How we built Stack Overflow’s first guild

Piper Lawson
4 min readJan 22, 2021

By definition, a guild is “an association of artisans or merchants who oversee the practice of their trade/trade in a particular area”. Some of the earliest guilds date back to the Roman Empire, so it’s safe to say that a guild is not a new concept. Spotify popularized guilds at an organizational level. They defined a guild as “a group of people that want to share knowledge, tools, code, and practices.” Their guilds have successfully addressed the need for sharing knowledge and developing practice and process while promoting engagement and collaboration between practitioners from different products and teams.

Here at Stack Overflow, we wanted to give the designers a way to bring ourselves together to advance our craft. If you’re wondering how we did that, you’ve come to the right place.

Getting started

We started by gathering a few representatives to organize our initial thoughts. These representatives saw a need to bring the larger group together, start making changes to the way we operated, and were motivated to make these changes now. The initial thoughts we captured were broken down into the following groups:

  • History of our “team” at Stack Overflow
  • How we currently collaborate
  • How we will make decisions across the organization
  • How we work together and responsibilities we have as entity
  • The problems we want to address
  • The support we have and the support we need

After getting all of our thoughts on paper, it was time to take a step back and come up with a more consumable definition and a prioritized list of problems. We broke up this consumable definition into 3 parts:

  • Lines of communication: Where does this group of practitioners meet, talk, grow?
  • Initiatives: What problems are we going to try and solve right now. More on this later
  • Executive sponsors: Who supports us?

Quarterly initiatives

As a design team, we knew that we had problems we wanted to address as a group, but we also needed to make sure that these problems were actually going to get solved. So we decided to create three quarterly initiatives based on our current needs. These initiatives would be led by volunteers from the design guild. Each member was asked to sign up for one initiative that interests them so they could work on it with other interested parties. These initiatives were a great way to add a design-driven goal to their quarterly goals used to measure job performance.

Our first set of goals were driven by one statement: “Stack Overflow and our design team are about to grow enormously over the next 18 months”. We knew we needed to focus on areas that would ensure quality growth of our design team. Our first initiatives were: hiring practices, career development, and standard design process. We then asked every member to sign up for an initiative after our first guild meeting.

These initial goals were selected by the two peer representatives, but future quarters will be decided by the entire guild and come down to a vote if necessary. Some quarters may have less than three initiatives, but never more than three due to guild-size.

How do you decide who can join the guild?

When creating a guild, your original group will likely contain those that are closest to the practice. From there, as a guild, you can decide how and when you will open to those closely related to or interested in learning more about your practice.

The way we will come together as a guild will look much like it always has. We will use the following ways to collaborate

  • Design critiques: A weekly meeting where we review work that any designer is looking for feedback on
  • Slack: A private channel for design to work through tough problems and casually chat
  • Design weekly: A weekly meeting where we focus on reviewing what other designers and teams are working on while also focusing on team bonding.

The future is much more open though! Here are some ideas we’ve already talked about and other common guild ways to communicate

  • Quarterly guild meetings: This would be an opportunity to discuss and vote on the next quarter’s initiatives
  • Initiative meetings: A meeting for those working on a particular quarterly initiative to sync up
  • Lunch & Learn: We’ve discussed presenting our work on process to multiple groups once complete
  • Virtual meetup or conference

Wrapping up

Like software, the Guild is never done — as this is early days for the design guild we will be socializing the successful and not-so-successful initiatives as we go. We fully expect the idea and execution to evolve as we and the company grows.

This is how we started Stack Overflow’s first guild — the Design guild. We are excited to see how this grows and happy to be a resource for anyone with questions or looking to create their own guild.

Image credit: Marvin Meyer