We are in this mission together: Refreshing the Values of the Wikimedia Foundation

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In 2018, some of our staff “brought the values to life” during a workshop through a variety of ways like mixed media art, dance, haiku, and clay, as in this sculpture by Brandon Black that represents the five legacy values.

Values are fundamental to an organization and can create clarity and alignment to help guide everyday decisions. In 2022, we started conversations around our values to align on expectations for how we show up at work, to help us solve other needs in a complex, globally distributed, remote-first organization, and to better close the gap between our aspirations and our lived experiences.

In 2016, the Wikimedia Foundation had gone through a participatory process to refresh its values, inviting participants to think in terms of the core intrinsic beliefs that drive us towards our vision. A few main themes had been consolidated into five values that served the Foundation well during a time of rapid change and growth.

In 2022, we embarked on a project to understand if those organizational values still resonated with our current staff. The 2016 values had emerged against the backdrop of organizational shifts and leadership changes whose impact could still be felt in the text. Additionally, we now had the benefit of six years of bringing these values to life and integrating them into the fabric of the organization.

In many organizations, updating or changing organizational values might be done behind the closed doors of a boardroom. At Wikimedia, this top-down approach wouldn’t work; as one of our values stated, “We solve problems better together.”

Our 2022 values refresh therefore involved hundreds of our staff, extending an invitation to anyone who wanted to participate. We started small, by experimenting with a process and focusing solely on one value. Between September and December 2022, around 260 people from every corner of the organization discussed the value “We are in this together,” in 28 small group workshops and 6 sessions with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs).

Many people generally liked the existing value and appreciated its intent. However, it was unclear to them how to put it into practice, especially when disagreement arises. The updated value now includes practical “I statements,” like “I support my colleagues whenever I can, and ask for help whenever I need it.” Reframing it from “We are in this together” to “We are in this mission together” also centers our efforts more closely on the organization’s mission. The goal was to arrive at a rewritten value that better reflected the needs of the organization right now and that might evolve as we discuss the other legacy values.

In 2023, we started a similar process for the remaining four values. We had noticed that many people had shared similar comments and opinions across the previous small-group workshops. For this second round, we organized fewer workshops for the “construction phase,” and decided to instead spend more time discussing the proposed new versions that would emerge. This process is now underway and we hope to see a final set of updated values emerge by the end of June.

In July, we will start integrating our newly refreshed values into our core people processes, including performance and individual development, learning curricula and onboarding, and recruitment efforts. But we can already see the impact of these conversations, with staff now commonly quoting the phrase “We are in this mission together” in meetings and documents. When it comes to Wikimedia’s culture, whether it’s about writing an encyclopedia or rewriting our values, we indeed “find joy, belonging, and connection in doing things together.”

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