At most companies, employees are organized based on disciplines: marketing, sales, finance, and so on. But for Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO, that approach is subpar: Not only can this siloing prevent their customers from feeling like their specific reason for traveling is being acknowledged, but it also can keep the organization from nimbly adapting to travel trends.
In the latest episode of The Design Better Podcast, Brian stopped by to discuss how design thinking was key in taking the company from a three-person startup 12 years ago to a public company. (In case you missed it, Airbnb made its IPO on Dec. 10). Great design, Brian says, involves taking a look at trends and data and can take action on customer insights in an experimental, iterative manner.. That’s why Airbnb organizes its teams around the customer journey: One team is totally dedicated to hosts, while another is focused on the guest experience. Airbnb named its HR department the “employee experience.” Since Airbnb values connection and community, those values need to be a core part of the employee experience, Brian explains.
“Whatever we want outside the building has to first start inside the building,” he says.
According to Brian, this org structure provides the easiest route to a clear company mission that all can align to. For example, as the pandemic reshaped travel over the last nine months, this organizational technique allowed Airbnb to remain flexible and attuned to its customer needs. It helped them understand that one of the first things the organization needed to do when COVID-19 began sweeping the globe was focus on designing for safety and trust. This led them to hire a former U.S. Surgeon General to help guide new cleaning protocols for hosts on the rental platform,
This organizational structure also helped the company pinpoint that there was a newly emerging segment of travelers who, able to work from anywhere, are looking to live somewhere new for a month or two. This allowed Airbnb to quickly pivot towards designing for people who aren’t just visitors, but also short-term residents. They also increased support for people seeking out smaller cities and lesser-known destinations as opposed to known tourist districts.
“The best way to design for something is to deeply understand it and look at all the moments of interaction,” Brian says. “What are all the moments where you’re able to facilitate a sense of connection?”