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Google is scaling back its weekly all-hands meetings after leaks, Sundar Pichai tells staff

CEO announced changes to TGIF meeting in an email

Google Hosts Its Annual I/O Developers Conference Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Google’s weekly town halls, internally known as “TGIF” meetings, have been emblematic of the company’s professed belief in a transparent corporate culture, giving employees a chance to talk with management about plans for the future. But faced with an ongoing parade of leaks, Google is cutting the meetings back to once a month and shifting the focus away from employees’ political concerns.

Today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an email to staff, which was obtained by The Verge, that the formerly weekly TGIF meetings will now be held monthly and will focus only “on product and business strategy.”

In the note, Pichai begins by praising what Google has achieved through its large workforce. “But in other places — like TGIF — our scale is challenging us to evolve,” he writes. “TGIF has traditionally provided a place to come together, share progress, and ask questions, but it’s not working in its current form.”

He writes that employees “come to TGIF with different expectations,” with some looking to hear about “product launches and business strategies” and others looking for “answers on other topics.” Only about 25 percent of the company watches the meeting each week, Pichai says.

He also says that there has been “a coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF” and that those efforts have “affected our ability to use TGIF as a forum for candid conversations on important topics.”

While the note doesn’t mention any leaks specifically, the company has been roiled by employee activism in recent years, as workers have protested issues like Google’s work with the Pentagon and plans for a censored Chinese search engine. Those controversies have regularly spilled into the outside through leaks to the media. Last year, the far-right publication Breitbart also published a leaked video of the first TGIF meeting after the 2016 presidential election, showing some Googlers coming to terms with the idea of a Trump presidency.

In the past, TGIF has been a place for employees to bring concerns to management and to discuss broader issues. Pichai’s note says only that the company will “continue to hold town halls on important workplace issues.”

Google has, for years, taken stern action against leaks, even going so far as to set up a dedicated email address for employees to report on other workers who may be sending information externally. But the crackdown seems to have escalated even further recently: earlier this week, Bloomberg News reported that an employee was fired for sending names and details of other employees to the media.

“We now have the opportunity to shape the kind of company we want to be in the future by investing in better ways to communicate at scale,” Pichai’s note concludes. “Look forward to working with you all to do this.”

Pichai’s full email to staff is below:

From: Sundar

Subject: TGIF and internal forums

[TL;DR - We’re going to make changes to TGIF and offer a new mix of internal forums in 2020. We’ll solicit your feedback along the way.]

Hi Googlers,

The last month has made me proud to be a Googler in so many ways: we’ve substantially improved our core Search product thanks to our advances in ML. And we’ve made an incredible breakthrough in quantum computing that will give us an entirely new way of solving computational problems in the years ahead. Both of these milestones show how our scale allows us to invest in long-term technology problems to drive significant improvements.

But in other places -- like TGIF -- our scale is challenging us to evolve. TGIF has traditionally provided a place to come together, share progress, and ask questions, but it’s not working in its current form. Here are some of the biggest challenges:

First, people come to TGIF with different expectations. Some people come to hear more about Google’s product launches and business strategies, others come to hear answers on other topics. By splitting the difference every week, we’re not serving either purpose very well.

Second, we’re unfortunately seeing a coordinated effort to share our conversations outside of the company after every TGIF. I know this is new information to many of you, and it has affected our ability to use TGIF as a forum for candid conversations on important topics.

Third, as the company has scaled up and spread out geographically, the audience has steadily declined. Only about 25% of us watch TGIF any given week, compared to 80% a decade ago. In contrast, Googlers are more engaged in local and PA all-hands.

This engagement in product and functional area meetings is a natural and positive evolution for us. When we know the people in a discussion and understand their context, we can have more substantive and richer conversations focused around the work we do for our users. We’re going to keep investing in our PA and functional all-hands and make sure that Google leaders (including me) make more regular appearances there. Of course, we still need some company-wide moments to share product and business strategy, celebrate great work, learn from our failures, and ask tough questions. So we’re going to try something different for 2020:

TGIF will become a monthly meeting focused on product and business strategy, with Q&A on the topics being discussed.

We’ll keep holding regular Social TGIFs in offices around the world (this is really important, and is how the original concept of TGIF began).

We’ll continue to hold town halls on important workplace issues.

And, we’ll keep exploring new ways to communicate at scale to a global company of 100,000+ people across multiple timezones. One specific thing we’d like to do is share more videos (like this one on quantum computing) to give insight into the work our teams are doing.

We’re hoping this mix of forums will provide a better experience for Googlers. We know you have only so much time to attend meetings and we want to spend it well. We also have to account for how we spend our time as a company. In fact, we owe it to our users to be relentlessly focused on our mission and our goal to build a more helpful Google for everyone.

Since we’re trying something new, we’ll get your feedback as we roll these forums out. The TGIF team will set up some small group discussions to hear from Googlers across the company. If you want to share input, visit go/internal-forums.

We have become the company we are today by creatively tackling important problems head on -- it’s how we evolve. We now have the opportunity to shape the kind of company we want to be in the future by investing in better ways to communicate at scale. Look forward to working with you all to do this.

- Sundar