Teal for Real: Going slow to go fast

For the past 4 months, The Moment has been on a transformative journey. We’ve been going teal (aka reinventing our organization) and have been doing our best to refine our culture and practices to be part of the rapidly evolving future of work.

Image source: Philippe Bailleur

A story of struggle and success

My experience in working on culture change with organizations over the last decade has taught me a lot, not least of which is that change is hard. I believe that the more we surface why it’s hard, the more we can address challenges head-on and stay the course to desirable new ways of being.

The intention here is to contribute to the larger conversation on going teal and on creating a responsive organization. The larger conversation on creating teal organizations is only as good as the spectrum of contributions we all make to it, so a degree of candid reflection is definitely in order. It’s important to tell the stories of struggle in addition to ones of success.

For our team, two things are abundantly clear now:

  1. Just because Laloux’s theory and observations resonate with us, doesn’t mean the change will be easy, and
  2. The challenge and pain of changing in this way is worth it.

To illustrate those two points, let’s get into the details.

What we wanted to change

Although we had many teal teal characteristics and leanings already (e.g. self-organizing teams), we had some significant behavioural patterns to shift. The changes related mostly to the flattening of our power and decision making structures. Here is the short list of things we set out to change on our journey to teal:

  1. We wanted a high degree of transparency: Our intention was to practice radical openness within our company where everything about the way we are running our business would be available to the team, and would be actively shared. The goal of this was to invite a higher degree of ownership and commitment, and to inform our individual and collective decision making.
  2. We wanted distributed decision making and power: Our intention was to give decision making power to “leads” of client and internal projects. The lead/team structure was created for a 4-month prototype. These lead roles are fluid (not permanent) and collaborative, and are probably a step between where we were, and getting to fully self-organizing teams. This is not pure teal practice, but an important step for us toward transformation.
  3. We wanted to us the advice circle process: When making critical decisions, anyone may call an advice circle of colleagues who also have a stake and who have expertise on the topic to provide advice. From there, the person can can make the decision on their own, without any executive oversight.

Easy, yes? We have an open and collaborative culture already, so this is just a refinement of what we already do, right?


What we tell our clients about transformation

When engaging in real change there is the tension between time and expectations. People generally want to see the results of a culture change effort sooner than can be realistically expected. Usually the time at which clients lose patience is right when things are about to change.

I call this the “brink”. You’re there, on the boundary of the way it was and the way it will be, but all you can see is the abyss. You want to retreat back to the old way, because who wants to jump into an abyss??? Most often, new ways of doing things will have inspired resistance or the behavioural elastic band snaps people back to old cultural norms. At the brink you perceive the danger to be ahead of you, when in fact the danger lies in going back to the old ways and not taking those next steps forward.

We tell our customers at 4 months change will likely feel terrible. It will seem like you’re not making progress. At 6 months you will likely start to see changes, but not full adoption of new ways of doing things. At 12 months you’ll see that things have changed, making new patterns common. At 18 months, new behaviour is embedded and it has become the way we do things around here.

Even though we know all of this, it was still hard when it was our team at the brink.

Checking in at the brink

We chose to check in on our teal transformation right at the 4 month mark — right at our own brink. Emotions were more intense, and the desire to go back to the old way of doing things was strong. Not surprisingly we had very mixed reviews on how much people were enjoying the experience.

Challenging though it was, the timing of our checkpoint offered a release valve for the culture change discomfort of our team right when we needed it most. We got a chance to stand back and take stock of our experience. Patterns emerged and showed us progress toward our goals. Creating a space for these conversations was hard and awesome and now that we’re on the other side we can see that all this change is worth the trouble.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to be deliberate about taking stock of where you are as a team in this change process — and to do it together. Exploring culture is a collective experience, requiring multiple perspectives to be accurate.

The struggle

During this initial stage of our transformation some of our people were left feeling confused and alone. Distributing leadership gave the impression of working alone and putting new pressures on team members who didn’t really want to assume certain roles. “It has been a horrible struggle”, said one of our team. “It has been a lonely time”. Without our old structures, we seemed to scatter, with everyone trying to figure out how to behave in our new looser structure. Mark (co-founder) reflected that even though he was one of the biggest supporters of this change to teal, giving up the significant amount of implicit power and authority that comes with having founded the business was a difficult journey, fraught with relational snags and mis-steps for all. The phrase “easier said than done” rang in my head during this time.

It should also be noted that our teal transformation was not the only significant change we were undertaking at the time. There was stress and urgency, bringing a higher level of reactivity. With all that came the inevitability for us to feel disappointed in ourselves and in the process of going teal. For some of our team, it was keenly felt.

In hindsight, a big banner in the studio declaring “go slow to go fast!” would have been a helpful tool to remind us all to be patient with ourselves and our colleagues.

The success

The best part making it this far in teal practice has been our shift to distributing leadership and decision making powers. In doing so, we put a lot more trust in the people we brought to the team. We liberated people to experiment and try new things. Out of necessity the co-founders found new ways to work with one another, and with the team — and the larger team was figuring out new relational and task patterns as well.

Despite the wobbles, our team fared well, with relationships not only intact but deepening as a result of working through the discomfort of the change.

Bravery abounds in our team. Our co-founders, who were letting go of power and authority were brave to invite people to lead. Employees who were picking up power and authority were brave to change traditional workplace patterns and change old paradigms of how things can work. Greg (co-founder), said it well : “Our team has really stepped into this leadership opportunity because we finally gave them some space to do it. They have been amazing. You have to create that space for people. When they step in, the whole performance of the organization elevates.”

And now?

It’s been a few months since our last Teal for Real check in, and things are significantly better. We have avoided a typical organizational phenomenon of giving up when the going gets tough. We have doubled-down on our commitment to making this shift in the ways that we work, and are refining our practice by amplifying what works. I am immensely proud of our team for sticking it out and committing to real change.

As a part of our review of our teal transformation, we built The Moment Culture Scan, which measures enacted cultural practices against desired culture. We are iterating on that version and will be releasing one to the public soon. Using the Culture Scan we will be sharing what Moment culture looks like and our progress toward our desired teal culture in the coming weeks. Making our culture explicit is a big part of shaping it the way we want it.

To stay current with all of the updates and to receive our BETA version, sign up for our newsletter and follow the hashtag #culturescan.