Thinking Teal will bring out your control issues

Where do you start when you want to grow a teal organisation? It turns out that it starts with you and your ideas about control. Once you make some key decisions about your relationship with control, the first steps will fall more easily into place.

Decorative image of a games controller.
Image by Pawel Kaydsz

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Decision-​making about business structure tends to emerge from what we know

When your business starts to grow, there is a lot of advice on which you can draw. But regardless of much you read, or how many people you talk to, ultimately the decisions still sit with you. All of the things that people tend to take for granted in larger businesses are often simple things: Pay, job descriptions, management structures. We naturally hold onto these traditional structures when we build our own businesses.

As companies grow and scale, those traditional structures tend to naturally fall in place. This may be because it’s what we know and ‘grow into work’ with.

At Brutal Pixie my intention has been to grow the company in line with its purpose. And for me, this means creating a teal organisation. Starting to employ therefore throws interesting challenges. The first instinct is to put traditional things in place: Process-​based onboarding, job descriptions, direct management.

Your assumptions drive what you put in place

In fact, Bianca (the first employee of Brutal Pixie) asked for a job description — and it’s her first job. How much of what we know about business do we inherit from those who have gone before us? And what assumptions do we bring to the world of work? Creating a teal organisation asks us to question our assumption.

This is why creating a teal organisation is so challenging. It starts with these very basic things. Things that we take for granted, in fact. Additionally, if you don’t have a job description, people will scream that you’re crazy. People already disagree with our recruitment process, which recruits for attitude and cultural fit over and above technical skill. I’m preparing myself for the backlash which may well come our way.

The first step is making a decision about control

Building a teal organisation from scratch is fraught with decisions that challenge your instinct. But the first step of it is something that nobody will tell you. That is, that it starts with you: The founder. It starts with a decision to let go, a decision that you are ok with not having complete control.

It stands to reason. You can’t have an organisation run by its employees, and evolving organically through the full input of its teams, if it has a controlling ‘boss’ figure at the top.

Once you get through that initial roadblock (it reminds me of killing your darlings, for all the writers out there), it becomes a little easier. When you let go of control, you also let go another assumption: That your knowledge is the only valid knowledge. This has the potential to be especially pernicious if you are in fact the only person with all of the mad skills, and your employee has never worked before.

Relinquish control, get the work done

By letting it go, you can create a role that allows for even the newest, greenest employee to step up. Let’s face it: Even if you have all of the technical skills, you don’t know the best way for other people to work. Maybe allowing them to see everything that needs to be done, and being able to control their own input, results in work getting done in the best possible way.

As a founder, I need to be aware that perhaps my habits aren’t necessarily the best way. They’re just the best way for me, learned by years of working through my own idiosyncrasies. They certainly don’t work for everyone. Everybody brings his or her own skills to the table; there are many ways to do things, and all of them are valid.

Your first employee is an opportunity

Releasing my desire to cling to control with a death-​like grip, I decided to write a role description instead of a job description. It was written so that whoever fills the role can direct his or her focus in such a way as to most effectively get the work done — whatever that work is. It removes the subconscious question, Is this work really my job? And instead creates, Is this work really the task that will add the most value right now?

If you’ve ever worked with people who are vocal about that job description question, especially if remuneration is tied to it, you know how damaging that can be.

It doesn’t mean that there are no systems; you need good systems to make a more fluid structure work. But systems and structure are not the same thing. Creating a structure is not the point: Growing the business and getting things done is the point. After all, conforming to a structure is not as important as doing the work — no matter what your role is.

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