Team culture plays a pivotal role in the success of any organization, and at Fivetran, the process of building a vibrant and positive culture is focused on the people showing up to work together each day as the company works to transform the way its customers access and utilize data.
“Team culture is about people, their values, their aspirations and how they’re going about living up to those things,” said Senior Director of Software Engineering Mark Whitehouse. “There are few things more satisfying to me than contributing to a safe, supportive and collaborative atmosphere that unblocks the team and those within it to reach their full potential, and every single person can positively influence our shared culture.”
Vice President of Global Customer Support Alex James shares Whitehouse’s focus on helping his team reach its full potential, and the structure to support that process relies on three foundational values: transparency, trust and understanding the “why.”
“If you break any one of those supports, your culture will fall apart in no time,” James said. “Culture takes a long time to build but can be destroyed in minutes.”
Senior Group Product Manager for Enterprise and Databases Amy Peterson shares James’ focus on the “why.”
“Our product team values encompass ownership, collaboration, integrity, kindness and my favorite, curiosity,” she said. “They’re all incredibly important, but curiosity is part of everything we do. We look for candidates who are curious about our customer and technology, who want to dig into data and who seek to understand our ‘why.’”
In practice, finding that “why” supports a shared purpose across Fivetran’s tech team and supports a thriving culture of transparency, celebration and excellence.
Finding a Shared Purpose
As the leader of Fivetran’s enterprise engineering group, Whitehouse has a lot on his plate. Recently, his team has been working at the center of a large cross-functional project focused on bringing a new product to market.
As Whitehouse’s team works together to re-architect the company’s pipeline processing technology and build new solutions to support the advancing product, a tight-knit team culture has empowered great work at every step.
“It’s the type of project to which engineers dream of contributing — highly visible, highly complex, insanely cross-functional and on an aggressive timeline with too many moving pieces to count,” he said. “We want to do the best work we are capable of doing, find purpose when we are enabled to do so, and take pride in what we have accomplished. Shared purpose is a powerful, infectious force that drives miraculous results.”
“Shared purpose is a powerful, infectious force that drives miraculous results.”
James emphasized the value of this focus on performance and collaboration. “Great teams perform above all others because they have a sense of pride and ownership in what they do,” he said. “Building a strong culture which is owned by the team themselves allows every team member to improve the culture and protect it.”
According to Peterson, the shared sense of ownership is part of what keeps her excited about work at Fivetran — and that partnership allows each team member to work beyond their own abilities to achieve ambitious goals together. “I have a strong sense of ownership over my area, but I never feel like I'm on my own,” she said. “A strong team culture means folks feel motivated, work better together and ultimately can deliver better results.”
Scaling Culture on a Growing and Distributed Team
As the engineering organization grows, Fivetran has relied on feedback tools like engagement surveys, retrospectives and one-on-ones to enhance team culture, but receiving feedback is only step one.
“It’s not just about getting feedback, we also need to act on that feedback in productive ways,” Whitehouse said. “The fun part is validating that feedback and then implementing adjustments by providing the processes, frameworks, tools and budget to help each team find the cultural balance that works for them.”
Feedback and response help to show the value each team member brings to building the larger team morale and sustaining culture over time, according to James.
“You need to develop skills and a support network to allow everyone to feel comfortable expressing themselves. Being open-minded and encouraging the team to share and listen is incredibly important,” he said. “Listen to the people on your team, they will tell you what they need.”
“Listen to the people on your team, they will tell you what they need.”
By staying responsive to team needs and valuing input from across roles and levels, Fivetran has fostered a sense of inclusion and psychological safety.
“I love that our company is really comfortable with folks showing up completely as themselves,” Peterson said. “Building trust within your team is so important — give your employees the space to be themselves, to take risks, make mistakes and learn.”
At Fivetran, the time for celebration isn’t limited to one annual event or a quarterly meeting — honoring the work being done across the team is part of the daily routine.
Peterson and the product team begin each meeting with celebrating wins and sharing kudos from the last week, and Whitehouse’s engineering team does the same in their all-hands.
On a larger scale, James highlighted a set of annual global awards — honoring a customer champion, an unsung hero and the more mysteriously-named Watson award.
“Our theme across our support team is that we are detectives finding issues and solving problems for our customers, and each team is named for a famous detective,” James explained. “So like in the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Watson award is given to the engineers who go above and beyond to help their peers.”
Reflecting on the different approaches each Fivetran team takes to celebrating accomplishments, Whitehouse sees the value of going beyond special events and virtual happy hours when considering what makes a great culture.
“Within each team, the formula adjusts relative to the team composition and what I have loved is how each team leverages different mechanisms to cultivate their team culture,” he said. “Encouraging engineers to participate in things like virtual pair programming can be transformative for bringing people together in a way that elevates our values.”
Beyond formal initiatives like events, processes and projects, Whitehouse also sees informal relationship-building and taking pride in the work as crucial to sustaining a healthy team culture.
“When you care about the things that are going to help uplift those around you, you become empowered to make a positive impact,” he said. “So often the most important parts of cultivating an attractive culture begins with your grassroots efforts. More often than not, the limits of team culture are not because of the rules, but simply because there wasn’t someone who stood up, volunteered and got it done.”
For those looking to join a tech team with a strong vision for building together, Whitehouse has a clear message: “Let’s stock up on elbow grease and get to work.”