Growing up Teal.

If the title of this post is perplexing to you, I assure you, that you’re not alone. Only recently have I been enlightened to the meaning and it provided a bit of context to my life up to this point. For the past few weeks I’ve digested a mountain of information and ideas from concepts presented in Frederic Laloux’s book: Reinventing Organizations. I’ll admit my first pass of the book was tough, though I blame that on the subtext of my perspective at the time. I had just found out that the new job I had started nine weeks ago would be evaporating in a sense as of May 1st. I work for Zappos and if you haven’t heard, we’re going Teal. Hello self-management and goodbye managers (that’s me).

Of course, it’s not that simple.

I decided to give the book a second chance. Mostly because I refuse to take the famous offer and give up. I didn’t leave my previous job and drive 2,700 miles to Las Vegas to throw in the towel after two-months. I came in the pursuit of challenges and personal growth. I’m happy to report that I’ve found that ten fold here. But back to Teal. And growing up.

When I put the book down last Sunday night (for the second time), I realized that my formative years in elementary school had perfectly set me up to succeed in the Evolutionary-Teal environment. I’ve always credited my time at Wilmington Montessori School (WMS) for many things; time-management, self-direction, and a deep love for Shakespeare. Little did I know though that the practices and principles at Montessori would directly correlate to my new role at Zappos. Much like the companies presented in his book, Montessori often can come off as a flat classroom as children are grouped by age, 3–6, 5–7, 6–9, 9–12, etc. If you peel back that generalization however, you’ll notice that each student has a very particular role, set of accountabilities and level of experience that provides a hierarchal structure for the classroom and also peer review. (If these terms still sound foreign, give this video a shot).

Montessori is my foundational block in Evolutionary-Teal, my time spent managing my assignments and educational progression within the guardrails of the curriculum and advice (Advice Process) from teachers has proven once again invaluable to my own success. While I was learning to read, using the stamp game to understand long division and polishing up a few science projects in class I would also be creating strong ties for navigating a self-managed corporate environment.

As I move forward to see where our journey in self-management takes us, I have to think back to my Montessori roots and remember that I’ve already been highly successful in an Evolutionary-Teal environment. A few of the strong ties that I’ll be taking with me are:

1. Work with others often and relish in their opinions, ideas, creative thoughts and solutions to problems. Rarely do you have the best idea, or most efficient route to solve a problem.

2. Don’t be afraid to create guardrails or set-up a system of structure for when you need it. For the same reason that having a pair of two highly trained teachers was helpful, the same can be said for setting up a personal mentor network or creating quick access to expert coaches (teachers) for when you need a hand or a second opinion on your work.

3. Experiment often, and don’t fear your failures. At Montessori, it was expected that as a student you would make mistakes and learn to evaluate them. Through experimentation and failure you would devise a series of questions and processes to set yourself up for future success.

4.Forget desks and assigned seats. Montessori classrooms aren’t known for orderly rows of desks, instead we had large carpeted areas, sitting mats and a variety of workspaces. The tools to achieve your tasks were scattered throughout the classroom, this system forced students to interact with each other and intermingle with different groups of classmates often. It disrupted the seemingly flat hierarchy and opened doors for new friendships and opportunities for growth.

5. Pass along your knowledge freely and readily. The fluidity and transparency of knowledge at Montessori is awe inspiring, to watch as students share it amongst it each other, or readily volunteer it without being prompted. This transference of knowledge drives passion and creates and unwavering desire to continue your own educational path. It happens naturally in the classroom, during one-on-ones, through group presentations, school wide assemblies and other gatherings.

6. Explore the World in front of you and never take its wonders for granted. One of my more fond memories during my stay at WMS were “Dooley Adventures”. Thelma Dooley had a zest for seeing how things worked in the world and finding educational ties to everything. She led in-classroom walks through the attached woods on our schools grounds, explaining the flora and fauna, and organized out-of-class adventures to local anthropology sites. Thelma provided a looking glass into the puzzles of the World and encouraged all of her students to take with them a hearty sense of exploration and adventure.

7. See challenges as opportunities. During my final three years at WMS I created a deep bond with Shakespeare and moved from a light operator and stage runner to front and center as an actor. This transition wasn’t easy and if not for the constant prodding and passion of Helen Gadsby, I doubt I would have made the leap independently. Helens passion for spreading all things of the Bard were clear, as every year we assembled at least one Shakespearean production, learned lines, built costumes, sets and gave a few performances to students and parents. After all the shows and leaving the safety of Montessori, these experiences profoundly altered my outlook at challenges, and the possibility of high value in creating new opportunities they hold.

While these ties are fresh in my mind now, I realize I have to shake off close to 18 years of working in Achievement-Orange organizations and the contradictory habits that have been sold as the standard and expectation. I’m confident I’ll be able to shake them, as I take the deeper lessons of Montessori and opportunities at WMS with me on the next chapter of my career. I may not be doing long division using the stamp game, or sitting on floor mats, but I will certainly encounter countless times to apply these ties to projects, people, challenges and questions that hang thick in the air of our culture during this transition to Teal.

Authors Note: These are my personal thoughts and do not represent any views of the company or its leadership.

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