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  • Dean Williamson

Teal Around the World (#TATW2021) conference re-cap and learning

Background to 'teal'

Before I start, I probably need to give some background to why I'm attending an event called "Teal" - because that's just a colour.

You can see teal around the outside of our model

"Teal" was first written about in a book called Reinventing Organisations, by Frederic Laloux. In this book, Laloux examined how the organisations that we build are reflective of our needs as a species, and how different forms of organising have evolved.

This is generally a move from traditional (and still current) management practice, generally informed by Taylorism, in which people need to be "managed".

Teal is a place at the fringe

Hence, the Teal Around the World virtual conference was an event which brought together over 1,000 people with an interest in Teal ways of working. Many are consultants (like us) who support people and their organisations in deep transformation work, but there is an increasing presence by organisations who are transforming themselves with this kind of approach - and internal workers and change agents from organisations like Roche, Toyota, Patagonia, WD-40 and Haier (and many more) are having presences at these events.

For many years now (some of this work started back in the 70's!), Teal organisations have had to develop tools, ways of working and systems to support their unique needs. As such, Teal has always been at the fringe of practice and tech, and other organisations get to leverage these tools for their own benefit. When the world went 'work-from-home', guess who had led de-centralised management and team culture work, which others could benefit from? #TATW2021 still had many leading practices and tech integrations, which showed me what the next wave of practices look like. It had a "map" which linked directly to Zoom rooms, virtual whiteboards or graphic facilitation for each session, and spatial chats which allow talking by proximity - like you're walking around a room and overhear other groups or chats. The formats also played with some fringe practices - like "Open Space" sessions, which allow participants to set an agenda and learn from each other.

Flowing from this, audience participation and conversation were woven through almost every session. There were "expert talks" with 20 minutes for the expert and 40 minutes of audience Q&A, networking sessions and coffee breaks in the "lounge", and I was almost always running two screens in order to manage the sideline conversations I was having around the main content in the Zoom room.

The impact on me

Despite the initial slowness of the initial Open Space, the cumulative effect of sessions which allowed for so much conversation and connection with others was immense. Despite being in my kitchen, or my lounge room or my office, I really felt like I was involved in a conference.

It was very easier to feel part of something bigger...

I had a hilarious moment where I was with a "group" of four people trying to find the limitations of the spatial chat. We were trying to determine who we could hear and who around us were having which conversations. Someone would zip their circle off towards someone else, and then come "running" back to tell us what they had experienced. The whole time I was imagining the real life version of this, with someone standing in a corner on their phone, and one of our group sneaking over to listen to them, before running back giggling. Someone was standing on their own in the middle of the room yelling really loudly (probably on another call with is microphone still on) in Portuguese. It was wonderful, hilarious, virtual chaos.

However, these and other small-group experiences with enthusiastic attendees made for real connections. In one of the community conversations I hosted, we had a very in-depth conversation about how trust works in teal orgs, and how they adapt to trust disruptions in different ways to traditional orgs. I met physicist Sky Nelson-Isaacs in this room, and I'm now reading his fascinating book about how the principles of quantum theory and light apply to many areas of our lives, including work.

How do teal organisations handle and adapt to trust issues?
The output from my "trust in teal orgs" open spcae

In short, I feel like I had about 30 real conversations with people, and left feeling very personally connected to many of them.

My personal teal theory and practice high-points

With such a range of exceptional speakers AND participants hanging out in sessions, there was a lot to take away. Two weeks out, the ones that are living longest include:

  1. Jos de Blok: Along with Frederic Laloux, is probably the most recognisable name in the world of teal/self-management. Having built an empire of impassioned, enabled community nurses with Buurtzorg's self-management approach, my stand-out quote was “… instead of giving ownership, don’t take it away…”. It was a reminder to me that the end-goal of teal and self-managing systems is that the right people can walk into an intuitive, complete environment and system that they understand and enables their participation, rather than having to "hand hold" them into something which is quite natural in most of our lives - freedom.

Leap to wholeness
One of the books that I've picked up after the conference
  1. Physics principles in org design: A lot of the inspiration for teal working comes from very natural and organic systems. For example, the self-management/open space principles of "vote with your feet" (i.e. leave when you're not contributing or getting value) come from super-organisms, such as bees, ants and wasps, who can move from cluster-to-cluster as the wider system requires. However, I love the world of physics, and was inspired to go further into both The Quantum Leader by Danah Zohar and Leap to Wholeness by Sky Nelson-Isaacs. So far both of these books are throwing up interesting prospects for my coaching and systems work, including Leap to Wholeness making me think about "finding your way to possibility" and always deriving "something from everything", rather than trying to pull "something from nothing".

  2. "It's really easy" with Ricardo Semler: If you haven't seen a talk/tale by Ricardo Semler, you should just do it. I was going to go to bed, and I thought - "I'll just watch Ricardo for 2 minutes". His relaxed style is something so relatable and so culturally transplant-able to AustraIia that I immediately sunk into his story, finally switching off after his entire talk at 2am Sydney time. I was riveted by his story of seemingly intuitive but highly-principled change over many years, and some of his stories paralleled many of the funnier, more interesting experiences I've had doing teal work. My favourite quote wasn't actually from his speech, but from his Semco Style website: "If you build pyramids, you should expect mummies."

  3. Radical transparency with Aaron Dignan: I should disclose that I'm a huge fan of the no-nonsense style that Aaron and Rodney Evans bring to the Brave New Work podcast (I listen religiously). However, this talk through how the Ready works still brought new things for me. Aaron's commitment to transparency is second to none, and I really valued hearing about their internal marketplace for project teams, how they set compensation through a blended mixture of roles and agreements, and their "moving ownership model" of distributing shares. My favourite quote: "We literally die, in war, for the right to have a democracy in our government, and then we go to work and we work in a dictatorship, all day, and we're fine with that."

  4. Susan Basterfield: Much like Ricardo, NZ's Susan Basterfield brought fantastic pearls of wisdom from her with with Ensprial and greaterthan. The moments that have stuck with me were her effortless use of Mural (reminder: online facilitation is a real skill, and requires prep, but can be as seamless as actual facilitation), and her dropping of a more complexity-conscious version of the old "if you measure it, you can manage it": "If you can name it, you can transform it." It's something that we find often in our work - once you get agreement on what something is, the change is a much easier task. She is truly a leader who we are blessed to have in our part of the world!

  5. The Happy Money Game: I love playful, interesting ways to do difficult work - provided that the extra elements don't confuse what you're trying to do, they can be very elegant solutions to difficult problems. Also dropped by Susan, this little gem is a way to take the seriousness out of financial discussions. Originally developed by Charlie Davis, Greater Than use this to establish pay for projects etc, and it's something that I'll be using a lot in future.

  6. A toolkit reminder: So many speakers referred to a range of foundational practices or tools which underpin their more advanced work. I often find that in Australia we will need to adapt these to our culture, but they serve as great starting points. The conference reminded me that sometimes it's really useful to brush up on your toolkit, even with something like Liberating Structures, which I use all the time. Three of my favourite toolkits are below:

    1. Liberating Structures

    2. The Atlasssion Team Playbook

    3. The Brave New Work OS Canvas (more organising principles, but you should read the book Brave New Work)

    4. Greaterthan's toolkit, which includes the Enspiral Handbook, resources on cobudgeting etc.

I'm totally intending on being involved and attending next year, so you should join me. Feel free to reach out if anything above sings to you at

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