The future is teal
Perspectives on organization design for today’s startups
In my 5.5 years at Square, we grew from 70 to almost 2,000 employees. In that time, we changed hierarchies, management, teams, and priorities more times than I can pretend to count. Reorgs are an inevitable need of high-growth companies. Yet each time it happened at Square, employees met it with apprehension, stress, uncertainty, and loss of productivity. Regorgs are expected to continue at an equal or faster pace over the next five years.
The human body: a metaphor for startups
Startups remind me of humans, growing and adapting rapidly at first, and then less as you age. You have organs (teams), each with their own purpose yet also self-reliant on the whole system. Cells (information) move throughout the body. Your skeleton (processes) keeps things in place. You may think your mind (CEO) is in control, but we all know that not to be true. The body and the entire system knows what it needs, which is always evolving, and it’s your job to listen.
Now imagine if every three to six months, from the time you are born, you had a massive surgery. Biohacking your body in an attempt to create productivity and alignment around your new priorities. Sure, move part of the heart over here. Get rid of that kidney. Good luck.
An introduction to Teal
A “Teal” organization is based on the work of Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations. Teal orgs allow for higher employee engagement, individuality, interconnection, and authenticity—all without the need for traditional management structures.
Laloux found that pioneering organizations have three breakthrough characteristics:
- Self-management (what we call Networked Leadership). The organizational structure focused on peer relationships, which operate without hierarchy. We use our own form of Holacracy (among other tools) as a framework for practicing networked leadership.
- Wholeness. This aligns to my passion of diversity and inclusion. It is the concept that you may bring your whole self to work. We bring this to life through methods that include psychological safety discussions and a very thoughtful employee onboarding program.
- Evolutionary purpose. Individuals, teams, and the organization are in constant evolution (just like the human body!). At our quarterly all-company offsites, we practice the “unfolding process” to reflect on our evolutionary purpose as a whole and ensure we’re having the impact we seek. On an individual level, we have an innovative mentor program focused on each employee’s growth plan.
Like a Russian nesting doll, Teal orgs take the best practices from the previous organization models. While Teal is not “superior” to previous models, it has the elements for creating a thriving and adaptable ecosystem, which is imperative for a company like C Labs. We are working on Celo, an open platform that makes financial tools accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. We have a plan and path to becoming decentralized, and as more and more ownership get transferred to the community around Celo, an evolving and emerging organization structure is the only option.
Teal in practice
In March, we knew we were no longer well-organized at C Labs. We went through a hiring spurt in the fall and more-or-less had two large teams for the whole 30 person company. So while on retreat, teams got together and discussed the work, OKRs, and structure. It was a collaborative process and a few hours later, everyone presented the new org design. Some teams (called “Circles”) closed, new ones opened, and others merged. In absence of politics, hierarchy, and posturing, it was a painless and fun process that involved a lot of post-it’s.
We’re continuing to learn from our alternative org design. Every quarter, we host something called The Unfolding Process, in which employees share our company strengths and weaknesses along with suggestions on how to strengthen our strengths and weaken our weaknesses. This is the primary method for adapting how we work together.
We are now looking to bring these processes to the broader community, beyond C Labs, to people collaborating and participating in the governance of Celo. As Celo moves towards decentralization, we’ll continue to learn, adapt, and share our learnings along the way.
As a (nearly) newly minted yoga teacher, my perspective on the world is that we are all connected — inside, outside, the individual, and the collective. Teal organizations are designed for this reality.
Want to learn more?
We are hosting an intimate (60 people) three-day experience Nov 1–3 called the Prosper Retreat focused on wellness, growth, and connection. Learn more and apply at www.prosperretreat.org.
Have experience building Teal orgs? I’d love to collaborate. Reach out on Twitter or Telegram: @vslavich.