Teal Around The World 2021 - Three Talks That Inspired My Thinking
On the 4th and 5th of March 2021, I took part in Teal Around The World, the largest global conference for individuals, businesses and thought leaders who believe in building organisations with the Teal model.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Teal organisational model, it is a theory that harnesses self-management, wholeness and purpose. It was first introduced to the world in 2014 by author and teal pioneer Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organisations. If you haven’t read it yet, it is the one book I highly recommend to anyone starting a company culture journey, or embarking on a restructure.
Since reading Frederic’s book, I have been on a personal and professional development journey to learn and adopt this concept as a company culture coach, and have since been helping businesses implement this evolutionary approach in their own company cultures.
While self-managed organisations are slowly taking off here in the UK, there is a global movement, with many businesses now adopting the model in The Netherlands, Sweden, and across Europe.
Teal Around The World 2021, is the first global conference I have attended on the concept of teal organisations, and I was eager to learn from others around the world about how they were implementing this model into their business.
For many Teal seems a bit ‘out there’, especially because many of us still work in traditional hierarchical structures which deeply limits us. These ‘orange’ organisations as they are termed by Laloux, are entrenched in command and control behaviour which not only makes us feel less fulfilled at work, but slows innovation and the ability for the organisation to reach its ultimate mission.
Thanks to the power of Zoom, thousands of passionate teal ambassadors from all over the world came together for 26 hours of talks and networking on how we could help to grow this concept not just in the arena of work, but in education, government and in society.
Since starting my own teal education, I was so excited to be spending this time with likeminded people who didn’t look at me like I was some kind of anarchic hippie. Trust me, when I usually start talking about self-managed organisations here in the UK I get a few strange looks and comments such as, “that sounds like chaos.”
If you’ve been wanting to delve more into self-managed organisations, or wondering what all the fuss around teal is, then I thought I would share my experience with you from Teal Around The World; from the talks I attended to the personal insights I gained from the networking conversations.
Jos De Block - Humanity Above Bureaucracy
The conference was kicked off by one of the leading entrepreneurs of self-managed organisations, Jos De Block, who started Buurtzorg, a self-managed healthcare company in The Netherlands in 2007.
Jos is humble about his success of Buurtzorg, and I personally found his talk both enlightening and inspiring.
During his talk, Jos discussed how being a self-managed organisation enabled Buurtzorg to adapt quickly to the threat of covid-19. Jos explained that unlike a traditional organisation, the Buurtzorg teams were flexible to the needs of their patients, and rapidly created a crisis team to manage treatment and cases.
Buurtzorg has long been praised for its holistic and preventative approach to care. Quite the reverse of what we commonly see in most healthcare organisations.
Jos was also kind enough to explain some of the inner workings of Buurtzorg as a self-managed organisation.
Daily work is decided by the teams of Buurtzorg nurses, as well as yearly plans. However, Jos did explain that he’s not overly keen on yearly plans and targets as it can make people distracted from the present situations.
Jos also explained that board members, “sit together when we think it’s useful”; showing just how much trust is given to the teams of nurses. After all, they’re the ones on the ground, in the local areas working directly with patients.
Most admirably, Jos shared the five core principles which Buurtzorg lives by to make their self-managed organisation work.
- Have a clear purpose-driven philosophy
- Build on human principles
- Simplify processes
- Use smart IT
- Live the culture or practice what you preach
I feel that there’s a lot many businesses could learn from these simple but practical principles.
Advice for those scaling self-managed organisations
As Buurtzorg has now grown and continues to do so with teams now in China, the UK, and Europe, Jos also shared some wisdom about scaling a business with a self-managed structure.
Fundamentally his advice was simple. Create autonomous self-organised teams, and support what is needed, and avoid what is not needed.
How to build a self-managed organisation
Of course Jos had lots of experience and knowledge to impart on those who are still trying to find their way with building self-managed organisations.
A great question he asked of everyone was, “what does it bring if I do this?”
As Jos explained, we have developed patterns in our ways of working due to outdated concepts, which don’t help in this teal model. This can be incredibly hard for people when adopting self-management. The skills and traits that got them to be where they are in the existing organisational structure, won’t be helpful to them when adopting a self-managed approach.
Jos went on to advise that self-management takes a lot of innerwork and dialogue. You have to consistently ask yourself about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it that way.
I was really pleased that Jos also touched on the importance of intuition, something which again, we’ve been taught is ‘hocus pocus’ and not relevant to the world of work. But intuition is a defining human ability which can enable us to work better in a self-managed organisation.
In the question and answer part of Jos’ talk, someone asked about how at Buurtzorg they deal with people who make mistakes. Because of course, in a traditional sense this would often go down a disciplinary path.
Jos asked in his wise way, “what’s a mistake?”
Jos explained that people who don’t fit the self-managed model, or who make a mistake are coached, or supported to move on. It’s not a negative, right or wrong situation, but a holistic, empathetic approach which supports everyone involved.
Suffice to say the talk from Jos was clear that it’s no rocket-science to build a successful self-managed organisation. In fact, the simpler the better.
One piece of parting wisdom from Jos was for more of us to “listen to people”, I feel that this is one small but important piece of advice that is currently lacking in more of our traditional organisations.
Lisa Gill - Self-management is more than just structures and processes
Lisa Gill is one of the thought leaders in the self-management practice, and after listening to her podcast Leadermorphisis, and reading the book Moose Heads on The Table which she co-authored with Karin Tenelius; I was keen to listen to Lisa discuss more on the stumbling blocks that occur when mastering self-management.
During her talk Lisa revealed that two of the biggest obstacles in adopting a self-managed structure are;
- The parent / child leadership paradigm
- Avoiding conflict
In a traditional organisation, leaders take the role of parent, and employees fall into the role of playing the child. The parent holds the authority and the power.
Parent > child = overly responsible
Child > parent = irresponsible / silent and cautious
We may not even exert our power as ‘the parent’ but we may unconsciously become overly responsible for others and try to save people from situations, or from making decisions we don’t feel are ‘right’.
When playing ‘the child’, people will often consent to leaders decisions even if they don’t feel comfortable with the decision.
The trouble comes when people decide to embrace a self-managed approach and decision-making becomes painful. Employees can come across as passive and deferring. Of course that’s the way for them, because it’s scary when you have no previous experience of making decisions or having power.
Instead as Lisa explained, what we need to create is an adult-adult environment where dialogue is open, and people can be given a safe space to make decisions and hold their own power.
This moves us onto the other stumbling blocks of self-managed organisations – conflict.
In most traditional hierarchical organisations conflicts are only discussed when it is about work. Top level tasks, projects, strategy or action. Conflicts are not discussed about interpersonal issues. Instead it’s just handed over to the HR manager to ‘resolve’.
But as Lisa revealed, these hidden conflicts cause the biggest rifts within organisational culture.
As a self-managing organisation you simply cannot let these conflicts fester, which is why when practicing self-management, non-violent communication and dialogue is key to helping these conflicts become transformed. As Lisa detailed in her talk, it’s important to catch conflicts before they get bigger.
“Conflicts are not only inevitable, they’re vital” – Lisa Gill
One thing Lisa really enlightened me to during this talk was the power of conflict. In many businesses and organisations we avoid it like the plague. We don’t want to call out the elephant in the room because it might upset someone or cause awkwardness. We still have that tribal mindset that if we unearth the bad feelings we may be kicked out of the tribe or socially rejected.
As Lisa said in her talk, we need to shift the mindset on conflict and stop the avoidance. We should be seeing it as conflict transformation, no conflict resolution.
Lisa also emphasized during her talk that when we’re adopting the practice of self-management, people go at their own pace. It takes time, and we all grow at our own rate. You can’t push people to be ready.
For those wishing to start implementing a teal approach or become more self-managing, Lisa said to start with two key questions;
“What am I no longer ok with?”
“What am I longing for?”
Timm Urshinger - What We Learned from Running a Teal Company For Five Years
Timm Urshinger has been running his company under a teal operation for five years and talked at Teal Around The World about his experience and what he has learned along the journey.
I must say that as one of the organisers for Teal Around the World, Timm was so welcoming, fun, and humble about his experience with operating with teal and self-management.
Timm kicked off his talk by saying that he felt that for him and his company, teal is a mindset and a movement – not a blueprint.
I loved this comment because I know for many that want to adopt self-management, they can easily get caught up in the mechanics of ‘how’ it’s going to work, rather than bringing their whole selves into the process about what it’s going to mean for them.
As Timm revealed during his talk, he doesn’t keep up with numbers in his business for employee happiness, or other business metrics. Timm said, “Numbers don’t give us the answer, they only help us to ask better questions.” As Timm explained, they have KPI’s, but this is not something they heavily rely upon like many traditional organisations.
I felt that this was a strong indicator of how holistic the teal approach can be. Many traditional businesses focus too much on the metrics.
Timm provided a shot of their internal system, detailing which roles each team member plays within the business. Again Timm had a succinct way of explaining how this had transformed his thinking. Timm said, “We always wear multiple hats in our businesses, but traditionally we don’t clarify them. With self-management, you know the expectations of each hat you’re wearing.”
Going Teal is a personal-development journey
For those who are new to the concept of teal organisations or self-management, it’s often not considered how much of a personal-development journey this is, alongside an organisational transformation. It seems we think about organisation first, rather than people first.
During his talk Timm highlighted this point about personal development beautifully, explaining that as a founder and as a team, the “innerwork is the hardest part.”
Timm went on to explain that when you adopt self-management you go through a lot of unlearning because so many of us are ‘indoctrinated’ into the corporate world and the hierarchical methods, it takes a lot of self-awareness and self-reliance to question your methods.
Where to start
I think across all the talks and conversations that I heard during Teal Around The World, there was one question that was prominent throughout the Q&A’s. And that is – how did you start?
The same question came up for Timm during his talk, and I felt he gave such a practical response;
“What do we need today to create it? – Then it grows organically.”
A few insights from methods
During Timm’s talk, he revealed a number of methods and practices that his company is using to be self-managed.
One of my favourite stories of Timm’s is around self-set salaries, which his team follows according to the advice based process detailed in Laloux’s book.
Timm mentioned that because everyone has to contribute to their own salary setting and being mindful of value, he doesn’t hear people complain about their salaries like he used to when he worked in a corporate organisation. I found this anecdote highly amusing because it’s a classic pain point for traditional businesses and their teams. No-one is ever happy about pay.
Key Take-Aways from Teal Around The World
There were so many incredible and enlightening discussions during Teal Around The World, but I couldn’t write about them all. If you get the chance to attend Teal Around The World 2022 then I would highly recommend booking your spot.
For me the key lessons that stood out from this event about adopting teal were;
- There’s no blueprint for becoming a teal organisation. As much as we love having a guide or a ‘how to’, it’s truly a bespoke and organic experience for every business who decides to adopt the approach.
- We have to remember that adopting teal or just a self-managed approach is a huge personal journey, just as much as it is a business one. Coaching and supporting people on their personal-growth is the first step to going teal.
- Conflict is one area that every self-managing organisation has a process for and follows even if it feels uncomfortable. The lesson here is that we need to improve how we talk to each other, and how we relate to each other.