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Hans Peeters & Yana Roggeman

By Koen Denies

September 14, 2020

Working in self-managing teams

Koen Denies is the founder of Teal Partners. He talks about how Teal Partners does self-management.

Self-management is a vague word, but to us, it’s more than a trend. We strongly believe in the principle that people are best placed to organise their own work. In this way, we build the best possible company together.

It’s even reflected in our name. The book ‘Reinventing Organizations’ by Frederic Laloux confirms our belief in decentralisation and self-managing teams. Laloux introduces the notion of the Teal organisation, which he describes as an organisation with an evolutionary purpose that advocates greater employee autonomy.

Living organism

Yes, we founded Teal Partners, but it’s not Jelle’s and my company. Teal Partners is the company of all 28 people who work here. To quote Laloux, it is a living organism with a natural growth.

That’s why the wages are transparent and we share the profits. That’s why our employees hire their own colleagues, and why there is no separate HR department or finance manager. We are not rigid about our principles but we do believe that, if we apply them properly, we can make Teal Partners the best possible company.

Teams with clear goals

How you implement self-management as a company depends on your niche or culture. There is no holy grail. We apply the same principles we use in software development, such as defining and substantiating clear goals, in self-management. That works for us because it allows us to fall back on familiar concepts.

The fact that people are given greater autonomy isn’t the same as being rudderless. A clear framework is crucial. Only when the goal is crystal clear people take initiative. We organise the internal work, from sales to HR, in teams, each with an explicit mission. As an employee, you can pick which team to join, depending on your interests.

No micro-management

Freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility, and that kind of responsibility ensures commitment. Doing a good job is great, but only when you take responsibility you build a company together in the long term.

Smart people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions

The biggest advantage of self-managing teams? Shared responsibility for the company. There is no micro-management. Smart people are perfectly capable of making their own decisions, about big or small things that shape the company. Self-management gives people the chance to develop talents or skills that fall outside their normal job description.

The business side of things

Every colleague approaches this differently. Some are happy to also be involved in the business side of things, besides programming. Others promote team spirit. For those jobs that no-one feels drawn to, we hire a freelancer to help us out , like social media. There is no need for us to do everything internally, but if we do have the talent and desire to get involved in-house, it would be crazy to look elsewhere.

I’m not saying it’s easy. The bigger the company gets, the more complex it is to maintain this culture. Now that there are 28 of us, things are done very differently than when we first started out. You need to consult each other more. We actively work on that. One thing we have recently introduced is an advisory body. Here, colleagues keep each other informed about what they are working on.

How does Teal Partners apply software build design principles to self-management?

Using the software build architecture principles as a template, you start off by defining several principles. They are the reasons for existence; in this case, of the team. We define why they are important and map their consequences. In doing so, we are laying down a framework that is the touchstone for our decisions.

We translate these principles into concrete action points. We follow up what everyone does in a structured way. We work interactively, just like when we are developing software. This process is embodied in our Azure DevOps environment, which we also use when developing software.

Want to know more? These are the internal teams of Teal Partners.

  • The Evolutionary purpose team oversees the budget and contracts. It makes sure that everyone is on the same page and that everyone is motivated and inspired. Or as partner Bart Waeterschoot puts it ‘that minds are sparking’.
  • The Growth team thinks about long-term goals and devotes itself to the growth of the company. It carries out those tasks that would come under the heading of ‘sales & marketing’ at other companies.
  • The Tech partnerships team is responsible for technology partnerships. For instance, we have a great relationship with Microsoft, ASPEX and Toreon.
  • The Security & privacy team sees to it that we work in a compliant way and deals with security, data and privacy.
  • The Recruitment team decides on whom to hire. Its members depend on the vacancy. Colleagues decide themselves whom they hire to help them with the project they are working on. Their commitment is the key to success.
  • The Common ground team is responsible for ensuring the quality across the various project teams and the sharing of knowledge and technical solutions.