Our “teal” challenges ahead

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I was invited by the RSA Reinventing Work Network (thanks Rudy, François) to share our experiences with other “reinventing work practitioners” at the event held yesterday in the RSA big room in London. This network was formed one year ago inspired by Francois Laloux’s book “Reinventing Organisations”.
Though we, at Good Rebels, have our own self-management approach called “Leadertarians” (you could download the book from here) I’d dare to say that we are currently somewhere in between what Laloux would call a green and a teal organisation.
Below you’ll find the script I followed yesterday to describe some of our progress and the challenges ahead trying to become a better and “more” self-managed company.

Who are we? What do we stand for?

Technology is giving individuals extra powers and we, at Good Rebels, think this is good for humankind. So we want to accelerate the pace of the adoption of human-centredness in big entreprises and organisations. We believe than making this world a better place for human beings will help organisations survive and be profitable in this new reality. (You can read more about our Good Rebels Manifesto).

Our company was founded 20 years ago. I joined 7 years ago as partner and CEO. Starting nearly from scratch, we focused on social media marketing and social business, growing quickly and working with big multinational companies. There are now 120 professionals working at 6 offices in UK, Spain and Latin America. The old Spanish brand (Territorio creativo) had a strong local reputation. But we wanted to become truly global, outside Spanish-speaking countries so last year we merged with a consulting firm and agency based in Brighton, called Bloom Worldwide founded by Jay and Kate Cooper. I moved here to facilitate the merger and focus on this global ambition. From January 2017 the company will be called worldwide Good Rebels.

Some of our progress so far

Since 2010, we’ve worked hard to develop a strong corporate culture, based on “autonomy and responsibility”. Different reads on management and previous experiences gave us an inclination towards self-management. These 3 points can help understand what differentiates our management style from other professional service firms.

1) Self-directed autonomous teams working directly with clients.
a) On a monthly basis, the company P&L as well as the detailed financial results of each project are shared with each teammate.
b) We encourage teams to plan their own trainings and train each other in all kind of subjects (not only technical skills) to empower less experience workers to challenge senior thinking.
c) Hiring is decentralised and firing is mostly a result of a team evaluation process.

2) Radical Transparency
a) The results of our peer reviews are public, so that it becomes a real feedback tool, not just a performance evaluation. Everybody can see what others are evaluating from any teammate.
b) We have recently opened our salaries internally too, and the salary formula, expecting to enable self-setting salaries in a near future.
c) Open conversational culture, where everybody dares to say what’s on their minds, regardless of “category” or “experience”. Our internal network is full of rebels not frightened to speak up and question assumed know-how.

3) Love & Partnership
a) Our latin roots have introduced some special tweaks in our culture, like what I call “professional love”. Our people first approach introduces a caring philosophy for our colleagues that goes well beyond “normal emotional bonds”. It’s a subtle nuance, easy to experience but hard to explain :)
b) We’ve evolved also, from a family owned company to a cooperative model, which is similar to a professional partnership, but with some other twists. There are already 15 partners (equity owners), and we expect to appoint 5 new partners next year, which would bring the partner/ worker ratio to 1 to 5.

We recently published a second book with our experience implementing a leadership style and culture based on self-management principles called “Leadertarians: creating intrapreneurs in the digital age”. You can read about the book, and download the English eBook here.

Our “teal” challenges ahead

  • Can self management help us become more open and flexible?

We envision future professional service firms as more agile, open and networked structures. But our self-management approach requires high levels of autonomy and trust. And building trust implies time spent working together. How can we speed up trust building with occasional and on the fly teams using external talent?

  • How to break down hierarchies around experience?

In the professional service world, experience (seniority) equals hierarchy. Most firms have a strong hierarchy (think of the big four consultancies, for instance). We need to break down the hierarchy, but we need “categories” to rate knowledge and/or experience in certain fields, because clients demand it. How do we use categories while avoiding hierarchy?

  • How to streamline national cultural differences, to create a teal organisation through accountability?

Spain ranks middle in two of the main dimensions by Hofstede: power distance and individualism . UK ranks quite high. Colombia, Mexico or Perú ranks low. How to establish a culture of “freedom and responsibility” in each “physical location” and mix teammates on global assignments when national professional cultures can be so distant from each other?

As always, the challenges ahead are part of the joy of our work. Let’s go for it.

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(Photo: RSA Reinventing Work Network)

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4 thoughts on “Our “teal” challenges ahead

  1. Nick Parker

    Fascinating. I’m interested in the transition of the organisatiin. Has it been completely rebuilt or did at least some staff travel the journey with you.

    Reply
    1. Fernando Polo Post author

      Hi, Nick,
      Well, that’s part of the trick. We went bankrupt in 2009 and we started nearly from scratch. I came in September 2009, and two employees apart from my brother and sister went on with us (4 were let go). These 2 who remained were Eva (intern), who had joined 6 months before, and Bea (admin), already 4 years in the company. So I’d say that was more like starting from scratch. It wasn’t that radical either. We introduced many of the measures explained above, progressively over the last 6 years. Open salaries were published 5 months ago. Open financial figures on a monthly basis, 4 years ago. Open performance appraisals, about 2 years ago.

      Reply
  2. nick parker

    Thanks. I noted from Laloux’s book that most of the next stage organisatins were born in that form and the one’s that I have found since were born in that form or have had a complete change of staff in the process of becoming next stage. It seems it may be impossible to transition the organisational mindset with incumbent staff. That is a challenge for me as my focus is public sector.

    Reply
    1. Fernando Polo Post author

      I personally doubt that a public organisation could become teal. True that every country is different, and I don’t know about UK public sector. In Spain, it wouldn’t be possible. You’ll have to fire people, and you need an owner really committed with the idea of becoming teal. There’s usually no owner in the public organisations. And in Spain, you cannot fire public workers. But even not being completely “self-managed” I reckon that many public corporations or teams could benefit of adopting many self-management principles and techniques.

      Semco is a good example of an industrial company transforming to self management. Ricardo Semler become CEO in 91 and started the way to self management in 93/94. He fired the HR director very early and many directors left the company, not happy to let their privileges go. But many workers happily stayed through the transformation. Maverick is the book to learn in detail about Semco, but there are plenty of info (including a TED talk) out there.

      Reply

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