Transition to teal – becoming a self-managing team

Brené Brown describes waking up with a ‘vulnerability hangover’ the morning after giving her powerful TED Talk on shame and vulnerability. I too experienced some sort of emotional hangover the day after we decided to move towards being a Teal organisation. It was a strange mixture of ‘have I gone too far?’ and ‘can I really do this?’.

My last post described my shock and excitement on reading Reinventing Organizations and realising that moving towards Teal felt right to me. But what about my colleagues in Helen Sanderson Associates? How would they feel about such a change? And how should we talk about it and decide what to do?

Over the last month we have been building up to making a decision about moving towards Teal. Here’s what we did and how it felt.

Sharing my excitement about Teal and starting a conversation

When I sensed the potential impact of Reinventing Organizations, I posted on our internal team communications, Slack, that I was reading a book that was challenging and scary too, and asked if anyone wanted to read along with me.

I posted copies of the book to the five people who wanted to join me.

On a Friday, I send an email to everyone in H S A internationally, called the Friday Forecast. It’s a roundup of what I have been doing and musings on what could impact us in the future. I mentioned the book there, and that two partners and customers that week had also talked about Teal.

I set up a new discussion channel in Slack called ‘Towards Teal’ to pick up the conversation about all things Teal. On the Teal channel I posted some short videos about Buurtzorg, the RSA Fredrick Laloux video, and a short film that explained the different organisational structures. People who had been reading the book started to post their responses to it and other people shared resources that they had found about Teal too.

People’s tone was positive and intrigued, with a healthy dose of skepticism in a couple of corners too.

How do others do it? Laloux’s three ways organisations move to Teal

LaLoux describes three ways that existing organisations make the transition to Teal.

1) The CEO makes that decision.

2) A bottom-up approach emerges from a large group event such as Appreciative Inquiry or Open Space.

3) The CEO and senior leaders decide to adopt the ready-made structure of Holacracy.

Two weeks ago I attended an introduction to Holacracy. This was an immersion into the two types of meeting that underpin this approach. I loved the structure of the meeting, but it is a technology without warmth or vision. I could see how the two meeting structures can be powerful and wanted to use them, but did not feel that the wholescale move to Holacracy was right for us.

Laloux’s first option did not feel right either. The CEO deciding that everyone will be self-managing sounds like a strange type of oxymoron.

I wanted to explore Teal with the team, and for us to make a decision together. This is not the bottom up approach in option 2, nor the dictated change of option 1 – I guess it is somewhere in the middle. Of course there was a risk that the decision wouldn’t be the one that I wanted, but none of the other three ways felt right.

I take Teal to our team meeting

At HSA we meet for two days every two months. My role is to develop the agenda so that people know how to prepare and what to expect. It is not a traditional team meeting at all. We have a short mindfulness session each day and we work on challenges and develop new ideas or materials. We stay overnight, eat, drink and have fun. The evening session (we have a ‘Minister of Fun’ and a hospitality role in the team) is as much a part of the agenda as the development sessions during the day.

For our April 2016 meeting I asked people to come having read the book or watched the three films I had posted, I said that I was proposing that we moved to become a Teal organisation.

We spent the first morning of the first day talking Teal and eventually voted on my proposal.

We started by looking at the values and culture of Teal – well of course we would, because according to Laloux we operate as a green family organisation, where culture is critical. If we could not all get behind the values and principles of Teal, then that would be the end of exploring it for HSA.

We read the statements from the book, and had a discussion about soul and spirituality. One team member pushed back at the notion of spirit and soul, and another commented on a feel of ‘cultishness’ around the language used in the values.

Our work does have soul. One of John O’Brien’s books is called Remembering the Soul of our Work and that concept resonates with us, even if some of the language jars.

Then we looked at what Teal would mean for us in practice. I had prepared a paper from Reinventing Organisations, using the helpful tables where Laloux pulls together the characteristics of typical Amber organisations, and contrasts this with Teal. I took these concepts and added a column to describe what I thought we were already doing and what would be a significant change for us.

What we do already

There are three key insights or breakthroughs in Teal: wholeness, evolving purpose and self-management.

At HSA we are already fully committed to bringing the whole person to work. We see one-page profiles as one way to do this.

Evolving purpose did not feel like too much of a stretch either – it is the self-management that would involve change to the way we work.

Self-management is more of a stretch

Over our 15 years together (the three of us who started H S A are still here) we have experimented with different ways to organise ourselves – from a flat structure with no management roles at all to having an operational manager. We all work from home and stay in a variety of ways but usually will only see each other at team meetings.

No organisational approach had felt like a good fit for who we are and how we want to work together, and one of the reasons I feel so drawn to Teal is that the self-management feels like it fits me personally and how we want to operate as a team. I never wanted to be a manager, and that is not my role, but I am the default in accountability and can be relied upon for ‘nice nagging’ and checking up that things we agreed have been done.

Here are some of examples of how we usually operate, and what moving to Teal means:

  • Typically I decide which opportunities and partnerships to explore. As a Teal organisation I would use the ‘Advice Process’ where I would ask the advice of team members rather than telling them what I have done after the event.
  • I have been the only person with the full information about what is in our bank account, what we are owed and how much it costs each month to keep us going, As a Teal organisation all of this information is transparent, and shared with everyone.
  • The people who have a lead responsibility for an area, for example, our work with children and young people, are expected to develop a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal – from the work of Jim Collins) and report on their progress to the team. As a Teal organisation, new projects will emerge, led by anyone who wants to explore an idea, asking advice if it impacts on other members of the team.

Last year we introduced ‘support buddies’ for everyone at HSA. Buddies connect at least once a month for support and to challenge each other. This was a step towards greater shared accountability, but essentially, I am still accountable as CEO. To go Teal means me ceding my CEO power. This is both attractive and scary. I know that I am naturally controlling and like the power I have, but I want Teal more.