How to create a safe space for your teal dot

By Puk Falkenberg, 04. February 2019

Most organizations are running like machines. They are effective. They are optimized. They run perfectly in a stable world where they can keep doing what they do best. But that’s not always enough. Lately we have seen big corporations create small “garage-hubs” in which they have created an entrepreneurial ‘safe space’.

In this space things are being done differently. The mindset is more agile. The purpose and the direction are clear and evolutionary. The culture is very much different from the mother-ships and corporate norms and behaviours. As are the way people organize themselves in these kind of hubs – and sure, the result is often this entrepreneurial safe space where people are more innovative.

When it could feel like you are a totally different organization, there is still some corporate procedures and processes you as a leader can’t ignore. Unless you are so fortuned to be given complete free rein (and if you are, then what are you doing here? Go save the world!) In this blogpost I’ll let you in on four areas where you as a leader to a garage-hub – or a teal dot – should remember when navigating in a corporate machine.

Being the leader of a teal dot

A teal dot is a small unit, team or even a department that work and act teal as described by Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations. Within the definition teal is when an organization:

  1. have an evolutionary purpose and a feeling of contributing to changing the world,
  2. self-management teams that see themselves as a living entity and,
  3. an orientation towards realizing their full potential.

Just recently Erik wrote about how Pingala have created a teal organization in Dubai. The point is, that you can have units acting teal – so-called teal dots – in your organization, and as a leader of such a team, you need to be aware of how to navigate as a teal dot in an orange world (orange, which is also a reference to Frederic Laloux).

(1) You have to create a safe space – or a shield – around your team

In many big corporations there is a fair share of procedures and policies that must be followed. There is a lot of best practice processes you need to follow, and sometimes even a “one size fits all” kind of mindset.

There are of cause variations of this within the corporations, but the point is, you need to write documentation, you need to follow procedure and are accountable of every corporate policy being followed.

Either you need to get permission to stay out of these corporate procedures or find a way to meet the need of the stakeholders around your teal dot in a different way.

  • How can you show your successful results?
  • How can you measure your progress?
  • How can you do the minimum amount of documentation?

(2) You need to ensure your teal-culture is not infected with orange-culture

Like the famous quote about how culture eats strategy for breakfast, you need to be aware of the orange-culture lurking just around the corner. Many scenarios can be mentioned here, but these three highlights typical touch-points where cultural change can happen:

  1. If you are establishing the team with employees from the orange-culture, you need to add time to build the new culture, and un-learn old ways of working, behaviour, and habits.
  2. If you establish the team with a combination of employees from the corporate culture and newly hired, you must be aware of who is affecting who, when creating a teal-culture
  3. When your team is established, and you add new team members from the orange-culture (or newly hired from other orange-cultures), be aware that they don’t bring their old habits and culture, and that they must de-learn the old ways and not ‘infect’ your teal-culture.

(3) You must create awareness of old habits versus new habits

At some point you may fall back into old rhythms and habits. It’s all part of the process and totally normal – and okay! When it happens, you must be ready with ways of getting you back on track.

One time with a client, we made a manifesto stating our new habits and what we strive to do. It was only 5 sentences on one of the walls close to our work stations. Every time one fell into old habits, you were obligated to point to our manifesto and say somethings like: “Didn’t we agree not to do that? Look at our manifesto and try again”. At some point, people will forget the old habits and the new habits will form and become your natural rhythm.

(4) You need to remember direction and meaningfulness in all you do

At these vulnerable moments when new habits fail and your teal-culture is hanging in a thin tread, you must remember your direction, and why its meaningful to keep going. Here are a couple of ideas on how to add meaning to your daily work and remind yourselves when times are hard:

  1. At every team meeting (or stand up) you have, ask yourselves this weekly question: “What have I done this week to create meaningfulness or strive in the direction we have chosen?”
  2. Find inspiration in The Golden Circle and your teams Why and remember this purpose is what you strive for as a direction – a guidance if you want.
  3. Make it all visible. Hang your purpose sentence on the wall. Hang your weekly question on the wall and take the time to look at it. This will help you to visualise your direction, as well as creating a dialogue about how meaningful your work is.

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