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Mission Protocol: is your organisation a team, a family… or something else?

I have some sympathy with Tobias Lütke (Shopify), Brian Armstrong (Coinbase), Jason Fried (Basecamp) and others when they announce – faced with the increasing politicisation of workplace discussions – that their companies are not a families. There’s something the Mission Protocol (see below) that makes me think of Milton Friedman’s shareholder value doctrine updated for the 21st century, but the emphasis on unity around mission – assuming it’s a good mission – makes a lot of sense.


Here’s Lütke:

Shopify, like any other for-profit company, is not a family… The very idea is preposterous. You are born into a family. You never choose it, and they can’t un-family you. It should be massively obvious that Shopify is not a family but I see people, even leaders, causally use terms like ‘Shopifam‘ which will cause the members of our teams (especially junior ones that have never worked anywhere else) to get the wrong impression…

“The dangers of ‘family thinking’ are that it becomes incredibly hard to let poor performers go. Shopify is a team, not a family…

Shopify is also not the government. We cannot solve every societal problem here. We are part of an ecosystem, of economies, of culture, and of actual countries. We also can’t take care of all your needs. We will try our best to take care of the ones that ensure you can support our mission.

Tobias Lütke, quoted in Newsweek

And this is Armstrong on what it means to be a mission focused company:

One of the tenets of the Coinbase culture doc is to play like a championship team. What does this mean?

Be company first: We act as #OneCoinbase, putting the company’s goals ahead of any particular team or individual goals.

Act in service of the greater mission: We have united as a team to try and accomplish something that none of us could have done on our own.

Default to trust: We assume positive intent amongst our teammates, and assume ignorance over malice. We have each other’s backs.

Focus on what unites us, not what divides us: We help create a sense of cohesion and unity, by focusing on what we have in common, not where we disagree, especially when it’s unrelated to our work.

Sustained high performance: As compared to a family, where everyone is included regardless of performance, a championship team makes a concerted effort to raise the bar on talent, including changing out team members when needed.

Brian Armstrong – Coinbase is a Mission Focused Company


This way of thinking is developing into something of a movement, with a manifesto at Mission Protocol:

In the 21st century, we are increasingly and rightly interrogating the social responsibilities of our projects and work cultures. But these conversations often lose sight of the main way our projects produce social good: through good work on our mission. Many projects and companies find that they need a principled way to put aside work on larger social problems and focus on the particular mission that they are best equipped to accomplish.

Mission focus is the operational principle that your project’s social responsibility is the effective and focused execution of its mission. Mission focus means putting aside activities and conversations within project spaces, even good and important ones, that are out of scope for the project. Mission focus doesn’t mean being apolitical; it means being political about the mission. This mission is what you came together to accomplish, and this mission is what you’re fighting for in your work on the project.

Laser focus on great missions creates real, lasting progress in the world.

The Mission Protocol is based on the following principles:

Mission focus is required to achieve difficult goals: It’s hard to build something sustainable and truly excellent if the project is frequently distracted by issues or events peripheral to the mission.

Mission focus produces social good: Working in a single direction on a strong, well-considered mission is the best way to make a socially positive impact.

Mission focus is not apolitical or neutral: Missions can and should take a firm political stance, but only when furthering the specific goals of the project and not those outside its stated scope.

Mission focus creates a safe and inclusive project environment: Collaboration and trust occur best when project members come together under and share a common mission.

Projects and organizations are full of diverse opinions, individuals, and areas of engagement. However, what brings everyone together is the pursuit of a goal that is bigger than any single individual. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

We know that we can only reach our potential and fulfill our mission if we focus on the task at hand.

Mission Protocol: About

And here’s Jason Fried:

6. No forgetting what we do here. We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it. We write business books, blog a ton, speak regularly, we open source software, we give back an inordinate amount to our industry given our size. And we’re damn proud of it. Our work, plus that kind of giving, should occupy our full attention. We don’t have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they’re not our topics at work — they’re not what we collectively do here.

Changes at Basecamp


Before you sign up to the Protocol, though (if that’s your thing), here are a couple of other lenses for looking at this debate:

See Also:

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...