Teal management – because people matter

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When we hear about so-called “post-Covid reality” we often hear about various scenarios of how companies should work and especially how they should manage their people.  There is a lot of talk about a hybrid work model and, in the context of people management, about empathy, human resource management, a transformation of control, servant leadership or the boss’s role as an inspirer. All these elements can already be found in the Teal organizations, companies with a management style open to people that invitet hem to take part in building the culture of the organization.

Monika Goc (the ORP EFROS Co-founder) talked to Agnieszka Borowska – Zasada (the WorkTime Co-founder )about willingness of an organization to go teal, team building and everyday life, where both people and…results are important.

Monika Goc: How did you go teal in your business style?

Agnieszka Borowska-Zasada: The first time I encountered „Teal” as a term was in 2016. At that time, I was invited to the Open Eyes Economy Summit: OEES conference in Krakow and, out of many panels, I chose, just out of curiosity, the one on teal management. As I listened about it, I realized that although I was not familiar with the concept, the management model was quite the opposite. My eyes sparkled more and more when they talked about the transformation of a top-down hierarchical organization into a teal one. The thought popped into my mind: Wow, this is how I have been always managing!

MG: I guess that teal management has not been invented in Poland?

ABZ: The teal organizations management style was popularised by Frederic Laloux in 2014. In his book called „Reinventing organizations: A guide for Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness”, in which he presents different management styles and assigns them colors. For me, the most important take away from this book is to strive for making the people who work with me want to come to work with pleasure and feel happy and satisfied at work. But also to make them aware that although we have a lot of freedom and flexibility at work, this is not equal with a lack of responsibility. Quite the opposite. And this is probably the most difficult thing to put into practice: on the one hand, you offer freedom and flexibility, but on the other, it comes with taking full responsibility for what one does.

MG: What did you particularly pay attention to when you decided to go for teal management?

ABZ: I knew it would not be a piece of cake. I was aware that implementing the Teal model into management would not mean that everyone would love each other and there would be no competition. I believe that this will never be the case. But I wanted to ensure that the company was made up of people with different styles of thinking and acting, and that they were aware of their powers.

When I was thinking about teal management, I also kept in mind that all people want to feel important, they want to have their say, and above all that each of them has something unique to offer. And my job is to discover what this is and support them in it.

MG: How then did you implement “the teal” in WorkTime?

ABZ: In general, we have a problem with naming. After all, you yourself once mentioned that things need to be named and packaged properly to sell. We want everything to sound very professional, preferably in English. Teal has pleasant associations. This color stands for freedom. But I still think that if you want to reach people, you need to use simpler language. Instead of saying teal, I say self-organizing or self-managing companies, or simply – no strict top-down hierarchy. In a teal organization there is no classic top-down hierarchy and there is more than one leader. You create teams in the company and each team has its own leader.

I also have never had a drive for possessing power. But instead, I have had a mission, a vision and I wanted to achieve something. And that supposed to be great. Of course, I couldn’t do it on my own. So for that, I had to find the right people who wanted to do what I was doing, and most importantly, together with me. At first, people were surprised by my openness, talking about emotions, about their needs, about empathy. I believe that teal management cannot go without talking about emotions. Because emotions are there to be shared, not to be owned, as Simon Sinek said. If I don’t know the emotions of the other person in my company, then teal management will not work out. So at the beginning, I have to get to know people and they have to be willing to let me get to know them in some way. Not everyone is ready for that and I have to accept that too. If I have a company and I want to create something with people, I need to know who I team up with.

MG: And what next?

ABZ: A company is made of people! There is no company without people. If people don’t want to work with you and don’t believe in your mission – it is pointless then. We must want to do it together. And for people to do it together and to want to work with me, they have to be happy.

If you want teal management, you have to be ready for it and you have to know if you can. And also, to manage in a teal way, you have to like people and know how to communicate with them.

If you decide to go for teal, first test yourself. If you cannot do it yourself, go to a coach or a therapist and discover who you really are and check if you have problems with people, with communication, with relationships or not. This is the first step. Once you’ve decided you’re ready for it, the second step is to check if the people in the company are ready for it too – if they are ready to embrace this model of management. Unfortunately, some people find it comfortable to live in a farm mode: a boss says what he wants and the subordinate does it. If something goes wrong, blame it on a boss.

MG: How did your WorkTime team got created then?

ABZ: In the beginning, the company was made of programmers, designers and testers. Then, when the product we were developing had overcome most of the „childhood diseases”, I had to take care of sales and marketing. Hard skills are important. But I pay attention to what people are like at the level of thinking and acting styles. E.g. : how many of our people will push it to reach a goal, how many of them think analytically, how many have a lot of empathy and who are those who always come with new ideas, etc.? So I decided to do a workshop to point out and identify our core styles of functioning. I also wanted to see what the team was like so we can see what type of people we were still missing. Because if you only have goal-determined people in your team, it sounds promising, but at a certain stage of the battle, it can fail.

MG: So you opted for workshops on thinking and acting styles. What was the outcome?

ABZ: The outcome of the workshop was surprisingly positive. Above all, it turned out that we did not always judge ourselves well and therefore misunderstandings between individuals often occurred. We also understood our behavior, e.g. extrovert or introvert.

We are all different and knowing where our behavior and emotions come from makes our work easier and more effective and less stressful. When I know modus operandi of my people in the team, I can often avoid unnecessary irritation when someone, for example, does not react to my inquiry or a delegated task. I do not assume that someone is ignoring or disrespecting me. Knowing the style of thinking and, in this case, acting, I know to whom I can assign a task on short notice and to who prefers tasks with a more distant deadline. The latter person needs to sit on a task, analyze it, do research in order to make a great and insightful report. That is just the way it is. And the short time to complete this particular task limits this type of person and will bring her or him stress.

So if I need a quick answer, I have to send the task to someone else. That’s why it’s so important to have a team where thinking and acting styles complement each other. To make it easier for us to understand and communicate, we colored our names in the system we work in. The colors stand for our core styles: red, yellow, green and blue. From then on, I knew what I can expect from whom. In fact, every new person who came into our company could use it straight away. Thanks to this solution, we started to work together in a different way. People in the company agreed that it was just nicer.

MG: Weren’t you afraid of the risk of tagging people? What about employee self-development?

ABZ: We went for rules that we all agreed on. We decided that we want to develop within our comfort zone. If, for example, I am an analytical type, why should I suddenly become a goal- and result-oriented person when I can learn to be even more analytical. Human beings have other styles besides the core one, but they are less visible. We, however, decided that we wanted to develop our strengths even more and not focus on the weaker sides. After the workshop and testing my personality, it turned out that I am a partner when it comes to my thinking style and a realist in my acting style. To sum it up, I am the most empathetic person in our company

MG: Does this have an impact on how the team works in a teal company?

ABZ: And, what is more, in an IT company? (laughs) Well, I am kind of an appendix to a team made of “analysts”, “conquerors” and “creators of new ideas” ;-). And when I have to explain empathy to my people I do it with this story. Imagine that the ship we are all on is on fire.

All you do it to make it to the lifeboat to escape. You pay no attention to anything. The most important thing is to escape and save your life. And that’s great. It’s just that it’s not out of the question that you’ll trip and trip along the way, and if there will be a person just like you running alongside, with the same style of thinking and acting, they won’t stop and pick you up. Tough lucky, in the end, you were unlucky. But if there is a person with more empathy running next to you – they will help you and get you to the lifeboat. These are the kinds of things that show how we complement each other.

So if your goal is to increase efficiency, you want to have a motivated team. And start with yourself. In the process of getting to know ourselves, we also identified at what time of day we are most effective. This translates into our level of self-organization. So everyone comes to work when they are most effective. Why should someone come to work, sit for 8 hours and do almost nothing? Of course, our schedules must to be coordinated.

When we work on a project, there has to be a time when we can all meet together. We know when we have a deadline and what we have to hit it. And the rest is based on trust that people know what needs to be done, how it needs to be done and what they are responsible for.

MG: So is working time flexible at the Teal WorkTime?

ABZ: Yes, and that is not all. Suppose one of your co-workers has to leave. He has a family or other business of his own to deal with. We’ve agreed that we care about each other in the company, we’re important to each other, so it’s cool to say: „I’m leaving”. But at the same time, nobody has to explain the reason they have to leave. And the fact that we know a lot about each other and our private lives comes more from our conversations. And this is very natural.

MG: I wanted to go back to team building for a moment and to a recruitment process specifically. What kind of questions do you ask?

ABZ: I step in the second stage of recruitment. In the first stage, the company’s specialists evaluate and check competencies. Finally, I assess a person in terms of soft skills. And whether a given person fits into a teal organization, which we actually are. You need to know that this solution comes with certain risks. Because as long as you are formal and treat yourselves per “Ms” or “Mr” there are certain limits to direct and honest communication. But when they disappear, you then have more courage to tell someone what you really think about them. This is how I find out if a candidate is ready for such directness. Because in our company it is like that. I want people who learn from criticism instead of taking it personally.

MG: Is there a category of people you simply reject when recruiting?

ABZ: I do not work with job-hoppers. That is people who switch from company to company. For me, this means that such a person will not want to stay with me for a long time. If I have my own vision of building a company and I decide to invite a new person, I invest my time and knowledge.

I have no problem with someone bringing some knowledge to WorkTime, quite the opposite. It’s fantastic! I’m more concerned with the fact, that, like it or not, as a small company we create a family, and we just commit to that person and invest our time in them. That’s why I reject job-hoppers at the start. When it comes to hiring people, I often rely on my intuition, which is based on age and experience.

MG: What relationship problems can you point outwhen it comes to employees?

ABZ: Interpersonal relationships within a company are crucial. But relationships between people of different ages are also important. People of different generations act and think differently, and often work in the same team. I invest a lot of time to get to know the styles and ways of the youngest working generation. I want to „learn” them and understand them. I notice that even if I have good intentions to support a young co-worker, I sometimes end up getting quite the opposite effect. Now I now know that I cannot dictate to young people how to do something, because they have completely different ways of doing things than I do. And they work. I also believe that if a young person doesn’t have a mentor, they won’t stay in the company.

Getting along with people of different ages is very important. When people of different ages work together in micro-teams, I need to ensure that they are on the same wavelength or at least similar. So we really need to get to know each other all the time. And quit on assuming that we are the ones who are always right.

MG: What about values? Do you ask people about them during an interview?

ABZ: I do not ask about values because I think that I am judging then. I do not know whether the values in my company are better than those of the person I am talking to. The most important thing is that we get along. That is why, from the very beginning of our cooperation, I keep on repeating: if you are having a bad day – tell me; if you want to have time off – tell me, don’t play games; don’t be afraid if you don’t know something. Just tell me.

In WorkTime, our time tracking program, we have a fixed type of work: time for learning and research. People know they can develop their education while they work and there is no need to explain it. We are constantly learning, sharing information, experience, knowledge.

MG: How do you solve conflicts?

ABZ: I have learned to stay away from conflicts between people in the company. Of course, if the issue goes too far and I witness it, I try to calm the situation down. And I often return to the subject, talking to people individually. One to one with each person. Of course, I also make mistakes myself. But I always make sure that I apologize and admit my mistake. Also in a group.

I explain my reactions and the reason for them. As a teal team, we learn together, preferably from our own experiences. We are able to come up with conclusions and learn from our weaknesses, e.g. when someone gets nervous or messes up. I also know that if I’m not authentic at what I do, I won’t be credible either.

MG: And how do you act today?

ABZ: We are able to organize ourselves in the company. We are at the stage where each of us is responsible for our own piece of the floor, for ourselves and the team performance. But there is also a willingness to support eachother. At the end we just wrap it up. We are a small team, so communication is facilitated.

I’m also not big on controlling, I don’t control what anyone does at any given time. I care about people’s creativity, not about ticking off 8 hours at work. I want people to know about it and feel comfortable with it. Especially since we work in a program to track and settle our working time. We have flexible working hours, but there is a specific time when we are all together. Then we discuss various problems, ideas, whatever the sub-teams give us.

Each of us is also a strong personality. I sometimes hear that strong personalities find it difficult to communicate. Does it bother us? I do not think so. It helps us to learn from each other. Yes – we are a „forever in training” team. Now I think that’s really brilliant.

MG: Threats and risks in a teal organization.

ABZ: Being a company, and at the same time being friends, family. This boundary can easily become blurred. We get so comfortable that we stop developing and moving on. This means freezing – stagnation. Everything I do in the company is aimed at making people at work happy. So that when they go home, they don’t take their emotions out on their loved ones or get depressed or play games with sick notes or not coming to work.

With us you can be real, be yourself. For example, you don’t have to put on a suit in the morning, put on make-up and worry about what the company will say. Well, unless you like it that way, it works both ways. In the summer, some of us like, for example, to walk barefoot around the company or in shorts – because it feels comfortable, real, natural. The fewer restrictions the better. Of course, without exaggeration, we take care of our hygiene.

MG: Responsibility. How about it?

ABZ: All teal organizations are based on responsibility. My role in the company is not to be a boss and control, but rather to coordinate and connect the dots. That’s why there is responsibility behind our working rules. And when someone fails? We talk. Control is more about verifying the project and the work – then we see if everything has been done and how it has been done.

I won’t give up on saying that the people in the company are of the greatest value.

MG: Where do you get the power and energy to manage your company in a teal way?

ABZ: It all may sound like you need some kind of special power and energy to manage in this model. I see teal management as the only way of running a company that is well-alligned with my values. I cannot imagine it any other way. I would even say that this kind of management gives me strength and energy. I stick to the main goal of teal management – striving to make people simply happy, happy in the company and at work.

MG: How do you catch balance in your personal life? What goads you on?

ABZ: Joy! Joy is the fuel of a man. Seriously, this is my motto. I am always looking for reasons to be happy (laughs). But I admit that I need to hold on my horses sometimes. I need to see when to slow down in my joy and love of life. And also at work.

MG: You need to hold on your joy horses at work… Sounds really intriguing.

ABZ: My mindset is to be a partner, so I won’t leave anyone lying on the ground. If you fall, I will come back for you and try to pick you up. I am also a sensitive person BUT I am not afraid of emotions. They are my strength. In our management model, I can also show them at work. But coming back to the topic of work, I can get very involved in a project, in meetings with people and this makes me start to forget about the whole world and … time. I am then kept in check by IT tools. That is, pure mathematics… it is my whip. They always bring me down to earth. They show in black and white that it is all about working smart, not more. This is such an „occupational quirk” of mine related to building time value. I advocate for changing productivity into efficiency. This is already my style of acting.

MG: Does this mean we should work more in less time?

ABZ: No. The problem is exactly the understanding what productivity and efficiency are. What I mean is that we cannot break free from productivity ghost understood as: no matter how much I impose on myself, how much work I get, I will not make it! Of course I will make it! I will fall, but I will make it! (laughing)

The point is to achieve the defined goals within the defined time limit, or even in a shorter time. And to achieve this, you can optimize your working time. That is, to have more time for pleasures outside of work, so that life is made not only of work, even if you are happy at it. But to be able to optimize work, you first need to track it. You don’t track, you don’t have data, you don’t know how to manage.

MG: What has taught you to be open to diversity, to people, to freely “share” power within the company?

ABZ: I wouldn’t dare say I have any power. Although I know that there are people who really want it. Of course I have something to say on certain issues. I have the knowledge, I have experience and I am very willing to share it. But I cannot impose anything on you. I can only only help! I am more in serving mode more than in managing. But I like it. In the company we simply focus on what we want to achieve together, not on hierarchies. Not some kind of professional artificial distance or protecting “power in power”.

MG: If we want to go for serving rather than managing, it requires a lot of openness towards people.

ABZ: Yes, it was traveling that taught me to be open-minded. Most of all, traveling to unspoiled areas, less civilized countries, where people complement each other, help each other, benefit from each other’s knowledge, and in the end enjoy it together.

Every person has some unique value, there is no other person like you, like me. And it is worth dip up on that, not fighting against it. This simple and lived-in is often the best. This makes me think of Plato: the greatest part of what we learn is in a reality only recalling of what we already know. This thought is always with me when I travel.

MG: You said that you had learnedopenness while traveling and the experiences traveling brought to you. Any pleace in particulary?

ABZ: A few years ago I left everything and just sailed across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. I was on the move for almost four years, testing life and learning about people. I left the land and its customs and…I sailed away.

MG: I am very curious to know what has been most valuable to you? Especially when it comes to managing people in a teal company.

ABZ: I treat every trip as an opportunity to update of my software to the latest version of myself. If I leave the old version of the software on my disk, that is in my head, and I will insist that this installed software is the best one, it works, though – then I can say goodbye to working with people.

What have my travels taught me?

First of all, I am not ashamed of my feelings and I am not afraid of emotions. The ability to express and communicate feelings, which plays a key role in running a teal organization, and in our culture is still a sign of weakness.

Second of all, responsibility for others. This is something I learned by sailing and taking people with me on the yacht.

Next, being true and empathetic towards others. But at the same time taking care of yourself. I always say that if I am not strong, I will not be able to take care of others.

And maybe a statement which I also often repeat: I am not the centre of the world. It is during my travels that I get to know different cultures, come into contact with different religions and see that this different world is doing great and that we should respect it. Therefore, speaking about people in a teal organization – we do not have to love each other right away, but yes, we should respect each other.

MG: Should a person who leads a company and works with people should have any passions, apart from work of course?

ABZ: I think everyone should have a passion, something they live outside of work. It’s a kind of backup of energy. They try to convince us that if your passion is your job, etc., then you don’t work an hour more than you have to. You think to yourself that this is the happiest solution. But is it the most efficient? I am not saying that some people can’t do that. In my case, however, it is a red flag.

MG: Why a red flag right away?

ABZ: If your work is your true passion then you can lose yourself in that work. You will work more and not smartly. People with passion often lose the line between work and private life. Working 24 hours a day, such a person will underperform over time and won’t notice when they burn out. Let’s be honest – we work to earn a living.

MG: ?!

ABZ: This is why I value teal management so much. The watchword is simply to be happy. In the sense of being happy at work. You go home after work and can develop yourself in any way you want. Work and passions should feed into each other. To me, this is a receipt for a perfect world.

And that’s exactly how my WorkTime organization is programmed. We, who make it up, we are teal – the color of freedom. From time to time we delete some toxic old files from our drives. We do a brain defragmentation and move on.

MG:  Imagine: Agnieszka Borowska in a large company. What would you like to do?

ABZ: If I were ever to work for a corporation or a large company, it would only be if there was a Happiness and Smile Department and I could manage it.