Friendly organizational espionage


Last week Alina from Jimdo spent all week with me being my shadow at Stylight. We figured this could be beneficial for both sides since Alina has a similar role to me and Jimdo has a similar org structure and size to Stylight. We would discuss how things work at Stylight, how they differ from how they do things at Jimdo, plan retros together etc. In the end, we agreed that this was a great learning experience for both of us and our companies.

Here is a checklist if you plan an exchange with another company.

What to do ahead of time

  • do a short video call to get to know each other and clarify first questions
  • share general information about the companies in advance
  • pick a timeframe that fits the rhythm of the host company, for us this was one week
  • create a rough plan for the week
  • clarify meetings the spy wants to attend
  • clarify people (or roles) the spy wants to talk to
  • clarify expectations

What to do when you go spying

  • before your mission
    • plan your trip: where to stay, how to get there, which time should you show up at the host office
    • inform your colleagues that you will be away and how they can reach you
    • collect questions from your colleagues: you want to make sure this exchange is beneficial for the whole company
    • prepare a short company presentation for a brown bag lunch (or similar) at the host company
  • while being at the host company
    • shadow one person in a similar role to get a good feel for how your role is interpreted at the host company
    • present your company structure and processes early on at a brown bag lunch (or similar) to encourage questions and conversations with people from the wider company
  • after coming back from your mission
    • share knowledge at your company via internal social network, conversations with teams, groups and individuals and in an all-hands meeting
    • stay in contact and share your experiences if you adapt something based on your experience from the exchange

What to do when hosting a spy

  • before the spy arrives
    • announce the spy at your company, so people with questions about the spy’s company and how they do things can schedule time with the spy
    • explain that this exchange is based on trust and that its goal is knowledge sharing and learning
    • don’t clear your calendar entirely, but also don’t stuff it too full in order to leave space for exchange on general topics with the spy
    • invite the spy to meetings she will attend with you, so they can get a grasp on what is going to happen while they are at the host company
  • while being shadowed by a spy
    • make sure people you interact with are aware of what is going on, why you are doing this and are OK with it, especially in retros
    • introduce your spy in team standups
    • bring your spy with you into meetings
    • debrief meetings with them: what is similar / different to how they do things, what would the spy have done differently
  • after the spy is gone
    • make sure to arrange some counterspy action to find out more about their company 🙂

If you like what you read you should give it a go. Make sure to share your experience. If you are keen on spying on Stylight or Jimdo let me or Alina know.

Cover photo by Dariusz Sankowski


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