The Antwerp-based consultancy firm Hifluence is specialized in encouraging self-management in companies. "Let's unboss your organization", it says on their website. The unbossing principle isn't exactly new to Koen Denies. 'From day one, we chose to adopt self-management. Teal Partners is not my company, or that of my co-founder Jelle, but it's the company of everyone who works here. We have full pay transparency and employees hire their own colleagues. We divide the work among the teams, from HR to sales. To us, self-management is an inherent part of who we are.'
Since its foundation five years ago, Teal Partners has seen huge growth. 'That's the reason we called in Hifluence. We didn't want to lose our Teal way of working as a result of our rapid growth.' In a series of workshops Teal Partners, with the help of Hifluence, researched how the company could still grow in the area of self-management.
We didn't want to lose our Teal way of working as a result of our rapid growth.
Together with Hifluence, the company thought about its future. Koen Denies: 'Where do we want to be in three years' time? What are our challenges? What customers do we want to work with? Armed with the answers to these questions, we know what we, Teal Partners, are all about. Only then can people make decisions independently with confidence.'
'Many companies have their mission displayed on the wall as a slogan,' says Nick Van Langendonck of Hifluence. 'Happy people, happy organisation, let's say. Suppose I'm the company's accountant: what good is this kind of slogan to me? The meaning has to be crystal-clear for people to be able to act on it. In a small group, this happens organically, but it's a different story in a fast-growing team.'
Under the guidance of Hifluence, the 28-strong team brainstormed these future-oriented questions. Nick Van Langendonck: 'In traditional companies, CEOs sequester themselves for two days in a castle and come up with all kinds of crazy ideas. At Teal Partners, they tap into the collective intelligence. Quite a challenge, with that many people. But it works, because everyone at Teal Partners lives and breathes the belief that they all help shape the company.'
The brainstorming session resulted in what is known in technical terms as a value proposition. Koen Denies: 'It's our elevator pitch. If anyone asks what we actually do at Teal Partners, we can explain it to them in two sentences: "Teal Partners designs and builds software solutions for leading companies who want to excel digitally. By working as a result-oriented partnership, we help them achieve fundamental goals."'
'Self-management is no one-size-fits-all approach’, says Nick Van Langendonck. 'Something that works brilliantly at one company may be useless in another. Teal Partners is happy to try things out, but can just as easily make the tough decisions when something doesn't work.'
'The Hifluence inspiration session about the trends and pitfalls of self-management taught us that we don't have to do everything ourselves,' says Koen Denies. 'It's okay to call in outside expertise to do the things people feel less confident taking on. Say, business development or marketing.'
You don't need to involve everyone in every decision. That's a common misconception about self-management.
'You don't need to involve everyone in every decision. That's a common misconception about self-management,' says Nick Van Langendonck. 'People aren't the same, they are of equal value. Do you choose to have a good work-life balance? Fine. Do you want to put in extra hours? That's fine too, and in that case, you get something extra for doing so.'
'The handing out of bonuses, that was a thorny issue,' says Koen Denies. 'People didn't want to make decisions about what extras their colleagues would get. And giving everyone the same isn't a solution either, because some people stick their necks out. We want to recognise that. That's why we now start from a suggestion made by Jelle and me.'
'Hifluence introduced the principle of consent decision-making. When a suggestion is made, it will be implemented unless anyone puts forward valid counter-arguments. 'We pride ourselves on our consultation culture, but it's not easy making decisions in a group of 28,' says Koen Denies. Adopting this technique has allowed us to make decisions more easily.'
Also new is the advisory committee, a platform where colleagues discuss projects with each other, and the tactics meeting, where agendas and needs are discussed within the project context. 'That way, we can keep track of what we are all working on,' says Koen Denies. 'We give each other feedback in a safe space, and run through our story before we present it to the customer.
It's great to see our people taking even more initiative and resolving even more issues themselves.
'The programme is an energy bomb that gave us many new insights,' says Denies. 'It made us feel that we are not alone in this. Employees have gained a greater awareness of their impact. Hifluence encouraged us to step out of the rat race for a while and think about our company together, our challenges and how we want to grow. It's great to see our people taking even more initiative and resolving even more issues themselves now that they have a clear framework to hold on to.'
-- Nick Van Langendonck & Koen Denies