Scaling team culture with Guilds

Adam Fry-Pierce
DocuSign Product Experience
6 min readAug 31, 2021


An overview of how DocuSign Product Experience used Guilds and community to reinforce their design, research, and operations culture at scale. Written by Bill Wetherell and Christina Hamlin, and edited by Adam Fry-Pierce.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”
- Peter Drucker

Scaling is hard.

As teams grow, one of the biggest challenges for design leaders is that of culture. How does a team maintain an inspirational and motivating place of work while growing? This question faces so many design and research leaders, and DocuSign is no different.

Our Product Experience (PX) department is made of our design, research, and operations teams, and it’s been scaling since its inception. PX has grown from a team of about 30 into 100+ people large. In that time, teams took on more work, switched to a remote-first operating model, and together we figured out how to survive in a global pandemic. Yet, our design, research, and operations employee satisfaction has increased. Part of this increase is attributed to something that makes DocuSign’s design and research culture unique: Guilds.

When the PX team was formed, we were confident we’d continue growing for some time. Our leadership team looked to the industry to see how we might be able to build a culture, at scale. Lucky for us, several other teams had already been down this path.

We looked to the Spotify squads model and found inspiration from their story. Guilds (aka communities of practice) are a scaled agile framework. They’re a group of volunteer employees who temporarily band together to solve an issue faced by the organization.

To make Guilds work for us, we had to make it our own.

We took Spotify’s model and grafted in more structure. Like everything else at DocuSign, Guilds are a constant experiment. After running PX Guilds for 18+ months, we‘ve learned some lessons about what works and what doesn’t.

To help other leaders facing the challenges of building culture at scale, we wrote this 3 part series on Guilds.

  • Part 1: Guild overview: our Guild ecosystem and impact
  • Part 2: Guild playbook: how we structure and operationalize Guilds
  • Part 3: 5 tips to building your own Guild program: what we’ve learned along the way

Before we dive into Part 1, let’s calibrate on what a Guild actually is.

What makes a Guild?

A Guild is an internal community program, bringing together our team members in different groups. Each group is called a Guild.

Each Guild has:

  • A focus area that differentiates it from other Guilds
  • A vision for the positive impact they’d like to have on the PX organization
  • An operational plan to bring that vision to life
  • A team structure, with clear strategy/execution roles

Each Guild isn’t:

  • Tied to a geographic location
  • Exclusive — any PX member can join any Guild

Guilds deliver high-impact and highly-visible projects, allowing different team members from various aspects of the department to come together and co-create something meaningful, outside of their core work. Through Guilds, teammates are able to “try on” different aspects of running a design team at scale, and to learn skills in areas outside of their immediate role.

With the Guilds program, we’re able to provide tangible and practical improvements to our team, while strengthening our bonds along the way. Let’s see how by looking at each Guild more closely.

Guild Overview: the ecosystem and impact

Today, we have 6 established Guilds in PX.

These Guilds have been built organically with team members from across all of our offices where we have a design and research presence. People join the groups that they are interested in, and this allows those that may not be geographically co-located to mix together with others that they would normally not work with regularly. This brought new perspectives and strengthened our bonds with each other. Through these Guilds, we were able to provide tangible and practical improvements to our team, while strengthening our bonds along the way.

Let’s look at which Guilds we have, and what they focus on.

Community Guild

Focused on growing and nurturing the culture of our global team, while also expanding our external presence in the design community. Initiatives include:

  • Organizing our public-facing product experience events, such as our conference, indigo, happening this year on Sept 30.
  • Hosting various team events to bring team members together for games, discussions, and learning
  • Managing our social media properties

The Talent Guild

Focused on creating frameworks to help our entire organization standardize and optimize how we recruit, hire, and retain top talent. Initiatives include:

  • Talent acquisition kit for our recruiting team, including interviewing guidelines
  • PX mentoring kit
  • PX manager’s handbook
  • New Hire Welcome deck
  • Onboarding journey map

The Ops Guild

An extension of our PXOperations team. This Guild currently manages tooling for the entire department. Initiatives include:

  • Managing and tracking all PX-focused tools
  • Massive tool migrations for PX focused tools
  • Vendor relations for all PX focused tools

Content Guild

Helping the PX team establish a top-of-field brand presence by sharing stories about DocuSign PX’s practices transformation journey. We focus on sharing thought leadership, mostly in the form of articles, with the public. Initiatives include:

  • Managing our spotlight program: the Guild interviews PX members to tease out interesting stories
  • Writing monthly articles to share these stories, and more, with the world in hopes to teach others and drive brand recognition for DocuSign PX.

Personae Guild

This Guild governs, supports, and unifies the development of customer-focused personae for DocuSign — the beating heart for our core experience work. Current initiatives include:

  • Creating, refining, and updating our core personas

Designing for Inclusion Guild

Focused on nurturing a culture of belonging and empowering teams to design inclusively. Current initiatives include:

  • Making and managing an inventory of our DEI policies and procedures.
  • Consultants in the other Guilds to make sure we are being inclusive.
  • Create inclusive guidelines for designing and research

We also have a committee called “Guild of Guilds” where all the Guild leads come together for strategic alignment and opportunity prioritization. Sometimes Guilds run shared initiatives, or are moving in directions where there’s potential for duplicative efforts. “Guild of Guilds” helps ensure that as Guilds grow and increase output, we stay aligned.


So, where does all this effort and energy get us?

Our overall team retention is healthy, and trending positively. We’re working on measuring the quantitative impact footprint on how Guilds contribute to eSAT, but anecdotally we know they’re a bright spot. The majority of PX team members are participating in Guilds, helping people connect, learn, and contribute in meaningful ways.

And because each Guild have KPIs tied to our top-department goals, we know Guilds are moving the needle forward. From Operational efficiencies to brand awareness to employee engagement, Guilds are playing a critical role as we scale.

For these reasons, Guilds will continue to be an area of investment as PX continues to strive to be a career destination for designers, researchers, and operations professionals.

Want to learn more about Guilds?

Keep an eye open for future articles and follow this page, we’ll write more about Guilds soon. Learn more about Guilds in our upcoming talk at indigo, our PX team’s conference, on September 30th.



This article was written by Bill Wetherell and Christina Hamlin.
Edited by Adam Fry-Pierce.



Adam Fry-Pierce
DocuSign Product Experience

Empowering design and product leaders with connections + products. Creator of DesignOps + product ethics is on my mind. Doodler.