Playbooks for Distributed Teams

Most companies have some form of an employee handbook. These are usually handed out during onboarding/orientation for new hires, put on a shelf and rarely looked at again. Later, when the handbook is updated, later hires get the updated handbook and sometimes pre-existing employees are told about the updates in separate emails. This quickly means that different humans have different understandings of how to get things done. You know you have this happening in your organization when people rely on folklore to figure out how to get things done, asking nearby coworkers with longer tenure, unaware that those well-intentioned coworkers may actually be answering with out-of-date information.

For physically distributed organizations, this approach simply will not work. Instead, these employee handbooks have to be accurate, concretely actionable and the latest version has to be available to all employees all the same time.

These “employee handbooks” or “playbooks” are the SingleSourceOfTruth for how to get things done within the organization. Learning your way around this handbook is an essential part of onboarding – but once you know your way around the handbook, you can find answers to questions yourself, and can easily propose updates/fixes as needed to keep it accurate.

Posted in a well-documented  location, these are visible to all employees at all times so new hires and pre-existing employees all see the same identical document. They are full-text-searchable for speedy answers to questions. They are posted in a format that allows for anyone to suggest edits/changes, and specific humans to review/approve those proposed changes – this reduces the maintenance work of keeping the document uptodate, and helps ensure that the document is written in language that all humans understand. Some companies take this one step further and publish the document so it is visible even to those outside the company.

I’ve gathered these publicly-visible handbooks here into one list, in case it is helpful to anyone starting a distributed organization. Of course, if you know of any other playbookss that I dont have here, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.


(Created 31oct2019)