I’m in Gdynia, on the 3rd floor of a pre-war apartment building in the city centre. I press the doorbell by a door that looks as if it led to someone’s apartment. It opens, and Adrian Tomaszewski invites me in. Adrian is, as he explains, not an HR specialist but the People & Culture Manager at DeSmart, and my today’s guide.
For starters, I want to know what’s wrong with being an HR specialist.
“Well, human resources! You know, that’s such an artificial term,” says Adrian.
“I used to be an HR specialist for several years, but when I came to DeSmart, I created a different name for the role I was supposed to take on. The name perfectly reflects what I do here.”
We are talking in a spacious apartment turned into an office. There is a small reception desk, a working space and a conference room there. Then we take the stairs covered with a red carpet to yet another apartment situated on the 4th floor. Here you can find DeSmart’s coworking room, the chill room and the kitchen. There is also a large meeting space in which most of the equipment – pallets sofas, shelves made of fruit crates and gaming machines – were built by the DeTeam members.
I’ve been working with DeSmart for a short while. Today, I came to see for myself what working in a teal organization looks like. DeSmart has been a teal organization for a while now.
You are all equal
So, we haven’t even started yet, and I already have this feeling we are talking about a utopia! You are all equal, huh? Tell me more about it, I think. The thing is, one of the assumptions behind the teal organization is that each member of a team has the same rights. A trainee, a senior developer, or a CEO – no matter who you are, you can be one of the people making decisions regarding the company matters. At DeSmart, a member of the team can, together with the salespeople, decide which project is ok, and which is a no go. And no matter what your role in a project is, you can contact your client directly, without any proxies. You don’t have to wait until your project manager calls a meeting. You have a question – you ask it.
“Our CEO and founder, Piotr Duszyński, or Duch (meaning Ghost), as we call him, isn’t the majority shareholder. So, in theory, the remaining shareholders could make him go any time. No one’s going to do that, though. The work is so well organized that when Duch goes on holiday and is offline travelling around Thailand, the business is still doing fine,” says Adrian.
It’s doing fine because people know they don’t do projects for a boss, but also, or even mainly, for themselves.
At DeSmart, everyone can come to the shareholders’ meetings where the critical decisions are taken. But it doesn’t mean they have to be there. And you are not obliged to take part in the discussion.
“Sometimes, a person doesn’t say a word at a meeting, but then it turns out they are attentive listeners. They come right after the meeting and say they can help with something we’ve just discussed,” Adrian admits.
You know everything about money
Every member of the team has access to the financial data – it’s yet another assumption of a teal organization. It looks like a revolutionary idea. Every day, people can monitor whether there are profits or losses. Thanks to that, they are aware of the fact that their work brings specific results. The results they are all responsible for. At DeSmart, the shareholders weren’t afraid to take that step. In the future, they are going to go one step further and disclose pay data.
“There are, obviously, pros and cons,” Adrian explains.
”On one hand, when the financial situation is a bit worse, some people may start thinking it would be better to find another job. On the other, people may get more engaged. One day, we were looking for new projects because the income was low. A member of the team, who knew the situation, recommended DeSmart to a company that needed IT services. The project started and we earned money. If he hadn’t known all about the financial situation, he wouldn’t have recommended us to that client.”
But when the income if high and you are aware of that, you know that soon you will get your share.
You enjoy the profits
Quarterly, there is profit-sharing at DeSmart. The shareholders get half of the profit, and the rest of the team – the other half. Together, they decide what amount of money to spend on their everyday needs, new office equipment, the recruitment of new people, etc. Sometimes, things take an unexpected turn. Adrian:
“It’s hard to believe, but it happened. After a weaker period, we earned some profit again. When it came to profit-sharing, some members of the team said they didn’t want it. They said they would wait for the things to get better before they claim their share.”
You give and receive relevant feedback
What matters in a teal organization is open communication – both between team members and between the team and the client. Clear feedback, both positive and negative, is crucial. After all, there is no boss to tell you what to do, to praise or criticize you.
“At first, it’s not that easy to speak up, to let others know you don’t like something. I remember that when I joined the team, I was invited to DeSmart’s Christmas party. At the party, Duch had a speech, and he said he wanted us to follow the teal rules. Several people stood up and weren’t afraid to tell him they weren’t convinced it was a good idea. I was astonished. I thought: wow, so you can say something like that to your boss?”
It’s much enjoyable to reward others, that’s for sure. At DeSmart, the team communicates on Slack. They have a bot named PanDa, designed to be used to post thank you notes to colleagues. Everyone has 1000 points a month, and they can give them out to teammates to say thank you for help, support or a piece of advice. How does it work? You write a message on PanDa; you mention your colleague’s name, say what you are thankful for and how many points you give them. The rest of the team can read the message and learn who you are grateful to and for what.
At the end of each month, you can exchange the points you got for money. But it’s not the money that encourages the DeTeam members to say thank you to their colleagues. What matters is that it promotes team recognition and it strengthens the feeling that it’s your duty to give a helping hand to your teammates.
Have an idea? Present it to the team and implement it
At DeSmart, if you have an idea for an improvement or you know how to make your colleagues’ lives easier – you can implement it, in line with the rule that everyone has the same rights to make decisions.
Adrian: “Few developers create both Android and iOS apps. You have to look for Android devs and iOS devs. One of us once found and tested a technology that made it possible to develop applications for both platforms. He called a meeting at the office, showed us the results of his tests and suggested that we should consider using that solution.”
The team implemented the technology, and the CTO’s consent was not needed. They simply decided that it was a great idea to start using the solution that enabled them to save both time and money.
Physiotherapy at the office was a similar case.
Adrian: “A lot of us regularly see a physiotherapist. We have a sitting job, and we spend plenty of ours in front of our computers, which makes our spines hurt. A colleague noticed that and suggested that we should have regular meetings with a physiotherapist at the office so that everyone could have an appointment, quick and easy.”
It wasn’t just a suggestion. The colleague found a specialist and invited him to the office. The cooperation started some time ago, and it continues. Today, I have an opportunity to learn how it works – the Physio, as they call the guy, comes when I’m talking to Adrian. He sets up his portable bed in the chill room and starts inviting his patients, one by one, in line with the schedule. The costs are covered both by the team members and from the company’s budget.
No boss had to sign their name under the decision to spend the company’s money on appointments with the Physio. The team members have access to the financial data so they know whether the company can afford it or not and feel responsible for whatever decision they make.
You do what you want… but only to a certain extent
From what we have said so far, you may draw a simple conclusion – not defined, flat structure; everyone can take decisions – this means you can virtually do whatever you want. Sounds like anarchy.
Adrian: “We are not talking about any anarchy here. It’s not a hipster trend, either. It’s a direction we have been heading in and a way of doing business in which you have to follow specific rules. Every one of us has a role in the team. I’m responsible for recruiting new people, software developers are supposed to write code, and the colleague who’s in charge of accounts is in charge of accounts. If one day she decides that, instead of making salary transfers, she wants to do something else, she must be aware of the fact that someone may get angry and leave if they don’t get their money on time. And if that happens, she is obliged to do her best to make up for that and figure out what can be done to prevent this situation in the future.”
Apart from your primary role in the organization, you can get engaged in other activities. You can do whatever you are good at and whatever your colleagues can benefit from. Just like Adrian, who has recently taken over the organization of the React’Up meetups.
Adrian: “One day, I realized it would be a pleasure for me to be responsible for React’up. At the same time, the people who had been in charge of this task before said they would be happy to hand it over to me. So, we all enjoy the benefits of this change.”
Okay, sounds awesome. But is it for me?
At the end of our meeting, I have one more question I want to ask.
“Can anyone work and feel good at a teal organization?”
Adrian: “Of course not. If you need supervision and clear instructions on what to do, when and why, it won’t be easy for you to be a member of such a team. In every teal organization, establishing relationships, developing bonds with teammates, creating a good atmosphere at work and above all, having common values are crucial issues. If these are not vital for you, it may be quite a challenge for you to work in such a place, as well. “After all, we all want to work with people we like and feel good with,” Adrian says.