Managing a planning firm as a Teal Organisation. This is what we learned
1. The Company is growing, great! Right. Right? Right??
Thomas Stellmach, urbanist and founder of TSPA, realised two years ago that his firm, and life, had to change. The situation didn’t look bad: International city planning projects were underway, academia and international organisations invited TSPA for conferences and lectures. Yet tension was high and constant, mistakes happened, plus the permanent anxiety that there is always more to be done.
Why was that? Too much was dependent on Thomas himself. Clients wanted to talk to him directly, decisions had to be taken. Various attempts to outsource or delegate had failed due to decreased quality in results. It was time to transition from an assisted one-person show to a larger structure. Was it time to build a pyramid-shaped org chart?
Mycelium Rhizome, 2009 Pencil on paper 120 x 240 cm. Collection of the artist Representedby Galerie Dusseldorf
There was another, more metaphysical, challenge. Thomas had set up two companies before, first Kinzo, then Uberbau. Both ended up falling apart mostly due to abuse of trust, lack of collaborative communication and assertive problem solving. What fundamental conditions have to be established to avoid having this happen again? Tighter control? No more partners?
After reading a big part of the organisational literature available in 2020 – much of it terrible, some of it enlightening – Thomas saw the chance to try the opposite. The team had grown to about a dozen young and bright colleagues. What if we tried to open decision-making to everyone? What if we can create a safe, supportive, and happy environment where no one sees the need to pursue their agendas? Would that be at odds with the outside world?
Some of the literature: Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations; Ray Dalio, Principles; Ben Horowitz, The hard thing about the hard things, Stefan Merath, Der Weg zum Erfolgreichen Unternehmer; Kim Scott, Radical Candor, Noam Wasserman, The Founder’s Dilemmas
Self-managed teams are nothing new. They gained popularity in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2007, Brian Robertson re-took these principles. He came up with holacracy and the fluid decision organisation, a process that looks at individuals in a corporation and invites them to take agency through circles. This approach was proposed to increase agility, efficiency, transparency, innovation, and accountability. Frederic Laloux placed this approach in his book Reinventing Organisations in a wider context of the evolution of organisational forms, teal organisations being the most evolved. He then describes practices and case studies of companies implementing procedures around purpose, self-management, and wholeness.
Values and Purpose
More fundamentally, self-management allows one to create an environment one wants to work in and exist in: How important is precision, fun, holidays, flexibility, reliability, success, money? These are questions without general answers and can only emerge from within the individuals of TSPA – so it was time to talk about that.