This article was developed for Enlivening Edge.
In 1999 I left my well-paid, corporate job to pursue my passion for facilitation and co-found Meeting Magic. Meeting Magic (MM) provided meeting facilitation services for large corporate organisations. Three years later Ingrid, my co-founder, and I were at capacity and the vision for the Meeting Magic Network was born. Little did I know the journey this would take me on! A journey to becoming Teal.
Having trained and worked in the corporate environment, Ingrid and I wanted to take what we had learnt and create a different kind of organisation. Our idea was to create an interdependent network of facilitators, working on a self employed basis, under the same brand with a common purpose and approach to our work. Our idea was to create an organisation like an onion – with central admin and marketing support services at the centre and a network of facilitators supported by this. Our hopes were that:
- By having centralised support the facilitators could focus on the client work they enjoyed most;
- Having a team would enable support and cover, thereby giving camaraderie and flexible working;
- A common purpose and passion for facilitation would enable greater learning and expertise development than an individual could achieve on their own; and,
- The self-employed, franchise-style contract would attract self-motivated, capable individuals thereby enabling peer relationships and light touch management.
Over the years that this network has evolved I have tried different ways of developing the network. Each development has lead to new learnings about what makes a successful networked organisation. You can probably imagine my excitement when early last year I came across Frederic Laloux’s book ‘Reinventing Organisations’. It gave me hope that other organisations were being successful in pursuing a new way of working and gave me a framework and language on which to hang my experience of the last 16 years on.
My post-rationalisation of this journey is that we have gone through phases of development. Here is how I currently see it.
The pluralistic phase (green)
This was the first form MM took beyond the initial partnership Ingrid and I had. The focus was almost entirely relational. People were drawn into the Network because of their relationships with me. The ‘rules of the game’ were all about how we worked together and decisions were entirely consensual.
This organisational form created strong friendships and sense of camaraderie. Everyone enjoyed working in MM but getting things done was like wading through treacle and the business wasn’t making enough money to support the overheads.
LESSONS FROM THIS PHASE:
- You can’t manage a whole business by consensus – over collaboration has as many issues as command and control.
- Every business needs some commercial focus – cash is key for most businesses to survive.
- People need to be willing to experience some pain to make a new way of working work for them.
- You can’t set up a business half heartedly – it needs to be all or nothing at the start.
- There needs to be clear direction and accountability for a (networked) group to take action together.
So, something had to change…and this is when we moved into:
The achievement phase (orange)
I brought in a Chairman to support me in looking at the organisation with an external eye. Our aim was to remove pressure on my workload and to make a commercial shift into profitability. We implemented a management structure. We insisted on exclusive membership to MM by its members. For the first time ever we set targets and we had financials in our vision. I was finally able to step back from the day to day running of the business, but when I had to step back completely, to deal with a family crisis, the company spiralled out of control. Only when I stepped back into the business could I see the unintended consequences of the changes I had made.
During this phase, our client income quadrupled, but our profit margin deteriorated dramatically. The remuneration system we had agreed to reward managers for their time working on the business was abused. The managers were making decisions that served their own incomes and had lost sight of their focus on growing the business – i.e. bringing in new people, sharing client work equitably, training people up and helping them integrate. The managers weren’t paying attention to the whole system and the financials for it. New people joined and left, as they were not supported and didn’t get work passed to them. New enquiries were not equitably distributed. The focus had become all about a few facilitator’s incomes. Care for the whole system and the principles it was founded on had become lost.
LESSONS FROM THIS PHASE
- For a networked organisation to work its members need to understand and care about the whole system.
- Too much focus on commercial growth leads to greed.
- Our business was founded on principles, which had not been explicit, and therefore got lost.
- The financials and metrics are an indicator of behaviour, and should not be separate from the people.
Transition and Evolutionary breakthrough (teal)
So, again, something had to change. I stepped back into the business and implemented some significant changes. My reflection on the way I approached these changes was that I assumed the behaviours in the system stemmed from lack of understanding. I therefore chose to take an educational approach to the change. The belief I held was that if everyone understood the impact of their behaviours on the system, then they would be willing and able to change. This assumption proved to be flawed. The people who were unable to see beyond their own needs (at that time) inevitably left, and the process inadvertently became a rather bizarre selection process. Only the people who understood and cared for the whole system and its cause remained.
This period was one of the toughest in my life and Meeting Magic. My children and I were still dealing with the suicide of my ex-husband. I felt betrayed by those who left MM, who went on to set up a competitor organisation and showed no integrity in the way they took clients with them. However, the silver lining in this period of transition is it forced me back into reconnecting with clients and understanding their needs, and internally, within Meeting Magic everything was thrown in the air, as we re-explored what we stood for and how we wanted to work.
This caused me to reflect back on the founding vision and principles of the Network. I had always envisaged an interdependent Network of facilitators, providing peer support and therefore needing little management. This vision was in part because I personally have a hatred of man-management. I have no interest in coercing people to do things they don’t want to do and I don’t aspire to control or make money from other people. I am much more inspired to create a space in which people can motivate themselves to do the things that will enable them to be successful, which is at the heart of facilitative leadership.
As we had conversations in the team about what we stood for and how we wanted to work, I started to get explicit about some of the founding principles of Meeting Magic, which are:
- Mutuality – only a mutual working relationship will endure, whether that is with clients, colleagues, suppliers or partners.
- Accountability – we need to hold ourselves and others to account for their actions; we aim to do this in a straight-talking way, with respect. We are each accountable for the part we play in the whole system.
- Growth and generosity – personal growth is at the heart of this organisation. By generously sharing our work and learning from every opportunity we extend and grow our capability. (Note: this is very different from the relentless pursuit of financial growth I see in many organisations.)
- Integrity – we need to be authentic in our work and show integrity in the way we conduct ourselves.
- Care – we care for our clients as we support them through tough conversations. We care for ourselves individually and for the whole system in which we work.
And, yes, these principles spell MAGIC, as I now realise they are part of the magic glue that makes this Network what it is.
The next breakthrough we had in this transition was when we redefined our purpose. For some time we had been discussing our purpose in Meeting Magic, and during these conversations the name of the company and the brand had been questioned. The debate we were having was that the meetings we facilitate and the work we do around these meetings offers so much more profound impact than ‘just a meeting’. The question in the conversation was ‘should we have the word meeting in our name’. The breakthrough came for us through a spelling mistake! We were at the end of a two-day meeting in which we had redefined our vision and strategy, and I was wrote up ‘ Meeting Magic – Leveraging the power of meeting’ (I missed the ‘s’ off meetings). I stood back, realised my mistake, and before I could amend it, Kenda said, ‘hang on, I prefer it like that!’ I stood back and excitement built in me as I realised what she was saying. We had been focussing on meeting, as a noun, which limits our thinking to the places in organisations called meetings. However when we think about meeting as a verb, it liberates our thinking to the act of meeting and the broader concept of how people meet together and do work. This phrase, ‘Leveraging the power of meeting’, profoundly captures the heart of what we care about. Since we articulated this purpose it has provided a focal point for our work externally with clients and within the team.
We entered the world of Teal in Spring 2015. Kenda sent me a text one Friday evening saying she was excited about a book she had just read by Frederic Laloux. I ordered the book and on Sunday night I sat up until 2am reading ‘Reinventing Organisations’. At last I had found something, in Laloux’s description of Teal, which reflected my own thinking about how I envisaged Meeting Magic being.
- Self Managing
- Striving for wholeness
Not only was I inspired by this description, which mirrored my thinking, but I was also filled with hope by the stories of organisations successfully working this way. It renewed my energy and drive to try and figure out how to make this way of working work for us.
One of the most helpful aspects of Laloux’s work is that it has provided a common framework and language for our team to have conversations about how we work, and for us to have conversations with others about this way of working.
Removing Management structures
One of the first things I noticed about Meeting Magic, as I looked at the organisation through a Teal lens, was that even though we had no managers in the organisation, we still had a management structure in our meetings and visibility of information. We had QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews), which were quarterly meetings between me, the Chairman and our Financial Director, in which we reviewed the financial performance against targets and course corrected our plans. Although this information was then shared in the whole team, I realised that, by having the QBRs as a separate entity, it separated the conversations and therefore the understanding of the whole system.
So, we stopped having QBR’s and integrated this work into our Network meetings.
Transparent financial information
As soon as we moved to integrate the QBR and Network meetings, this meant we needed to open up the financial information to the whole system. Interestingly, on reflection, this didn’t seem to cause concern for anyone, but I have had subsequent conversations with people in other organisations which have made me realise this is a big deal. It is rare that everyone is privy to the same financial information throughout an organisation. This means that everyone can literally see what everyone else earns and exactly how money is spent. No secrets!
We had to do a bit of work to get the financial information into a format that everyone could understand. Fiona Stratford, is a former Financial Director and she played a significant role in helping us make the financial information ‘make sense’ to everyone. Everyone now has access to the ‘raw data’ i.e. P&Ls, Balance Sheets, Cash flow forecasts, etc. AND we have reports that synthesise the information so we can see what this means with regard to which clients we are working with and the shape of our work.
The consequences of this financial transparency have been far reaching:
- People who contribute to the overheads have not asked for increases in pay, as they can see that we can’t afford it at the moment. In fact, one person offered and took a pay cut!
- Team members have offered to share work in order to distribute client income more equitably.
- Everyone understands the financial shape of the business and takes responsibility for their part in it.
I am struck and somewhat humbled by how responsibly and generously people are behaving about money, which can often be where the ‘rub’ occurs in organisations.
Changes in the way we meet
The other significant change we have made is in how we meet, as a team. For me, this is about us working on ourselves in the way we support our clients.
We are a virtual team – we all work from home. So, we don’t see each other face-to-face (f2f) on a daily basis. One of the things that broke during our Achievement Phase was that everyone got wrapped up in their individual work. Meetings that connected the whole became infrequent and superficial.
This following structure of how we meet is something we are constantly reviewing and evolving to improve HOW we work together, which we know is as important as WHAT we work on.
- We have a closed group on Facebook, which we use for ‘chat’ – this includes sharing interesting things, what’s on our mind, what we are up to, as well as posting ideas we have for the business.
- Once an idea is posted and commented on, it may be acted upon or, if there is appetite to explore it further, then we have a team virtual meeting. We have weekly calls, each one facilitated and recorded by someone different. The ‘owner’ of the idea contacts the facilitator to incorporate their idea into the virtual meeting.
- Monthly lunch – we have lunch on the last Friday of every month, which is purely social. Everyone is invited. Those who can make it RSVP and who up. Someone different chooses the location for each one.
- Quarterly face-to-face meetings – the big shift we have recently made in these meetings has been to use this valuable f2f time to work on HOW we work. We enlist the support of an external facilitator to enable us to deepen our work, by noticing things that are hard for us to notice about ourselves and to provide a neutral view in, sometimes tough, conversations. Through this quality of work we are deepening our understanding of ourselves, of each other, and thereby forging much stronger connections in the team, which serve us well as we work virtually between meetings.
- Extra meetings – we are not constrained to meet within our meeting structure. So, as work arises that we need to do, we meet either in subgroups or as a whole group.
What I notice is that we used to use quarterly f2f meetings to talk mainly about WHAT we worked on. For example, we would talk about our marketing strategy. What is interesting is that, despite creating a safe environment in the meeting, and asking for openness in the meeting, agreements that were made during the meeting often didn’t happen.
Now, we spend the meeting talking about HOW we work. When we move onto talking about WHAT we will do, people only commit to the actions they want to in the meeting. A lot more happens after the meeting than we committed to in the meeting. Now THAT really is leveraging the power of meeting.
Being Teal is Work in Progress
One of the things I have personally let go of is ‘getting there’. I fully believe and feel that being Teal is a journey and that I need to focus on enjoying it, rather than constantly trying to fix the present, to get to some mythical state of Nirvana.
I believe that, as the Founder and CEO, of Meeting Magic, the process of letting go of the need to fix the system has liberated the organisation to figure out how it fixes itself, if it needs fixing. So there are some things that we are working on together. I am not lying awake at night trying to figure them out. They include:
How do we manage membership? – We are moving towards self-management of Network membership but the complexity of this is that, whist we are Teal, the Legal system is not! The legal system, in my humble opinion, is heavily weighted towards a dependent employee mindset, which conflicts with Teal ways of working. Having been sued by a former Network Member, I am painfully aware of how different our internal mindset is, with some parts of the outside world.
The nature of Networked Teal working is that it appeals to many people but it challenges some fundamentals about how we live our lives, and is therefore not for everyone. However much we try to attend to someone’s leaving, there is often pain within the individual, from the disappointment of it not ‘working out’, and this sometimes manifests in blame. At the moment the UK legal system enables people who are in pain to lash out at their former organisation and cause a great deal of (financial) pain. I wish this were not the case, but it is what it is, and we have to learn to work within this system until it catches up with Teal working J!
How do we equip the Teal world to self-facilitate? – We had someone from a Teal organisation come on a recent training we offered and she asked why we charge for our training in the way we do. Her comments touched my heart because I do believe that everyone should learn to facilitate and, in particular, people wanting to become Teal, would massively benefit from facilitative mindset and skills. Maybe I need to let go of needing to earn a living, but as a single parent, with no other forms of income, that feels too hard at the moment, but watch this space, maybe I will get there and you can all me in my Yurt!
What is the role of a Founder in a Teal organisation? – A Teal, networked way of working challenges traditional paradigms of leadership:
- Leadership is distributed rather than top down;
- Leadership can shift and move to different people at different times;
- Leadership is about controlling structures not people.
However, I know that, from a systemic standpoint, being willing to stand in the Founder space of an organisation gives it stability. So my current coaching question to myself is ‘how do I need to be to support this group being purposeful, self-managing and whole?’
I have invited Kenda to share some of her reflections on our recent transition and current ways of working, to give a different voice and perspective on our journey.
A journey to integrated living through teal working
I am South African-born and the spirit of Ubuntu* is deeply ingrained in my psyche. The interplay between the individual and the whole is endlessly fascinating to me. I have rigorously sought to articulate what this means in my life, with mixed degrees of success, and it was not until I encountered Meeting Magic that I found a place where this has truly been able to play out in my work.
I had several early experiences in my career with organisations that were orange (to use Frederic Laloux’s colour-based shorthand) and knew very quickly that, despite my apparent ability to be “successful” within that framework, at a deep level they were not a good fit for me. So I made a conscious decision to seek out and work with organisations that were green instead. These provided a better fit but still not quite right. For several years I then chose to operate as a solopreneur and although that fulfilled many of my needs for satisfaction through my work I missed feeling like part of an everyday team. I still sometimes discerned a bit of a disconnect between my personal and professional lives. It was hard to name the dissonance exactly but there were still parts of me that felt solely reserved for my professional persona and inappropriate for mention in “the workplace”. And I’m not talking about a love of the trees or unicorns but rather things like intuition and connectedness and how these relate to sound business practice. What I sought was integration. And then came Meeting Magic….
I believe it’s fair to say that my approach to life and personal evolution has always explored how an individual as part of a group, a community and society as a whole can realise potential and sustainably achieve a state of integration, whilst continuing to evolve in response to an ever-changing environment. To me this is what doing the work we do is all about, it’s the value that we bring to our clients and its what being teal within our own operation enables us to offer them.
When I joined the Meeting Magic network just over four years ago, this is the sort of organisation I hoped I was joining. Certainly the stated ethos of the network suggested this. It felt like a homecoming.
As Katherine has described above, the road from there to here has not been without its bumps, detours and even dead-ends. I do not need to reiterate the stages we’ve gone through and the fact that we’ve made some fairly drastic shifts along the way to learn and adjust so that we can realise the vision of being a teal organisation, even when we didn’t have the language to describe it that way; and it’s not always been easy. Our commitment to the shared vision and a deep-seated willingness to “sense and respond”, to co-create the teal reality of our everyday, has been what has kept us together and kept us moving forward.
The one thing I will add is that now, as a part of this living entity that is still growing and evolving and (I hope) will always continue to do so, I believe that we are bringing a deeper, more meaningful approach to our clients, who in many cases are undergoing their own transformations. This seems to have brought a richness to their worlds and ours that appears to be directly linked to the way that we are organising and operating individually, within our network and how we engage with them at the broader level.
Not to mention that I show up every day to work, whole-heartedly and soulfully engaged: integrated.
* Ubuntu – often used in a philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. An article published in Global Education Magazine for the World Health Day describes it as follows:
“In this sense, the Ubuntu ethological polymorphism represents wisdom to learn to grow together as a world-society (…). This reconsideration demands effective authenticity with a thoughtful civic consciousness capable of enduring sustainable development in harmony with nature. Thus, the paradigm shift implies a holistic view of the human being and the universe itself from the perspective of consciousness, where we are all interconnected.”
If these reflections on our journey towards teal spark any thoughts for you we would enjoy talking to you to help you think through your organisational needs, or your leadership questions, or how to think about your structure, call us at +44 (0(1628 471 114. Or gives us some of your immediate thoughts in our contact form. We can help you in your journey.