Teal Management - No Manager Above - How Self-Management Works at a Teal Organization?

Teal Management - No Manager Above - How Self-Management Works at a Teal Organization?

Jarek Jarzębowski - August 24, 2022

Teal management and teal organizations are terms popularized by Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations. In the teal management model, there is no manager above. This can be a difficult concept for some to understand, as they are used to having a clear chain of command. However, self-management and self-organizing teams are two of the key concepts that make teal organizations successful. In this article, we will explore how these concepts work and why they are so crucial in teal management.

If you are interested in learning more about teal management or looking for a new way to manage your business, this article is for you!

Teal Management - What Is It?

Teal management is a new way of managing organizations that emphasizes self-management and self-organizing teams. In teal organizations, people are not controlled by managers within a hierarchical structure. Instead, employees are organized in circles or teams, and each team is responsible for a specific business area. This means that each team is responsible for its own success or failure. This circles-based approach to management allows for more horizontal communication and collaboration between employees.

top-down approach from orange organizations, centralized control at green organizations, and decentralized communication of self-organizing teams at the living entity of a teal organization

Top-down management from orange organizations, centralized control at green organizations, and decentralized communication of self-organizing teams at the living entity of a teal organization

Benefits of Teal Management

This type of egalitarian management has many benefits, including increased employee engagement, more significant innovation, creativity, and more effective decision-making. Teal organizations also tend to be more adaptable and agile than traditional companies as they adjust as self-organizing systems.

Teal management may sound daunting for some, especially those used to traditional (or even old-fashioned) management styles and corporate culture. Still, it actually allows for more employee growth and development. With teal management, employees are empowered to make decisions and take ownership of their work.

What Is Self-Management?

When you google self-management, you will find that it means self-regulation or control over one’s emotions. While this is true, when we think of self-management in our personal life, we think of something different regarding the working environment.

Traditional Team Management

In traditional, hierarchical companies, employees should be assigned a well-defined set of responsibilities. They are usually implemented as a job description, clearly defining what a person is responsible for and what tasks they perform. At the same time, the manager often distributes specific tasks, manages, plans, and holds accountable given employees. This is a system that worked well… in factories many years ago.

Today, however, this approach has many potential drawbacks, especially in an industry such as IT, where the machines do not produce the value in a company that employees operate but by the employees who use their skills and knowledge. A situation in which our primary tool at work is our brain makes the traditional model, in which tasks are strictly defined and assigned by a supervisor, outdated and inefficient.

Telling people what to do and how to do it often makes them feel like they are not trusted, decreasing their motivation and engagement. In addition, this system often stifles creativity and innovation as employees feel they have to stick to the plan and cannot deviate from it. Furthermore, it can be counterproductive, as it often leads to a feeling of being micro-managed or not valued for our ideas. In the long run, this can lead to a high turnover rate and low employee satisfaction.

This kind of approach is in strict opposition to the teal culture and its principles. That’s why, at nexocode, we take a different path. We believe in the idea of self-organization. We are convinced that everyone wants to get the job done to the best of their ability while self-managing the optimal way to do it. You can read more about our road towards teal in our founder story.

Self-management is a concept characteristic of teal organizations but can be defined and used broadly. I personally believe that self-organization is a fundamental mental model of every effective individual.

Self-Management, Self-Awareness, and Time of Activity

Self-management requires a lot of self-awareness and responsibility. In a situation where no one is standing over our heads, no one is distributing tasks, and no one is setting the direction each day, some people could fall into a slump, feel abandoned, or simply lost. This is why a strong sense of self-awareness makes one of the essential qualities we look for in the teal recruitment process. Within this process, not only do we want to ensure competency but also highlight in great detail the set of principles that navigate our self-organizing company.

Being self-aware means knowing his talents, priorities, goals, preferences, best time to work, way to cooperate with others, etc. It is also positively correlated with professional maturity. In a work setting, it allows for effective collaboration and a high level of commitment at every stage and point in the organization. Going further, at nexocode, we believe in each of us being able to make mature decisions related to our own work, which is why we work in a fully flexible self-organized way, and 95% remotely (we hold a physical teal meeting every month).

A high degree of self-awareness and flexibility allows team members to adjust their working hours according to our natural clock - some people start work at 7:00 a.m. In contrast, others can begin at 1:00 p.m., which is OK, as long as we collectively agree on this approach, and personal preferences support team needs. This is an optimal solution that allows for individual treatment of owls, larks, people who work in 90-minute blocks, and those who prefer 25-minute Pomodoro-style cycles. It is also a necessary framework when you think about work-life balance and how the organization can support the daily life of its team members.

Teal Management Style - Is the Solution a Lack of Rules?

One may think that self-organizing means that everyone does whatever they want, and there are no rules, but it can’t be further away from the truth. We know that a general setting of a common direction is essential so that we, as one organization, move in the same direction and not risk drifting inertly on a chaotic ocean. Similarly, the same thing applies to principles. The teal organizational model that you will find at nexocode does not mean the complete absence of any rules whatsoever but a focus on making sure that all practices, principles, and structure are, as far as possible, jointly determined and accepted through broad team discussion.

Self-organization is not the absence of management and rules, but rather allowance for each individual to manage themself the way they find best suitable and not be too constricted by the rules.

Another key aspect of the teal nature of nexocode is the fluidity of the rules. Some people treat rules like immutable commandments that cannot be redefined. We understand rules somewhat differently. We see their value, we know that constraints can act as a stimulant in certain situations, but at the same time, we are aware that sometimes teams and organizations outgrow sets of rules that previously worked perfectly. This is a natural situation that applies to individuals and large groups.

To summarize our approach to rules:

  • A certain number of rules are necessary for the smooth functioning of an organization.
  • Rules should be established through discussion and jointly adopted, rather than developed by the only right management team.
  • Rules provide the necessary framework within which we can move, but at the same time, we give ourselves space to potentially redefine them and apply regular improvements over time. We treat it as a set of dynamic patterns, we conduct tests on and alter them as we move forward agilely.
  • The organizations we work with - such as our customers and suppliers - operate according to several generally accepted rules to which we must partially adapt.
  • Apart from hard skills training, required by our business’s specificity, we emphasize regular soft skills training. Proper training enables our team members to grow and make informed decisions about our rules and practices. As our team members learn and evolve, they can support the evolution of our processes.
  • We should constantly analyze the rules operating in nexocode - whether they work, whether there are too many, or whether new ones are needed. Or whether we have outgrown some of the practices we applied. After all, evolving organizations are like these nonequilibrium systems, which have nonlinear dynamics and constantly change within their environment. What works today may not work tomorrow, and what didn’t work yesterday may start working tomorrow.

Self-organization does not mean that each of us in nexocode works completely separately and individually, without contact or insight to others. Self-organizing means only and as much as each person involved decides for himself, his way of working, or the way he works. We actually believe that peer relationships are precious.

It is worth being aware that self-management is part of the larger concept of a self-organizing company, and we should not analyze it in isolation.

Building Self-Organizing Teams

Self-organizing does not apply only to individuals but is also applicable to teams. This approach can be better understood by some people who work in the agile paradigm but should also be briefly mentioned. Agile self-organizing teams are competent, allowed, and expected to take the decisions regarding their work and project. Teams should be able to use collective intelligence and not rely on one manager’s perspective. It also means that when creating fluid teams, we focus on it being as self-sufficient as possible.

Self-managed teams are a staple of a teal organization. Under this model, the team itself takes ownership of the workflow, processes, schedules, roles, ways, routines, meetings, etc. What is interesting in teal organizations, we believe that such teams can be applied not only to software development projects but also to organizational projects, EB projects, and more.

Cross-Functional Teams

Within the IT world, it is more and more fashionable to create cross-functional teams. The idea behind this is that each team should have all the skills and knowledge necessary to complete their project from start to finish without depending on other people or teams. Though it is relatively easy to set up a cross-functional team (just mix and match a couple of software engineers, designers, and product people), building a true self-organizing team is not easy. Achieving this requires, among other things, that team members trust each other and feel responsible for the success of the project as a whole, not just their part.

Ownership is the trait that differentiates a self-organizing team from a cross-functional team. A self-organizing team “owns” the project, while in a cross-functional team, each member just owns their task. Self-organizing teams require a bit more horizontal communication and a lot more trust than cross-functional teams. The team starts self-organizing when the team members starts to think and feel “we.” Being a part of a self-organized team is more than just being a developer, or a designer, or a product owner. It’s about being part of something bigger.

When working on product development tasks within a self-organizing team, there is no need for a separate project management role. The team takes responsibility for the product and decides what needs to be done and how. The product manager’s responsibility is to gather as much data and share it with team members and nurture product skills within the team. The product role isn’t about micro-managing, setting deadlines, and telling people how things should be done but about empowering employees. Each team member has an equal say in these decisions. The team also decides how best to use each team member’s skills and knowledge to get the work done.

The teal management philosophy is based on trust, which means that we believe in the ability of our team members to take responsibility for their own development as well as for the development of others and for the success of projects they are working on. There is no room for micromanagement or command & control leadership style in teal organizations. Instead, we try to create an environment in which everyone can grow and fully develop their potential.

Self-Organizing Team of Coaches/Experts Supporting Other Teams

In teal organizations, we believe that everyone has something to teach and something to learn. This is why we often create circles of coaches or experts who are responsible for supporting other teams in their work or are doing this interdisciplinary work that doesn’t clearly fall into one particular project. These teams of coaches or experts are self-organizing, which means they decide how they want to work and what role each member will play.

We value having a third opinion, and sometimes not necessarily an expert one. This is because we believe everyone has something valuable to contribute, regardless of their experience level. We believe in servant-leadership, where everyone can step up and lead when needed. Sometimes making the team or a person better is by observing efforts and practices from the outside and positively questioning the status quo.

We also create topic circles that gather team members who are experts in a matter or just want to give their input on a particular subject. Their job is usually to cover work that in bigger companies is delegated over to separate departments. In our case, we created circles, for instance, for new business development or marketing. And they are not constructed solely by sales or marketing people. Instead, we try a more holistic approach and have a mix of people from all over the company because we believe everyone has something to contribute.

Self-Organizing Systems and Personal Development

In the context of self-management, it is also worth touching on the topic of promotions and career development. Self-organizing assumes a high degree of individual influence over areas of responsibility and tasks and possible flexibility. This means that strictly defined job descriptions and rigid frameworks of typical functions will not work. This is in many ways a plus, but for some people, it will be a significant challenge, including in terms of career planning and promotions. Changing position name every year just to ensure an employee remains motivated is not something you do when you’re teal.

For some roles, for example, software engineer, we have prepared a competence matrix that clearly shows which skills one might work on to get to another level in core competencies. Still, we are also developing a badge system that adds a layer of complexity and gives another axis for a proactive team member to move on.

More cross-functional roles, which are a norm in smaller and teal organizations, we approach individually, which also creates a path one can take to grow professionally. It is again an area where one can self-manage - this time on a higher career level.

Is Self Organization for You?

At this stage, you may wonder whether self-organization is right for you. On the one hand, from an individual perspective, on the other hand, from an organizational perspective.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you are wondering whether you, yourself, might be comfortable within a self-organizing dynamic system:

  1. Do I feel adequately involved in the company I work for?
  2. Can I manage my own energy?
  3. Do I know how best to influence my responsibilities without supervision?
  4. Do I know how to take care of my own development?
  5. Do I know when and how I can contribute the most value?
  6. Am I able to seek feedback and/or a different point of view?

On the other hand, you should also be aware that not every organization will do well using management alone. It is worth asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the team know what direction it should take?
  2. Is there an appropriate level of trust within the team?
  3. Are there ways to build relationships within the organization?
  4. Do individuals know when and how they can find support when needed?
  5. Does the team have adequate influence over how it functions?

This is of course not a finished list but it is worth considering these questions as a sort of guideline for whom and for which organization self-management will work best.

Our Self-Organizing System

Self-management and self-organizing teams are concepts that are being embraced increasingly in the business world. They can be a challenge for some people, but they can offer many benefits if you feel comfortable with them. Our teal organization is based on these principles, and we have found that they work well for us. We are constantly working on our self-organization, and we believe that this ongoing work and never setting the status quo it is one of the things that makes us successful. If you are thinking about implementing these concepts in your own organization, we encourage you to do so. They may just be the key to success for you as well.

Oh, and if you’re looking for an opportunity to work in a teal organization and are excited by the idea of self-organizing teams and self-management, nexocode is hiring! We’re always on the lookout for talented individuals who want to be part of something special. Visit our careers page to learn more about what we do and how you can become a part of the team.

About the author

Jarek Jarzębowski

Jarek Jarzębowski

People & Culture Lead

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Jarek is an experienced People & Culture professional and tech enthusiast. He is a speaker at HR and tech conferences and Podcaster, who shares a lot on LinkedIn. He loves working on the crossroads of humans, technology, and business, bringing the best of all worlds and combining them in a novel way.
At nexocode, he is responsible for leading People & Culture initiatives.

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Jarek Jarzębowski
People & Culture Lead

jarek.jarzebowski@nexocode.com

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This article is a part of

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