Google strongly believes in encouraging its employees to become teachers, in the name of building a more creative, satisfied workforce.
In 2013, employees held more than 2,000 different “classes,” to educate each other on topics ranging from search algorithm design to fire breathing.
In addition to those formalized lectures, though, Google’s engineers have created a simple system of support that keeps employees happy, according to the new book “Work Rules!” by Google’s HR boss Laszlo Bock.
Over 30 Googlers with a broad understanding of the company have volunteered to become “Tech Advisors” to offer their fellow technical employees confidential, one-on-one venting sessions.
The point of the system is to give people a safe, objective person to bounce ideas off of.
“I don’t have the context and I don’t have a strong opinion about what they should do,” a Tech Advisor named Chee Chew says according to the book. “I don’t have a vested interest in the decision, so I listen more and connect more. This is very different from most conversations with my direct reports and teammates. It’s really built for reflection. The connection is with the person as opposed to just the project.”
Chew shared an experience where he met with a high-level engineer who felt like she needed to leave Google. They had planned to meet for 50 minutes, but ended up talking for two and a half hours. In that time, the engineer got to “work through a bunch of stuff” while Chew brainstormed with her and encouraged her.
The engineer benefitted from the conversation — she ended up staying with the company — but Tech Advisors get a lot out of the experience too. Those who participate say they have improved their listening skills, empathy, and self-awareness, becoming better managers, leaders, and even spouses. And all it took was a group of engineers deciding that creating this resource for each other was important.
“The secret sauce is that the engineers really own this, not People Operations,” program manager Shannon Mahon said in Bock’s book.
Google employees have also created company-wide “Guru” programs where volunteers counsel others on specific topics like career advice, leadership, sales, and parenting.
Having Googlers coach each other not only saves money, Bock writes, it creates a more intimate community.