration, specifically kindness
- Avoidance of accountability Ducking the responsibility to call peers on counterproductive behavior which sets low standards => prevented by results, iteration, and transparency
- Inattention to results Focusing on personal success, status, and ego before team success => prevented by results
- Lack of commitment Feigning buy-in for group decisions creates ambiguity throughout the organization => prevented by transparency, specifically directness
Some dysfunctions are not addressed directly by our values; for example, trust is not one of our values. Similar to happiness, trust is something that is an outcome, not something you can strive for directly. We hope that the way we work and our values will instill trust, instead of mandating it from people; trust is earned, not given.
Operating principles are behaviors that empower GitLab team members to definitively live out a given value. They clarify what a given core value means and looks like at GitLab. Understanding this distinction is critical to thriving at GitLab, particularly for newer team members who may be familiar with a prior organization's interpretation of iteration or collaboration (as examples).
Process for removing operating principles
Values are not just things we do, but things that actively drive good behaviour. When we remove them it doesn't mean we stopped believing in it, just that it wasn't actively helping to drive behaviour. If we don't prune our operating principles, then we will be like every other company: things that make sense but are not leading to a better culture.
- To remove an operating principle from the Handbook page, submit your change through a merge request and explain your reasons in the merge request description.
- The GitLab Value Handbook Page owner must approve and merge the request.
Mention the specific value
Most companies have a list of values. In companies without strong values, folks often use generalizations when they refer to values. For example, "not a value add" or "scored well on values during our interview." In companies with strong values, folks name the specific, relevant value as it applies to a given topic or situation. Values are only powerful when they are individually understood and applied by team members.
How to scale the business while preserving GitLab values?
For certain business decisions or projects (such as compensation and end-point management ), GitLab team members may have a lot of opinions and interest, and they want to provide their feedback and comments. On the other hand, it might be challenging for the project DRI to digest and respond to all these inputs. What should you do in this scenario?
Everyone can contribute at GitLab. We encourage team members to share feedback and leave comments on issues. Leaving feedback and comments shows that team members care about a topic and about GitLab as a company. These perspectives may also uncover potential risks and problems in the project.
There shouldn't be a “Don’t they have their job to do?” type of response. Furthermore, we shouldn’t judge team members who are perceived as being the “squeaky wheel.” At GitLab, we measure results, not hours. As long as a team member is producing required results, they are empowered to decide how to spend their time.
On the other hand, as GitLab grows in size, we need to make decisions and the decisions may not be agreed to by everyone. If a decision or project is sensitive or controversial, and receives large amounts of feedback, it can be challenging for the project DRI to handle. In these cases, it's best to have time-boxed feedback built into timelines.
In a hypothetical example where a DRI needs to decide between red and gold potatoes for a stew, they would create an issue with the following sentiment:
We’re deciding between red potatoes and gold potatoes to go into the stew. We have to decide by Tuesday 2020-07-14 so that we can get our order to the grocery store on Wednesday 2020-07-15. We’ll be collecting input and feedback until that point. Jane is the DRI and will make the decision on 2020-07-14 with all the information we have at that point. Here is the framework we’re using for the decision:
- are there allergies to consider?
- cost per pound
- team member preferences
Once the decision is made, it will be what is going into the stew.
This method has shown itself to be effective at soliciting productive feedback that doesn't derail a timeline while ensuring team members feel heard.
Why our values are public
Companies are encouraged to copy and implement GitLab's values. They are Creative Commons and can be copied verbatim.
We make our values public for the same reasons we make our OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and strategy public. There is great power and efficiency in teams who share company values. Concealing values until after someone is hired into an organization is not a wise strategy.
Not everyone will see our values and feel aligned with them, and that's OK. By making values public, it shows respect for the time of job seekers who conduct due diligence on prospective employers. When people who are aligned with GitLab's values apply for an open vacancy, this allows our hiring teams to more efficiently move candidates through the interview process.
In a GitLab Unfiltered interview on values, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij offers the following context.
Companies may ask you to write a blank check. They'll say, 'Come join our organization, and when you're here, you need to subscribe to our values, our way of working, and our strategy. It's very essential, and it's part of our identity!'
But these companies don't give you the opportunity up front to evaluate it. It doesn't make any sense to me. If it's so important that people share your values, have them out there.
Occasionally, values can contradict each other. For instance, transparency would dictate we publish all security vulnerabilities the moment they are found, but this would jeopardize our users. It's useful to keep in mind this hierarchy to resolve confusion about what to do in a specific circumstance, while remaining consistent with our core values.
Think of the hierarchy as a weighting system. Values higher in the hierarchy do not automatically override values lower in the hierarchy. Here are some examples:
- If a change impacts Transparency positively but impacts Efficiency negatively in roughly the same amount, we would move ahead since Transparency is higher in the hierarchy than Efficiency.
- If a change has a massive positive impact on Diversity but negatively impacts Iteration, we would move ahead even though Diversity is lower in the hierarchy than Iteration because the overall impact is more positive than negative.
In a GitLab Unfiltered interview on values, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij offers the following context.
It's an attempt to relieve at least some of the tension. It's not absolute. If you think of values as binary, that's not going to work. There will always be interpretation, and there's always magnitude to consider.
We made a hierarchy so that it's clear, in the end, the result matters most. For instance, we're not going to be transparent for the sake of being transparent. We're not radical in our transparency. We do it because we think it will lead to better outcomes.
Those hierarchies are really important. They won't preempt every debate, but it helps.
Updating our values
Our values are updated frequently and as needed. Everyone is welcome to make a suggestion to improve them. To update: make a merge request and assign it to the CEO. If you're a team member or in the core team please post a link to the MR in the
#values Slack channel. If you're not part of those groups, please send a direct Twitter message to @sytses.
How do we reinforce our values
Whatever behavior you reward will become your values. We reinforce our values by:
- Criteria we use for promotions and communicate to the whole company on announcement.
- What we select for during hiring.
- What we emphasize during on-boarding.
- Criteria we use for our annual compensation review.
- What we refer to when making decisions.
- The example the E-group sets for the company since a fish rots from the head down.
- What we expect from all team members, as ambassadors for our values.
- Keeping them up to date with a stream of commits that add details.
- Behavior we give each other 360 feedback on.
- Behavior we compliment.
- Criteria we use for discretionary bonuses.
- What we include in our offer letters
- Criteria we use to manage underperformance.
- What we do when we let people go.
- Giving value awards during Contribute.
- Providing GitLab team members and qualified individuals transparency into all aspects of the company through the CEO Shadow Program to enable them to better engage and collaborate cross-functionally.
- Linking the takeaways of courses to our values, like we did for the Crucial Conversations training.
- The default settings of the software we use (for example: Speedy meetings, document sharing, agendas, etc.)
- Reinforcing our values with features in GitLab, for example the Iterations feature.
- Applying one of our values virtual backgrounds in video calls.
- Our GitLab Song Book, the song lyrics often mention GitLab values.
- Regularly conduct a values exercise at the e-group offsite.
The most important moments to reinforce our values are decisions which affect individual team members most: hiring, promotions, and bonuses, which is why every promotion document at GitLab is shared with the entire company and uses the values as its core structure.
In negative feedback, we should be specific about what the problem is. For example, saying someone is "not living the values" isn't helpful.
Your values are what you hire for, what you praise people for, and what you promote them for. By definition, what you do in those instances are your values. It's not what you say they are. Values should be explicitly part of our hiring process, our job profiles, and our review process.
When we give bonuses and promotions, they are always linked to values. That's the crucial thing. If you reinforce them there, that's the most powerful thing you can do. — Sid Sijbrandij, GitLab co-founder and CEO
What to do if values aren't being lived out
Value erosion can occur when indifference and apathy are tolerated. It can also occur when individuals justify undesired behaviors by interpreting values as "me values" rather than "company values." For example, a team member may speak to the importance of personal efficiency in order to justify not collaborating professionally with peers. This is not what we expect from team members in terms of efficiency and collaboration.
If you feel that values are not being lived out in a given scenario, speak up and ask for context in a respectful manner. Navigating value conflicts starts with assuming positive intent from other team members. Offer links to relevant values and/or operating principles when discussing the issue. If there is confusion or disagreement about the interpretation of a value, please surface the discussion in GitLab's
#values Slack channel (for GitLab team members) or @-mentioning @gitlab on Twitter (for those who do not work at GitLab).
In a GitLab Unfiltered interview on values, GitLab co-founder and CEO Sid Sijbrandij offers the following context.
Almost every time we face a hard decision at GitLab, it's because values are in conflict. It's not binary logic. It requires conversation, and sometimes there is no obvious answer. We can only achieve resolution by respectfully talking with each other and trusting the DRI to make the ultimate decision.
Permission to play
From our values we excluded some behaviors that are obvious; we call them our permission to play behavior:
- Be truthful and honest.
- Be dependable and reliable.
- Try to keep promises. If you might not keep a promise, proactively communicate as soon as you suspect it.
- Be deserving of the trust of our team members, users and customers.
- Be committed to the success of the whole organization.
- Act in the best interest of the company, our team members, our customers, users, and investors.
- Make the best decisions for GitLab.
- Act in accordance with the law.
- Don't show favoritism as it breeds resentment, destroys employee morale, and creates disincentives for good performance. Seek out ways to be fair to everyone.
Playing politics is counter to GitLab values
We don't want people to play politics at GitLab.
An example of politics is people discussing a proposal and being overly focused on whose proposal it is. This is a manifestation of the Belief Bias, where we judge an argument’s strength not by how strongly it supports the conclusion but by how strongly we support the conclusion. Proposals should be weighed on their merits and not on who proposed them. Another example is people being promoted based on others liking them or having a lot of alliances. We want people to be promoted based on their results. We value collaboration, but that's different from being promoted just because people like you.
Below are some attributes of political and non-political work environments. GitLab plans maintain a non-political one.
|Political environment||Non-political environment|
|Values are weaponized and used out of their intended context||Team members utilize values with a positive intent|
|Team members are driven by self-interest||Team members are driven by company interest|
|Team members work in silos||Team members optimize globally|
|People have territorial behaviors||People have short toes|
|People have unhealthy alliances with backroom conversations||People have good intent and actively collaborate with folks|
|Information is intentionally withheld||Information is shared early (often WIP) and at the same time with all interested parties|
Values make choices
Values make and clarify choices. A well-chosen value has a defensible opposite. Apple, for example, values secrecy over transparency and product perfection over iteration. They are successful building around our counter values — although the result is a very different company.
What is not a value
- All-remote isn't a value. It is something we do because it helps to practice our values of transparency, efficiency, results, and diversity, inclusion & belonging.
Questions from new team members
During every GitLab 101 session with new hires we discuss our values. We document the questions and answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the GitLab Culture.
New team members should read GitLab's guide to starting a new remote role, and reference interviews centered on values within the GitLab Unfiltered YouTube channel.
Our mission is that everyone can contribute. This mission guides our path, and we live our values along that path.
We have a page which documents our Mitigating Concerns. Many of our values help to mitigate some of these concerns.
GitLab Values Knowledge Assessment
Anyone can test their knowledge on our GitLab values. To obtain a certificate, you will need to complete this learning course in Level Up and earn at least an 80%. Once the quiz has been passed, you will receive a certificate for your Level Up profile. You can also share the badge on your personal LinkedIn page. If you have questions, please reach out to our L&D team at