Paul Walker
September 11, 2023
min read
People & Culture

The Pros & Cons of Going Teal

When we think of a "Teal" organization, we often think of fancy office buildings with an open floor plan and a chill dress code.

It's often said, "Sure it works for your tech startup, but what about X industry?"

You'll be happy to know that any industry can become Teal, though some may need a slightly different approach, as every field of work has different pros and cons.

The Cons

1. Tasks that are hard to measure

Working with technology on a shared software platform typically gives us data on literally everything being done. It's easy to know who is doing what and how long it takes them.

This is not the case for those whose jobs do not revolve around technology.

A laborer may spend their entire workday digging ditches while a therapist talks with their clients to help with mental health.

In either case, how do you quantify the work that is being done? How can you accurately determine whether or not the job is being done with an appropriate level of quality?

Without a doubt, this is the biggest struggle when it comes to self-managing in other work environments.

2. Jobs that require constant and flexible judgement calls

Not every job is as simple as "Accomplish X by the deadline".

Some roles are largely dependent on split-second decision-making where an explicit list of what to do can't be relied on.

Consider a firefighter, for example. They act as the one who puts out fires, rescues people from within fires, delivers medical assistance when needed, and more. If they run into a burning building and need to rescue two different people at separate ends of the home, who do they rescue first? In jobs like this, which task takes priority will vary based on the individual situation and they need the flexibility to adapt to the moment and make their own judgement calls.

This means setting hard-and-fast rules can cause more harm than good.

3. Professions that typically have a very specific culture and demographic

Casting aside the warranted conversations of inclusion and diversity, some industries likely make us think of a specific type of person because, in many cases, that industry is dominated by a single demographic.

In the manufacturing and physical labor fields, for example, we likely think of older men who highly value working with their hands, being tough, and not having the time or care to deal with "emotions". They want to get work done without any drama and go home.

Likewise, at an art studio, it may consist largely of people who value creative freedom, personal expression, and seeing meaning in every little thing. They want to do work they are passionate about and be an active part of their community.

Of course, these are not universally true and the details of this majority-rule will vary wildly by country and type of work.

Nonetheless, when this is the case, it creates an additional challenge in that implementing new ways of working that don't align with the current way of working will prove to be more difficult.

The Pros

1. Unique possibilities

With the challenges of non-typical workplaces comes the opportunity for something great. Some of these situations require solutions that have never been thought of before.

This means that there are no right or wrong answers. All you can do is make an educated guess, try it, and adjust as needed.

Many of the world's greatest innovations have come from solving problems nobody has encountered before in a way nobody has thought of before.

2. Develops vital skills

Although the idea of creating new solutions for new problems can be daunting, it also creates a space which necessitates openness, collaboration, and experimentation.

The best way forward is often through thoughtful dialogue about the unexpected pros and cons about each approach; a process that makes many business leaders have to stop and think about things more in depth than is normally required.

There is no, "Just do X" answer to delegate down the chain, because that answer either isn't there or people don't yet understand how to do "X", because it's new for everyone.

Thus, even the process of figuring out how to go Teal in a unique work environment will almost certainly result in the organization better displaying the values of a truly Teal organization.

3. Setting the example

By going through the process of working in a new way that hasn't been done before, you will stand out from the crowd in a plethora of ways.

It is these sorts of situations that create the companies the world comes to know as the trend-setting, innovative, inspirational organizations that set the example and prove that the impossible can be done.

People will want to hear the story of how your company did what it did and how you are managing to thrive when so many assumed you would fail.

This creates a ripple effect that lasts for decades, spurring other organizations in your industry to operate the way you do (or trying their own versions of it) and proving that it can be done.

How to do it?

We know the good and bad parts of having to go Teal in a unique work environment, but the question still remains: How do you actually do it?

Because every organization varies in the work they do, the culture they have, and the problems they need to solve, there are no concrete rules. However, in virtually all cases, the same few concepts will be reliable.

1. Set clear expectations

As with any other approach to Teal, clear expectations are mandatory to solve most organizations' needs. The same is true even in unconventional industries. As discussed in the first Con in this article, some jobs are notoriously hard to define with measurable tasks.

Though, while it may not be easy, it is still necessary.

Find creative ways to define the work that needs to get done and how you will know for sure if it's being done.

Rather than going with the default metrics that aim to hit certain numbers (e.g., "See 6 clients a day"), look for other ways of measuring how good a job is being done (e.g, Yelp reviews, NPS results, and returning customer statistics).

That still sets an expectation that must be met, while giving those doing the work far more freedom and flexibility in how they aim to meet those goals.

2. Talk with the experts - those doing and being affected by the work

When it comes to implementing new processes and ways of working, you can never have too much input and feedback.

Have conversations with the people doing the work and the people most affected by the work to see what works and what doesn't with current processes.

See what they've tried before and how it turned out. Ask how they work best and what impact each option would have on their customers.

Nobody will know what to expect better than the people who do the work every day.

Not only will involving them get you the best result, it will radically improve your employee experience. People want to be listened to, valued, and trusted.

The best way to do all those things is to let them decide how they are going to do their jobs.

3. Try something

Now, this isn't saying to just pick something random and hope for the best. It's important to take measured steps, weigh the options, and understand all options as best as possible.

However, at the end of the day, there is no way to know without doing it. If most of this article resonated with you, it's likely because you don't know of other companies doing what you want to do, which means you're the first to do it (as far as you know, at least). Taking risks is necessary for innovation.

Do some research, come up with a plan, and try it. Just also make sure you have a plan for how and when you'll decide whether it has succeeded or failed so that, if needed, you can modify or completely stop what you're doing.

If you've also followed the advice of having your employees involved in how these tests will be done, it won't be a tyrannical chaos of an ever-changing company, but rather the trials and tribulations of an organization trying its best to do what is best for the people that make it run.

Revolutionize your way of working now!