Five years ago trivago started to build guilds – small communities dedicated to certain topics or technologies – as a need arose to organize the collaboration of more than a hundred developers on a wide range of topics. You can read more about how we started in the previous blog posts Part I and Part II.
A lot has changed about trivago as an organisation as well as about the technologies we use for product development since our engineers started organising the first tech guilds years ago. We started with something like three tech guilds, and eventually ended up with over thirty guilds covering also non-tech topics. Throughout the years, some of them were more active than others.
Five years and more than thirty guilds later, we decided to review the way our guilds are organised and find out why some of them became inactive. As always, we'd like to share our learnings with you in the hope that you'll find it helpful in your own team or company.
First, we revisited the definition of guild which defines the reasons why our talents would join an existing guild or create a new one from
A group of people who have joined together to enhance the quality and understanding of their craft within our company.
to what we feel reflects more accurately the nature of guilds at this point in time
A guild is a group of members helping each other and sharing information in order to develop a shared repertoire of resources including experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing common problems.
Differently from how it started, the new guilds emerged to be groups for pure knowledge sharing and not just for support. Knowledge sharing can be about new interesting features and tools arising in the tech world, but also about experience on working with some technology on a day-to-day basis.
After five years of working with guilds, what are the most important lessons we learned from the organisational point of view?
What works well
Experience has also shown that it is crucial to have at least one guild owner who drives the topic, sets up regular meetings, reaches out to potential speakers and generally keeps the guild alive and the members connected.
For example in the Cloud Infrastructure guild the organizer takes care of sending calendar invites for the regular meetings and always has either a speaker with a presentation or a discussion panel prepared. If the organizer is on vacation he usually also nominates a person who is responsible for the guild meetings while he is not there. This makes the guild continue working smoothly and keep the momentum.
What doesn't work
In comparison to the guilds with an explicit owner, we observed that self-organized groups in this setup won't work. A person who drives the whole topic, reaches out to people, gets various content formats going, etc is the only requirement. Also, when a guild is paused for too long, it takes time for it to be active again. It's best to find a new owner before the current organizer opts out.
At the beginning of our guilds journey we tried to set up some rules on how the guild meetings should be run, how the working groups should be structured etc. When we now take a look at the successful running guilds, not one of them is strictly sticking to the rules and the guild meetings can be anything from a slide presentation over hands-on coding sessions to open discussions panel.
Therefore, the second rule for a successful guild: no rules on how the guild should be: how many members, how often they should meet, what should or should not be the topic of a guild and so on.
Learnings and future plans
It's ok for a guild to get less active as the time passes (PHP guild), it's also ok for a guild to pause and get reactivated when the need arises again. As a result of the analysis we decided not to close any guild, even if it's not active at the moment. Meaning, guilds keep their Slack channels and members can at least ask questions and find help there.
For the future we want to motivate employees to take responsibility for the guild's organisation, by making clear that guild's work is as important as direct work on a product and is part of personal contribution of an employee. Our leadership team lately emphasized the importance of the guilds as networking and exchange platforms cross the teams of the whole company. The responsibility leads are advised to motivate their team members to attend and actively contribute to guilds organisation. We also provide help to guild organizers by gathering and documenting strategies for guild meetings.
All in all guilds, came to be out of necessity, developed to have a life of their own and became a natural part of trivago tech culture. The way they are organized will for sure change and adjust yet many times in the future as it did already in the past five years. Given the beneficial impact that guilds have on the way we work together, we will continue supporting them and attributing more importance to the maintenance of our guilds in the years to come.