Joining a new organization can be a stressful process – getting to know the company, colleagues, customers, and discovering what the job entails, takes a lot of time and effort. The first few months in a new job are important to an employee’s long term success, and companies rightly spend a lot of energy on the so called “onboarding” process.
Now imagine that the organization an employee is joining is self-managing, or Teal*. In addition to all of the above, they also need to learn how to work effectively in an environment with no managers. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the approaches Fitzii has taken to help new employees make the Teal transition.
*Note – I use “Teal” in this post as shorthand for organizations that are using some form of self-management. If you’d like some more information about Teal, this article is a good introduction.
The Interview Process
At Fitzii, introducing new employees to the concepts of Teal begins with our job ads, where we introduce Fitzii as a “self-managed” organization. We also spend time discussing self-management, wholeness and evolutionary purpose (the three principles of a Teal organization) in the initial interactions with candidates, and we make sure to point them at all the blog posts about our practices.
We’ve found this to be useful in gauging the level of a candidate’s interest and “buy-in” to the concepts. In particular, it identifies the people that feel the old way of doing business is broken, and are excited by the idea of Teal. (As well as, conversely, those that don’t like the sound of self-management at all).
During the interview process, we’re looking to establish the level of fit on three dimensions:
Why – Are Fitzii’s goals and work aligned with the candidate’s purpose?
How – Is the candidate going to succeed in a Teal environment?
What – Does the candidate have the skills, education, qualifications needed to do the role?
There is a limit to how well we can explain what it means to work in a Teal company based on words alone, and so the traditional interview process only goes so far in educating prospective employees and determining fit.
In other words, the interview does a pretty good job of identifying the What and Why fit, but the How fit really needs to be explored in practice. Matt (our most recent full-time employee – yay Matt!) summarizes it well:
“I really thought I understood how comprehensive Teal was. But it’s one thing to read about it and sign on. Living it out really calls into question a lot about how you work, think and communicate. If you’re going to bring your whole-self to work, you have to learn how that whole-self impacts the team and the business.”
Based on this need to try out the Teal experience, we’ve started officially assessing Teal fit via a three-month on-boarding process that we call “Teal U”, which has the following components.
We’ve learned a lot when it comes to making offers, and have tweaked the process based on feedback from the people we’ve hired. Incidentally, asking for this input is likely a good practice for any organization. Taking the time to get feedback from new hires on how they experienced all aspects of the job ad, interview, offer and on-boarding approach might be the easiest way to learn how to make the entire hiring process better.
A good example of the power of feedback is when we realized that exposing new hires to some aspects of self-management can be “too-much, too-fast.” When we hired Andy (one of our first post-Teal hires), we’d talked to him about the advice process and asked if he’d be interested in deciding his starting salary. In his words:
“At first it was a really exciting aspect of Teal but, with the amount of changes I was adapting to, I quickly realized it was not realistic for me to make the salary decision at that time.”
Rather than giving him freedom and a good experience, we were actually adding stress to the process. Andy did not have the context or access to the advice needed to make a sound decision. Now, we have an internal decision maker who gets advice from the prospective employee as well as internal advisors to determine a starting salary.
The other major difference is that we now explicitly let people know that the first three months of employment serve to determine the overall mutual fit, especially when it comes to working in a Teal environment. Then, after the three months, there will be a decision on the person continuing as a full-fledged Teal employee.
Our early iterations of the on-boarding process used what we called the “buddy system.” A representative from each of our functional teams (Product Development, Growth and Hiring Success) each took on one of three buddy roles – Role Buddy, Teal Buddy and Culture Buddy – with each one being responsible for helping the employee master the job, work in the Teal environment, and to understand our unique culture.
What we found with this approach, however, was that without any structure the Role Buddy relationship usually worked well, but the other two didn’t often add much. In James’ words:
“Whenever three people are in charge of a task without clear lines of who’s doing what, it can be a recipe for confusion. One of my buddies did the bulk of the work; some of the work they each did overlapped and some of it was missed.”
Based on this, we moved to a single “Sponsor” who has the responsibility for working with the new hire during the first three months of their employment. This person is accountable for making sure the new employee is given every chance to succeed and also owns the decision on whether they are offered the chance to become a fully-fledged Teal Fitzii member after the three-month period is over.
We’ve learned a couple of important things about the sponsor role. First of all, it’s important that they work in the same office as the new hire. I was Matt’s sponsor and he found this made it harder for him to get what he needed:
“Ian worked out of a different office, and when he came to Oakville we had special Teal meetings where I could openly ask questions and share feedback. What I didn’t realize I needed was someone who saw me at work, was exposed to my strengths and blind spots every day, and had the chance to both affirm and challenge me on the spot. I needed the unplanned learning and relational moments that pop up when you work alongside someone.”
We additionally found that as each sponsor’s style is different, and that being a sponsor comes more naturally to some rather than others – so we needed to provide more guidance around the expectations on the sponsor. To this end we’re currently working on providing clear expectations and tools to help the sponsors provide the continuous guidance, feedback, teaching and support needed.
And in order to provide more structure to the process, we additionally created a curriculum of activities and information in an online Trello board, that the sponsor can ensure the new hire goes through.
The ‘Teal U’ Curriculum
We created a Trello board to help the new employee and their sponsor keep track of all the necessary steps that should be taken during the first three months. The board is sorted by both suggested timings –before first day, first day, first week, etc. – as well as topics – the office, people, self-management, and so on.
One particular category of note is “Learning Meetings.” This section lists about half a dozen meetings that the new hire should book during the on-boarding process to learn about things like our growth strategy, Fitzii’s history, intros with each group, and a meeting with the CEO of our parent company. Moving this accountability to the new hire has been a big success in ensuring that the learning happens and the connections are made.
What we particularly love about Trello as a tool is that we can have a master board and then personalize it for each new hire by adding relevant sections and cards. We’re also continually improving the master board by including new ideas from the team and, of course, based on feedback from Teal U participants.
A recent example of a suggestion we incorporated into Matt’s Teal U board was to have him introduce himself to his office-mates by distributing donuts in return for selfies on his first day. This was a big success.
Making the Grade
As the on-boarding period comes to an end, the sponsor starts to collect feedback from other team members on their experiences and observations working with the new hire. This, together with their own thoughts, is used to set the scene for what we called a “TealGrade” interview.
The idea of the TealGrade was that the team (one representative from each group again) asks questions and uses examples to review how the three months has gone. Following the interview, the sponsor is then responsible for making the stay or go decision.
We had intended to offer a quitting bonus (as happens at Zappos and now Amazon) to people that “pass” the TealGrade, but haven’t formally done so. Instead we’ve been asking how much money we’d need to pay them to leave instead of staying on as a full time employee, with the idea that if they responded with a very low amount, we’d take the deal. For employees that don’t successfully transition to Teal (this hasn’t happened yet) we would give them generous notice or severance.
After a recent TealGrade, we realized we needed to make some changes. It didn’t feel right as the conversation was trying to be both an interview, but also a conversation about the future and ensuring success. Here’s Matt again:
“The positive feedback happened quickly, while the constructive feedback took a lot of time, clarifying and unpacking. There were moments of high praise, and then moments where it felt like a referendum on whether or not I should continue with the team.”
What we’re in process of doing therefore is changing the name of the review itself, looking at how we structure the conversation, as well as making it clear to Teal U participants that it’s just part of the decision process, not the make-or-break interview that it has previously been perceived to be.
We felt it was important to celebrate the milestone of becoming a full-fledged Teal team member and so brainstormed ideas for a celebration for employees. As none of us had done this previously, we took the opportunity at our annual retreat (we’ll look at how valuable this retreat is in a future post) for all the existing employees to partake at the same time. The “Teal Ceremony” came from ideas suggested by the team and the basic format is that the new employee gets the opportunity to:
Share The Journey – Tell the story of what brought them to where they are today and what Fitzii means to them
Leaving Behind – Write down the things they’re happiest to be leaving behind from the old ways of working, and physically destroy them (we had a campfire at the retreat)
Commitment – Tell the group what vows they are committing to in terms of: Radical Responsibility, Bringing your whole self, and Being a trusted guide for others
Do It – Choose an act to display their trust in the team
Teal Token – Receive a silly/fun token from the team (we all received Teal underwear!)
The stories were very personal, powerful and moving; people were happy to leave behind things like politics, bad bosses, not being able to be one’s true self at work, bureaucracy, pointless dress codes and much more; and the “Do It” acts included trust falls, couples’ acro-yoga, and a stunning singing performance!
Here’s a shot of the commitment “vows” being shared during a recent Teal ceremony we had in a restaurant:
Just the Beginning
I think this entire process reflects the fact that finding good people is only the start, and ensuring their success during the critical first few months requires a lot of work. This is even more true for Teal organizations. It’s well worth the effort, however, as the extensive on-boarding makes the individual and the whole team stronger. As Lori, our most recent entrant into Teal U says:
“An unbelievable experience from ‘interview’ to on-boarding to immersion and integration into a Teal team. I am in absolute awe of what becomes of people when a true sense of ownership is uncovered through the beautiful polarity of both extreme freedom and responsibility. The framework of Teal U provides a foundation and starting point that truly empowers a new member of this transformative environment.”
I’d love to hear your feedback on our process and the kind of things that are working in other organizations, so please share in the comments. I’ll finish off with a great quote from Henry Ford:
Coming together is a beginning;
keeping together is progress;
working together is success.
Brent Lowe says
Awesome article Ian. Thanks for capturing this. I am helping a team member onboard into our Teal environment and I’ve picked up some tips from this post. The celebrating section stands out as super important and something we will now incorporate.
Ian Yates says
You’re exactly right. It’s easy to focus on the process and forget to celebrate the achievements along the way – I’m often guilty of this. Luckily we have some Fitzii team members that are great at this human aspect and keep the whole team reminded of its importance.
TS Gordon says
TEAL forced me to reconsider the nature of personal transformation. I’m trying not to stay stuck on any one aspect of my great, game-changing start-up ideas. The concept and implementation strategy takes on a different complexion every time I query my team for fresh input. As the story goes, everything changes when you have the ability to interface in person, in real time. My smartest move was to move directly from a sales perspective into a classroom teaching environment.
Thanks for the ‘how-to’s’ as I view these things at scale.
Lori Campbell says
Well captured Ian.