I am starting with a confession: I am not always a model student!

I attended an excellent course on Holacracy to experience the two types of meetings that are critical to being ‘powered by Holacracy’. These meetings are called the Tactical Meeting and the Governance meeting. The objective of the session was to introduce the meetings, not to feel that you could rush out and implement them. In fact if you want to be a Holacracy practitioner to use the process within your organisation, there’s a four and a half day course to go on.

I should know better than to rush on ahead. After all, I wouldn’t be too happy if someone watched an hour-long webinar on person-centred reviews and then decided that they were ready to facilitate the process without additional help! But I wanted to team to experience the Tactical Meeting, thought I could give it a go, and was confident that they would forgive me if I got it wrong. I’m not sure if the Holacracy folk will though!

Giving it a go

We were already well into our 2 day team meeting – about 3pm in the afternoon. We had voted on, and made the decision to commit to Teal. After lunch Jo led a session on person-centred outcomes. We were changing our process and poster based on what we had been learning over the last two years of supporting people to develop their own. After a short break, fuelled with wasabi peas (me) and chocolate and fruit (Emily had taken the ‘hospitality role’ for this team meeting and had provided wonderful treats) we were ready to experience the Tactical Meeting process.

The Tactical Meeting process is a way to ‘triage’ workplace tensions and quickly decide what the next step will be to move forward. A tension represents something in the gap between where we are now, and where we want to be. It could be a challenge, or equally something that we see we could do better. You can read the full process here.

I asked the team for suggestions of tensions, just in a couple of words. We quickly generated a list of eight tensions.

Here were some of them:

We looked at the list to see if we needed to look at any in a particular order, but none were dependent on each other, so we simply worked through the list.

In our current meeting format, the person who owns the issue (or tension in this case) would explain what it was and introduce the question that they wanted the team to help with. In the Tactical Meeting process, I simply asked the person who brought the tension, “What do you need?”. No background and explanation required – simply what do you need to address this tension.

What did we need?

Sometimes it was ideas. One team member wanted to know how other people were managing the size of our files on Dropbox. He learned who was only using it on the cloud, and I took an action away to reduce the number of duplicated Powerpoints in my ‘Keynotes’ folder.

For others, it was more about getting some support. Another team member needed help to write up detailed trainer notes, and the solution was simple, for two other team members to spend 40 minutes thinking this through with her at the team meeting. We simply scheduled that for the next day.

Another team member wanted ideas about what to do when they deliver a 2-day course that relies on people completing e-learning before they arrive, and four people have not completed it. We came up with a range of ideas, and actions that followed.

So did it work? 

Largely, yes. Above all, it was amazingly efficient. Ten agenda items were completed in 70 minutes.

We also asked everyone what they thought. Their reflections ranged from disciplined to brutal, from efficient to feeling on-the-spot when being asked what you need.

Someone made the important point that if I continued to facilitate these meetings, then I was effectively reinforcing again ‘business as usual’ rather than the change we are making towards self-management. The decision was for another member of the team to… attend the four and a half day course on Holacracy. So whilst I might not always be the perfect student, as a team we’ll get there in the end! Perhaps I don’t need to confess after all.

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Brené Brown describes waking up with a ‘vulnerability hangover’ the morning after giving her powerful TED Talk on shame and vulnerability. I too experienced some sort of emotional hangover the day after we decided to move towards being a Teal organisation. It was a strange mixture of ‘have I gone too far?’ and ‘can I really do this?’.

My last post described my shock and excitement on reading Reinventing Organizations and realising that moving towards Teal felt right to me. But what about my colleagues in Helen Sanderson Associates? How would they feel about such a change? And how should we talk about it and decide what to do?

Over the last month we have been building up to making a decision about moving towards Teal. Here’s what we did and how it felt.

Sharing my excitement about Teal and starting a conversation

When I sensed the potential impact of Reinventing Organizations, I posted on our internal team communications, Slack, that I was reading a book that was challenging and scary too, and asked if anyone wanted to read along with me.

I posted copies of the book to the five people who wanted to join me.

On a Friday, I send an email to everyone in H S A internationally, called the Friday Forecast. It’s a roundup of what I have been doing and musings on what could impact us in the future. I mentioned the book there, and that two partners and customers that week had also talked about Teal.

I set up a new discussion channel in Slack called ‘Towards Teal’ to pick up the conversation about all things Teal. On the Teal channel I posted some short videos about Buurtzorg, the RSA Fredrick Laloux video, and a short film that explained the different organisational structures. People who had been reading the book started to post their responses to it and other people shared resources that they had found about Teal too.

People’s tone was positive and intrigued, with a healthy dose of skepticism in a couple of corners too.

How do others do it? Laloux’s three ways organisations move to Teal

LaLoux describes three ways that existing organisations make the transition to Teal.

1) The CEO makes that decision.

2) A bottom-up approach emerges from a large group event such as Appreciative Inquiry or Open Space.

3) The CEO and senior leaders decide to adopt the ready-made structure of Holacracy.

Two weeks ago I attended an introduction to Holacracy. This was an immersion into the two types of meeting that underpin this approach. I loved the structure of the meeting, but it is a technology without warmth or vision. I could see how the two meeting structures can be powerful and wanted to use them, but did not feel that the wholescale move to Holacracy was right for us.

Laloux’s first option did not feel right either. The CEO deciding that everyone will be self-managing sounds like a strange type of oxymoron.

I wanted to explore Teal with the team, and for us to make a decision together. This is not the bottom up approach in option 2, nor the dictated change of option 1 – I guess it is somewhere in the middle. Of course there was a risk that the decision wouldn’t be the one that I wanted, but none of the other three ways felt right.

I take Teal to our team meeting

At HSA we meet for two days every two months. My role is to develop the agenda so that people know how to prepare and what to expect. It is not a traditional team meeting at all. We have a short mindfulness session each day and we work on challenges and develop new ideas or materials. We stay overnight, eat, drink and have fun. The evening session (we have a ‘Minister of Fun’ and a hospitality role in the team) is as much a part of the agenda as the development sessions during the day.

For our April 2016 meeting I asked people to come having read the book or watched the three films I had posted, I said that I was proposing that we moved to become a Teal organisation.

We spent the first morning of the first day talking Teal and eventually voted on my proposal.

We started by looking at the values and culture of Teal – well of course we would, because according to Laloux we operate as a green family organisation, where culture is critical. If we could not all get behind the values and principles of Teal, then that would be the end of exploring it for HSA.

We read the statements from the book, and had a discussion about soul and spirituality. One team member pushed back at the notion of spirit and soul, and another commented on a feel of ‘cultishness’ around the language used in the values.

Our work does have soul. One of John O’Brien’s books is called Remembering the Soul of our Work and that concept resonates with us, even if some of the language jars.

Then we looked at what Teal would mean for us in practice. I had prepared a paper from Reinventing Organisations, using the helpful tables where Laloux pulls together the characteristics of typical Amber organisations, and contrasts this with Teal. I took these concepts and added a column to describe what I thought we were already doing and what would be a significant change for us.

What we do already

There are three key insights or breakthroughs in Teal: wholeness, evolving purpose and self-management.

At HSA we are already fully committed to bringing the whole person to work. We see one-page profiles as one way to do this.

Evolving purpose did not feel like too much of a stretch either – it is the self-management that would involve change to the way we work.

Self-management is more of a stretch

Over our 15 years together (the three of us who started H S A are still here) we have experimented with different ways to organise ourselves – from a flat structure with no management roles at all to having an operational manager. We all work from home and stay in a variety of ways but usually will only see each other at team meetings.

No organisational approach had felt like a good fit for who we are and how we want to work together, and one of the reasons I feel so drawn to Teal is that the self-management feels like it fits me personally and how we want to operate as a team. I never wanted to be a manager, and that is not my role, but I am the default in accountability and can be relied upon for ‘nice nagging’ and checking up that things we agreed have been done.

Here are some of examples of how we usually operate, and what moving to Teal means:

  • Typically I decide which opportunities and partnerships to explore. As a Teal organisation I would use the ‘Advice Process’ where I would ask the advice of team members rather than telling them what I have done after the event.
  • I have been the only person with the full information about what is in our bank account, what we are owed and how much it costs each month to keep us going, As a Teal organisation all of this information is transparent, and shared with everyone.
  • The people who have a lead responsibility for an area, for example, our work with children and young people, are expected to develop a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal – from the work of Jim Collins) and report on their progress to the team. As a Teal organisation, new projects will emerge, led by anyone who wants to explore an idea, asking advice if it impacts on other members of the team.

Last year we introduced ‘support buddies’ for everyone at HSA. Buddies connect at least once a month for support and to challenge each other. This was a step towards greater shared accountability, but essentially, I am still accountable as CEO. To go Teal means me ceding my CEO power. This is both attractive and scary. I know that I am naturally controlling and like the power I have, but I want Teal more.

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Laloux describes a new paradigm of organisation, that he calls teal. Teal organisations embody self-organisation, enable people to bring their whole selves to work, and allow the organisations purpose to evolve.

Laloux would describe our team as a ‘green’. This means that we see ourselves as a family, focus on the culture of our team, our values and how we work together. I don’t see myself as a typical CEO, but many team members, even through they are self-employed, still refer to me as their boss. Next week we have a two day team meeting and will explore what moving to teal could mean for us.

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One of my favourite gifts is a book. Last year Nic told me about a powerful book that she was reading, and generously sent me a copy. I know to say that ‘the book changed by life’ is a tired cliché, but it had the impact of focusing my work in a way no other book has.
The book was Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’. By the end of the year I had bought and given away a further seven copies. This blog describes how it led to our partnership with Community Integrated Care to change care homes.

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Last Tuesday I was drinking coffee with Rod, in Jonkoping, talking about the presentation we were due to give the next day. My phone rang and I got the call that I knew was coming soon but still not expecting. The message was that my friend and colleague Max had died.
Max was prepared for the end of his life, more than prepared, he faced it head on. He had cancer for the last two years. We had had many conversations (electronic – our favourite kind) about life and death, about contributions and appreciations, and about what needed to be said and done for a good death. We said what we wanted to say to each other – and I asked for and got my ‘legacy instructions’.

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Two weeks ago I was surprised to get a call from a provider asking for help to recruit a new Person-Centred Planning Co-ordinator. This role is an echo from the past for me. I have friends who used to be ‘PCP Co-ordinators’, but I don’t think this role still exist in local authorities, and there are a handful of people with a similar role in some providers. The Person-Centred Planning Co-ordinator was a new role emerging in 2000 to help implement Valuing People. Essentially, their role was to train and support person-centred planning facilitators, to ensure that person-centred planning happened and it made a difference. Our aspirations were high for person-centred planning to lead to great lives for people and rock services. There was lots of effort and energy, and great co-ordinators, yet history tells us that success was mixed. I was part of that change, and if I had my time over again, there is a lot that I would do differently. This is how I would change the role.

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I was 50 last year. Turning 50 made me pause and consider how I am using my time, and what I want to change – a huge ‘working and not working’ about work and life. Being part of a small team is definitely on the ‘working’ list , and I don’t want it to get bigger, but this creates a tension too. How can a handful of people be part of contributing to big changes? However good our training is, if we carry offering training in the same way, I am not sure how we can influence change at scale. I keep asking myself how our team can support people to do great work and make a difference.

The context of training has changed as well. The financial situation means that training budgets keep shrinking, at the same time that colleagues are expected to implement The Care Act, the SEND reforms in education, and introduce care and support planning too. I know that taking staff away from the workplace for two days to learn new skills is harder to do, particularly when you also have to pay for the venue, pay travel and sometimes back pay as well. Even when staff can attend an excellent course, how can managers be sure that it results in changes to practice?

So eight months ago, as I passed 50, I started to look at these two questions:

How can people gain new skills and knowledge without leaving the workplace?
How can people get ongoing support to implement what they have learned?

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Talking about death is difficult. It’s an annual conversation for me and my mum. Mum already had a one-page profile, developed after a spell in hospital. In essence we were updating this and adding two other sections about what she wanted and did not want around the end of her life. This was easy to take from the ‘Living Well’ and is almost an executive summary.

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Over the last four weeks I have given feedback on over 120 projects as a coach for Seth Godin’s radical course, the AltMBA. I completed the course as a student at the end of last year, and this resulted in a disturbing realisation about feedback. I had given the other people on the course, more feedback than I give my own team members in a year. Here is how I am changing that.

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