Confessions of a Company Without Managers (1 year later)

One year ago our company made a bold move. We eliminated all “management” responsibilities within the team.

No more bosses. No more top down decisions. No more pointing fingers.

Each person became responsible for their own impact and value on the team. Each person is now responsible for any problem or opportunity they see. Each person is accountable for the company’s overall success.

Although this approach is gaining traction, thanks to the excellent book Reinventing Organizations, and the adoption of self-management practices by well-known companies like Whole Foods, Zappos, Buffer, Medium, and Patagonia, most people think it’s cuckoo crazy. Or at least that it couldn’t possibly work at a typical company.

But that’s not what we have found. Fitzii No Mgrs Cake SquareAfter six months of self-management we published an article detailing the unfiltered Good, Bad & Amazing comments from our people. Overall there was a lot more good and amazing than bad (or crazy), and we were happy that others found value in hearing about our first hand experiences with self-management.

The other day we celebrated our first year of being manager-free with some delicious cake, a heart-warming exercise, and some fun games.

We also asked the team to answer some of the most common questions that we get from those curious about what really happens when a company gets rid of management. Here’s the skinny.


What has been the business value of self-management?

This is the most common question we get from those who are skeptical about whether a self-managing company can produce results like a tightly managed business can.

It’s tough to answer because we went all in with self-management, and didn’t have any part of our business that remained “managed”. There’s no A/B test that can prove the difference in results, and we can’t look at results before and after our transition because we’re a young company on a growth trajectory regardless of org structure.

The only way to answer this question is to point to the things that are clearly different, new, or improved since self-management started. With this in mind, the biggest difference-maker in our business results has been the quality of our decision making.

James, from our Hiring Success Team, put it well when he said that these days, instead of ideas being hatched in a vacuum, or worse, coming down in isolation from above, “the best ideas have a chance to surface organically and be thoughtfully considered. With less fear, politics, egos, and bureaucratic boundaries, everyone is free to contribute to decisions in the best way they can.”

For Fitzii, this means our big decisions have been more widely informed and nuanced, resulting in fewer biased, bad calls and more balanced, well-reasoned decisions. Plus, it used to be that someone with a title could drive through a decision that others weren’t on board with, and now those bad ideas die on the vine.

It’s important to note that this inclusiveness in decision making hasn’t meant that we’ve been slowed down by bureaucracy, or that each decision goes through a democratic process. Instead, important projects and decisions are driven along publicly within the team’s communication vehicles. This means that people who have opinions and want to help will pitch in, and others opt out. The right amount of energy and input flows to the decision, and its speed becomes a function of people’s priorities. There is an elegant efficiency to the decision making “advice process” that would make Darwin proud – it’s like the natural selection of ideas.

And for inconsequential calls, we have fun using our “Executive Decision Maker”, which Greg from Product Development made as Fitzii’s version of the Magic 8-Ball.

Fitzii EDM2We’ve also found that self-management has been like a turbo-boost for the continuous improvement of our people and our offerings. James has pointed out that “accountability to a team instead of an individual means everyone gets more regular feedback from a wider variety of sources. And more feedback has meant we grow and improve our skills faster, and provide better service to our clients.”

Another clear business benefit has been our increased ability to attract and engage top talent. Although Fitzii’s own offering is a hiring platform that helps small businesses hire better, we’ve probably found the biggest improvement to our own hiring has been the attraction of the self-management structure.

Greg found that when looking for in-demand developers, self-management, “was a real plus,” that differentiated and attracted coders to Fitzii. And Andy, one of those star developers that we recently hired, couldn’t agree more. “When I first learned that Fitzii didn’t have managers I thought – this is the type of environment I want to be a part of. Being given the freedom to make an impact is one of the most important things I was looking for in a company.”

Luz, from our Hiring Success Team, pointed out that, “we have been able to attract incredibly intelligent and talented people because we offer something greater than a big paycheque or fancy title. We provide meaningful work on a great team, and we work in a way that is uplifting and exciting, where each person sees the difference they make.”

And Ron, a Hiring Advisor who also recently joined the team, felt the same way:

As a job-seeker, I was looking for an opportunity to leverage my skills and experience right away. More than salary or position title, I really just wanted to contribute and have an impact. The structure at Fitzii has allowed me to do that in an immediate and meaningful way. While many of my friends are struggling with entry-level tedium and stifling bureaucracy, I come to work knowing I can make a difference.

And finally, a measurable business value we have seen is in our team’s employee engagement scores. Every year we participate in the Great Place to Work survey, which asks each person to rate their satisfaction in 58 areas. This year we found that our overall engagement results improved to a nearly perfect score.

Greg felt like self-management was the biggest difference maker. “It’s great for employee engagement, and the resulting productivity, positive feelings and sense of working toward a common purpose.” This makes sense. Gallup has reported that as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be traced back to the manager’s influence. When you remove managers, each person is made responsible for their own role design and engagement, and for addressing any issues that arise – the result is that they end up really happy at work (and at play).


How have you most grown or benefited from self-management?

Self-management is like a leadership development program on steroids. It replaces classroom leadership learning with continuous real-life development – you literally can’t get much done unless you can genuinely work to lead and influence. I’ve personally gotten more direct and indirect feedback about my leadership style in the last year than I had in the previous five years as a manager.

For James, and many others on the team, our focus on, “bringing your whole self to work,” has been a major benefit of the move. “I don’t need to pretend to be one thing at work and wait to get home to be real,” he said. The concept of “wholeness” is a big part of the Teal movement, and Fitzii consciously created wholeness practices that helps everyone feel comfortable to be themselves at work.

It turns out that it’s really draining to be different at work. When you make genuine connections with your colleagues, and come to know that they appreciate you for being you, the quality of your relationships skyrockets. Ian, from our Product Development team, feels like “I’m now on a team that has an incredibly high level of openness, authenticity and trust. Working in this environment is truly awesome.”

The other major benefit we’ve seen stems from self-created role design. Deciding who does what is a big part of traditional management’s role, and it’s an area that is often done poorly – at least from the perspective of the employees who want to maximize their enjoyment of assigned tasks.

According to a well-reasoned book on work motivation called Primed to Perform, the level to which an employee enjoys their work tasks is statistically the most powerful driver of motivation and performance. In the self-management structure, it is each person’s responsibility to look at what has to be done in the business, and match their role with what they’d most like to do, and would be best at doing.

James has found that, “the fluid nature of roles has given me many opportunities to take on new challenges that I wouldn’t get at another company.” And Jonna, from our Sales & Marketing group, said, “I’ve grown the most by having to stretch my creative side. Here I’ve taken on initiatives that would have traditionally been handled by management, and that’s been super motivating.”


What has been the hardest thing about self-management?

Probably the most common difficulty with self-management is all the responsibility that comes with it. James summed this up well:

There’s no place to hide and no space to complain. If you see something that could be better, or that you want to change, the onus is on you to bring it up. With all the freedom, there is also ultimate responsibility.

Carla, from our Hiring Success team, felt that the hardest thing was not in coming up with new self-managing practices, but rather implementing them when the rubber hit the road:

It’s not a “set-it and forget-it” scenario. In a few cases we found holes and misinterpretations. When you implement a new self-management practice, it will likely go through multiple phases. The creation of it, followed by a probationary period to see how it’s working, and then more dialogue and revisions to improve the practice.

For Jonna, the hardest thing was creating new lines of communication between departments. She feels like, “everyone is working hard but we’ve needed to more thoroughly communicate what we are doing and make sure we are all working towards the same goals.”

And finally, Ian had a nice analogy to share about what he found hard about self-management:

I play squash and occasionally get a lesson. The pattern is always the same – my coach suggests I change something fundamental about my game. I incorporate the change into how I play and… I start losing more. Over time, if I stick with it, my game improves and ends up at a higher level than before making the adjustment. It’s the same here. All of us have had to relearn how we work and I found it a challenge to deal with the short term negative impact on performance. There were definite examples of where the transition impacted our ability to achieve our goals. Now though, I’m glad we stuck with it as we’re unquestionably “playing” at a much higher level.


What was the biggest mistake we made?

A few people, like Carla, felt like we, “didn’t make any BIG mistakes,” when rolling out self-management. For anyone hoping to hear stories of massive self-set salary increases, nefarious leadership uprisings, or frivolous rogue spending, we’re sorry to disappoint you.

There were some smaller mistakes and certainly lots of bumps on the road though.

Greg felt like, “a couple times we missed appointing a single decision-maker on a key project, which meant that not enough got done. We learned that it’s important that someone be accountable for any decision that’s worth making.”

I personally made the mistake of initially interpreting self-management to mean that I should take my foot off the gas in driving strategic change across the business, because this was now everyone’s responsibility.

After some time, I realized that this kind of work was simply a task that needed to be done. The only difference was that playing a role which involved organizational-wide change no longer meant I could force-feed new initiatives or tell others what to do. Push vs Pull LeadershipInstead, it has become a leadership responsibility to shepherd a process where the evolution of strategy arises through engaging interested clients, partners and colleagues, spurring creative discussion, and facilitating decisions.

This is the way I should have been leading in the first place, because pulling out the right strategy along is much more effective than pushing it.

And finally, about halfway through the year we realized that with no clear leadership roles responsible for the entire business, we had fallen off in our communications with our parent company, who had been used to having regular dialogue with the former managers. Like everything else, this is simply a task that needs to be done, so we created a monthly meeting with assigned roles, and public visibility of the notes from the meeting.


What are things we still need to change or start doing?

When we made the call to implement self-management, we also decided to take it slow. Managers had a lot of responsibilities, and there are many key processes that hinged on their roles. We thought it would be too chaotic to change everything at once, so instead we identified certain elements, like compensation setting, performance reviews, hiring/firing, and vacations, which we would tackle as practices to overhaul as the year went on.

This ended up working well. In each case one person took the lead, like Greg blogged about with performance reviews, and used the advice process to come up with a new structure. But we’re not totally done with the transition. There are a few areas we still need to work on.

Ian feels like we have more work to do in encouraging performance feedback and difficult conversations:

I sense that we’re doing a great job of the positive reinforcement, but aren’t quite there yet in giving constructive feedback that will help others grow and develop. I think we’ve perhaps been “over-careful” and avoided feedback that could be construed as coming from a place of authority, i.e. a vestige of our previous hierarchical structure.

This has been a major aha for many of us. A self-management structure means there is a radical responsibility for everyone to own each problem they see, whether it’s with a process or a person. In a traditional management structure, if you identify a problem, you typically bring it to the manager in charge of that area. At Fitzii, you have to figure out how to address it directly with the people involved.

Having constructive and courageous conversations is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed, and we could certainly benefit from some training and attention in this area in the next year.

Greg also pointed out that although we did make the big jump to self-setting compensation, we weren’t able to get as consistent as we would have liked, because, “some on the team have contracts that would be difficult to rework at this point. The plan is to revisit this next year, and come up with a more unified compensation structure that applies to everyone on the team.”


What advice would you give to other organizations?

First off, Jonna points out something we’d all agree on, which is that any organization implementing self-management should not just “flip a switch” and should, “expect this to be a transition that takes many months to work through.”

Greg felt that we had an advantage starting as a small organization (10 people) that already functioned with a fair bit of self-management. This led to a smoother transition during which we were able to figure out our policies as we went, and the bumps along the way had minimal impact. On the other hand, “a larger or more hierarchal organization, would do well to have these new policies mapped out and planned before starting the transition.”

Luz would emphasize how important it is to, “focus on having clearly articulated strategies, plans, and roles that engender clarity, purposeful work and decision-making. And it’s critical to also build a framework and expectation for feedback.”

And finally, Carla talked about how important it is that, “your team is really into it.” This can’t be something that only the existing leadership wants:

Going on this journey with a group of people who are so devoted to the mission makes all the difference. When there is conflict or disagreement on our team it’s always about interpreting and deciding which path is the truest and most fitting form of self-management for our team. It’s rarely, if ever, about doubting the path we’re on. It’s critical that the team is moving forward towards a common goal – having naysayers around would be detrimental.


Going forward

All in all, it’s been an exciting and growth-filled transition into self-management. We’re going to keep writing about our experiences, so if you’d like to follow along, you can sign up for the blog (in the footer or top right of this post).

R.O. BookIf you are interested in increasing empowerment and engagement at your organization, we’d also recommend that you check out Reinventing Organizations, as well as some of the other 25 powerful books that shaped our company. These books are sure to inspire you to build a better business.

We hope answering these questions about our journey was helpful. If you have any more you’d like us to answer, or if you have your own comments to make, we’d love to hear from you below.



Three Tools to Unlock Wholeness at Work


The concept of self-management is in the news a lot these days – mostly thanks to Tony Hsieh’s Holacracy implementation at Zappos.

Like Fitzii did in February, Zappos and now many other organizations around the world are experimenting with structures that don’t involve traditional managers.

This movement was inspired by the breakthrough book, Reinventing Organizations, which coined the term Teal to describe these new organizations.

Self-management is just one of the three breakthroughs of Teal organizations. The other two are evolutionary purpose and the practice of wholeness.

In an upcoming article, we’ll describe evolutionary purpose and how it’s in play at Fitzii. Today we’ll focus on how we’ve unlocked wholeness at Fitzii.


Apple and Orange differenceWholeness

As radical as organizing ourselves without traditional managers sounds, building an organization where every individual can bring his or her whole self to work, every day, is as radical, probably more.

In traditional organizations a certain degree of personal conformity is expected. The more rigid the hierarchy, the more personal conformity seems to go on. Look up the leadership of a big bank or large public corporation if you’re not sure what I mean.

For many people, working in those organizations means leaving part of themselves at the door – fundamental personal attributes like spirituality, sexual orientation, family status, health, or even dress preferences, personal interests, and sense of humour.

Every time we leave some fundamental personal attribute at the door, we send a subtle message to ourselves that we are valued for our ability to conform. Later, we scratch our heads at the lack of diversity and creativity in our organizations, or worse, feel parts of ourselves have to die off in exchange for a paycheck.

“You can measure an organization by the number of lies you need to tell to be part of it.”

Parker Palmer

Teal organizations strive to open the door to every coworker’s wholeness – inviting people to walk through the door with everything that makes them who they are – mind, body, and spirit.

It’s not a utopia – radical wholeness takes effort, design, time; it results in conflict. In Teal organizations, though, healthy conflict is a precondition to creativity and progress.



Three Tools We Use to Unlock Wholeness at Work

At Fitzii, we’ve been inspired by other Teal organizations’ wholeness practices, especially those related to meetings. We’ve tried a lot of those practices and will discuss them in a future post.

We’ve also tried out a few tools to better understand ourselves and each other, and have found three to be especially valuable for encouraging wholeness:


the enneagram of personality

The Enneagramthe Enneagram is personality typology with nine types. In my experience, the Enneagram is much different than other personality typologies – like, for example, the very popular Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Unlike the MBTI, the Enneagram gives you a predictable direction for personal growth. So many people at Fitzii have found the Enneagram useful for self-development and resolving conflict that we often refer to each other by our type numbers – a practice that has confused more than one curious eavesdropper. If you’re curious to use this tool for your own growth, start with The Wisdom of the Enneagram book by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. 


The Five Love Languages – someone recommended this book to me before I got married. Truthfully, it’s both a little bit of pop-psych fluff and one of the most helpful interpersonal tools I’ve ever used. The theory is we give and receive love in five different “languages” – words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time, and physical touch. We often give in the way we hope to receive and get frustrated when we’re not loved back in the way we want. My language of choice, for example, is physical touch. A simple pat on the back or a high five can lead me to feel valued and accepted. Touch is not the common language of affirmation in North American business culture, but for me, the principle of wholeness at work and the insight of the Five Love Languages has allowed me to ask coworkers for some life-and-work-affirming high fives and shoulder hugs. Honestly, they’re cheaper than bonuses, plaques, and pens and make me feel twice as good.


psychometric or personality testingPersonality or Psychometric Testing – this is both our product (Fitzii software integrates psychometric testing into the early stages of the hiring process) and our practice (we use multiple, personality tests when considering a new hire). Like Enneagram and Five Love Languages – the operative principle is that identifying and understanding our own and others’ individual differences lays the foundation for healthy conflict and productive division of labour. Psychometric testing – for traits like assertiveness and work pace – is predictive of performance in a huge variety of tasks and situations. We’re on a mission not only to use these tests for our own benefit but to make them widely available and affordable for hiring organizations everywhere.


The Reinventing Organizations Wiki describes “The ideal of self-organization would be that each person can find their niche such that their way of thinking and being has the opportunity to express itself and that their capacities can be used to the full with the possibility of further development.“

At Fitzii, evaluating and harnessing what makes each of us different – and inviting all of those aspects to be present at work – has led to an experience of work that goes far beyond any of our previous work experiences or expectations.

We hope tools like these will help you discover the same.



The Good, Bad & Amazing of Six Months as a Self-Managed Company

good bad amazing

As we promised a couple weeks back in a post called “We Eliminated Management! See What Happens”, the Fitzii team has committed to writing about our experiences since we rid ourselves of traditional management roles in February of this year.

This move was inspired by the work of Frederic Laloux, and his book Reinventing Organizations, where he introduced the concept of a Teal organization to describe those companies that have eschewed traditional management structure in favor of self-management, have an evolutionary purpose (not a top-down direction), and an environment where employees truly bring their whole selves to work each day.

Since self-management is about the collective voice, in this first post we’ve chosen to ask members of the Fitzii team to present what they felt was good, bad, and amazing about our first six months as a Teal, self-managed organization.

So… Fitzii eliminated management, and this is what happened.


The Good

Greg   (Product Development)

There have been so many good things to come out of our teal transition.  We’ve all been pitching in to develop new processes for things like 360 feedback, compensation, hiring and termination, team goal-setting & targets, offsite planning, and more. It’s a learning process where one person volunteers to take responsibility for an area and they seek the advice of the others. The idea is to get something workable with the knowledge that if we try it out and see ways to improve it, we can do that iteratively. These are decisions that would traditionally have been made by management, but now we all contribute. It’s been engaging and energizing for the team, with the excitement of charting new waters, and with everyone playing a part in it.


Jonna   (Business Development)

Moving to a teal org structure was shocking to my system when we got started. I’ve reported to a manager for 25 years, who am I to make decisions? Once we made the plunge I started to see the good in Teal. Being able to make decisions for my department (which happens to be sales) was liberating. I was able to take my 15 years of sales knowledge and start acting like a manager would but without the driving need for a title promotion. Owning my own engagement and being able to change what I didn’t like and keep what I did like, and mentally having to really show up and pay attention to all aspects of our business and how sales impacted other departments are a few of my highlights.


Edwin   (Marketing)

I have found that moving decisions from top-down management to the people who know and care the most about the decision, has created three big benefits at Fitzii:

  1. We’ve made better decisions – More informed, more thought-through, and with more buy-in.
  2. We’ve seen even higher employee engagement – As you’d expect, empowerment unleashes passion (as evidenced by the # of people waking up in the middle of the night with big ideas for the business).
  3. We’ve had more leaders step up – There’s been more opportunities for more people to lead more, and that has been great for everyone.


Luz   (Hiring Success)

Creating essential processes – the type of processes created in a traditional organization by HR, finance or senior management – means that every team member has a say in how these essential things happen. Because s/he has a say, s/he also has a stake in making those processes work. For example, when you have participated in hiring someone, you are more likely to understand and support that person; to ensure s/he succeeds. That is true in hiring and it is turning out to be true in all areas of running our company.


Ian   (Product Development)

From my perspective some of the good things to come out of our self-management journey so far are some of the Teal practices we’ve introduced and how effective they’ve been.  The 360 review process and invitation to real-time feedback are great examples of processes that have helped us come together as a team. The other great thing has been the support and engagement of our parent company and senior leadership. They’re interested and engaged, but give us enough space to make mistakes and learn from them.


Carla   (Hiring Success)

When moving towards Teal and looking at various artifacts that needed addressing, regular one on one meetings were on the chopping block. Luz (my ex manager) and I thought it was a shame to get rid of our one on ones entirely because we really enjoyed them and found them helpful.

Trying to be more Teal with these interactions, I urged her to take a more active part in sharing during these meetings. Up until this point it had mostly been me sharing and her providing me with performance feedback. I wanted to know more about her experiences and what was vexing in her day to day duties.

We decided to try our own version of a format I’d used at a previous job. This format was Job, Development, Self (or JDS). We discussed how were doing with our job and tasks as currently described by our roles, how we were doing with any learning or development goals and how we were doing in our personal lives.

Between Luz’s willingness to participate in those meetings as a peer, and the JDS format providing some guidance on what to bring to those engagements, we were able to significantly change the dialogue and improve our working relationship. Our improved one on ones also gave us a platform for implementing the advice process.


The Bad

Luz   (Hiring Success)

Since going Teal, we give and aspire to give more peer feedback than would be typical in a traditional organization. We realized in the giving and receiving of feedback that it was essential for us to spell out our strategy, plans, and roles – otherwise, we were holding each other to arbitrary or unspoken standards. I’m not sure I attribute our lack of clearly articulated strategy, plans, roles to our Teal organization; rather, we’re a start-up and creating these came at a natural point in our evolution. Regardless, I’d recommend that other Teal teams have clearly articulated strategies, plans, and roles that engender clarity, purposeful work and decision-making, and a framework for feedback.


Greg   (Product Development)

I wouldn’t say that there’s been anything truly bad, but there have been some rough patches.  For example, when we started the advice process on how we would conduct our 360 feedback, we had several people wanting to be involved but we didn’t appoint a single person to be the decision-maker.  Consequently, nothing got done until we realized and corrected it.  The advice process on compensation also might have worked more effectively if we had involved our parent company’s senior management at an earlier stage.  This is true because (i) they would have had useful stuff to contribute early on, and (ii) they would have felt better about our undertaking this process if they’d had input from the beginning.  These are things that we’re still developing a sense for and, considering that there’s no “established” way of carrying out a lot of these teal practices, it’s not surprising that there will be some rocky moments.

It’s also a balancing act allocating time to work on our teal processes. It takes significant time to figure these things out and we’ve found that having different people tackle different aspects helps divide up the work, but it can take time away from doing the core work of the business.  Hopefully as we get these processes in place, we’ll be able to devote less time and energy to planning out how we work.


Carla   (Hiring Success Team)

Going Teal in the first year of your career can be daunting, and junior employees may have different needs than seasoned employees.

The world of academia preps you for a traditional business environment with significant focus on your place in the hierarchy. The classroom is polarized, with the institution holding the power and the students conforming to expectations. Walking into a self-managing structure can be jarring and requires deliberate habit breaking. I sometimes found myself craving more direction and looking for procedures to follow. It took a concerted effort to direct and manage myself and stop looking for a rule book.

Teal can feel like a world of open doors with many projects and opportunities to get involved in. I felt an expectation to take on more and that I had something to prove. This can be dangerous as there’s the potential to take on too much. It’s helpful to have a mentor or a buddy in the workplace who can help you set boundaries and be a voice of reason.

Working at another organization, my focus would have been limited to learning my role. Learning how to be on a Teal team was an added complexity. This felt overwhelming, I questioned if I could handle it and I wondered if I’d be better off at a traditional organization for the first year of my career. Sometimes it seemed like I was taking two steps forward and one step back, or that my learning was taking longer than expected.

Recently I’ve experienced some exponential growth, highlighting the importance of patience with junior team members. Now I can say I’ve learned and achieved more in 9 months here than I could have working under another structure.


Edwin   (Marketing)

When we first eliminated managers we swung the pendulum too far and immediately stopped doing all things that we thought were “management” activities. As it turns out some of these things were necessary and valuable, and should just be done a little differently.

One example of this was how we shifted to making many important things group actions and decisions, instead of having a single leader/decision maker. Predictably, we saw that a committee approach creates less engagement and accountability. Eventually we realized it’s usually better to have the most passionate or knowledgeable person take the lead as the “Decision Maker”, and involve all those affected or interested in the advice process.

Another related example was in my own area of work. Almost exactly as the social media startup Buffer found when they discussed “What We Got Wrong About Self-Management“, we initially thought that Teal meant that everyone was the same, and therefore strategic work with wide scope affecting everyone was no longer “the boss’s job”.

But if driving strategic change is not part of people’s roles then it’s not getting the right attention. We didn’t create and align the strategies and goals of the different departments at Fitzii, and because of this experienced some misalignment of initiatives and expectations.

Self-management doesn’t mean that there aren’t people working on the higher level activities that affect everyone. It just means that people do that work without the additional responsibility (which we formerly had) of also governing the activities of others.


Ian   (Product Development)

There are two challenges that spring to mind when I think about the past six months. The first is the time and effort it takes to become teal. Self-management is not, as some people think, a free-for-all with no structure. In fact, to function well as a teal organization, more structure is needed. We’ve spent time discussing, creating and tweaking processes to define how we hire, give feedback, set salaries, communicate, manage conflict, etc. All super valuable and necessary, but definitely time consuming for an already lean team with big goals. This can lead to conflict between our short term results targets and our long term teal evolution and goals. This is a polarity we’ll need to continue to manage.

The second challenge has been more of a personal one. After being a manager for around 20 years, I was very comfortable in that role. I have received praise and recognition for being a good manager from team members and my managers alike and have had been lucky enough to lead some teams that delivered great results. Moving away from a structure that has worked for me well in the past has definitely been a source of anxiety and self-doubt.


Jonna   (Business Development)

With all good things, came a few not so good things. I realized that I depended on someone else to tell me what to do from time to time! I had to do a reality check about my productivity and felt a little alone for a while as we were finding what worked for our team. I found that without someone to report to, I didn’t communicate enough about what I was doing or how the sales business was going.  This wasn’t only bad for me, but it was bad for the team.


The Amazing

Greg   (Product Development)

The most amazing thing about going teal has been all the positive qualities it’s brought out in the team:  unity, trust, openness, to name a few.  It’s democratic to be involving all members of the team in decision-making, and reassures everyone that we all have an equal voice.

The sense of trust comes from our full transparency on things like salaries, company financials, and company direction and strategy.  For example, although it definitely felt strange when we went around the table telling the team about our personal compensation packages, it did a great job of clearing the air and building trust.  There were some surprises, perhaps the biggest one being the wide range of complicated pay & bonus structures that we all have.  Once it was all out in the open, we could then look at where the discrepancies were and what could be done to correct them.  So, although I wouldn’t name salary transparency itself as an amazing aspect of our teal transition, the effect of doing it, and the vulnerability and trust that it engendered, have gone a long way toward bringing the team together.

At our two-day team offsite, I really had the sense that our work as a team on transparency, trust and openness was paying off in a level of camaraderie and optimism that I don’t think would have been possible without all the work we’ve done going teal over the past 7 months.


Ian   (Product Development)

What’s amazing about our transition is how far we’ve come in six short months. This exercise of thinking back over the journey so far really makes that apparent. Despite the challenges faced, we’ve built an incredible trust between the individual team members and can feel confident that we’re all pulling in the same direction towards the same goals. We’re not there yet, but the promise of what lies ahead as we continue to grow and mature is incredible.


Edwin   (Marketing)

It has been amazing to see how self-management has created a richer environment for personal and leadership development. The two biggest drivers of this are increased feedback, and more leadership opportunities.

People have taken to heart that going Teal means we all own our engagement and results, and each person has the responsibility to provide direct feedback to others when they’re feeling let down or uncomfortable by a situation. This drives growth both for the person who has to respectfully deliver the feedback, as well as those receiving it.

I have received gifts of direct feedback I never would have heard when I was a manager. And there’s also the indirect feedback I’ve received simply by seeing which of my ideas and initiatives are supported, and which are not. Leadership at Fitzii is about people following along because they believe in you and your ideas, not your title. It’s amazing to see this Darwinian approach to ideas in action – the good ones thrive, and the bad ones die.

Similarly, because anyone can make any decision, and we all share the responsibility to fix problems and capitalize on opportunities, there has been an amazing amount of leadership sprouting out all over. Each person on the team has taken on projects they’re passionate about, and because of this we’re a much more resilient and responsive business than ever before. In a traditional business there are structured leadership training programs. It feels like a self-managed company is leadership training on steroids, but using real situations and without having to spend a dime!


Luz   (Hiring Success)

Imagine all your career you’ve been tied to a post and asked to run. You have run well and are fit and enjoy the exercise. Then suddenly someone unties you and says now try running.

For me, going teal, somehow feels like my potential – for creativity, for progress, for results, for enjoyment, for learning – has been unleashed. And having experienced what it’s like to run untethered, it would be very hard to go back to the hitching post.


Carla   (Hiring Success)

The most amazing and rewarding experience with Teal so far has been taking on an initiative of my own and implementing the advice process.

Following the advice process and proposing this idea was both nerve wracking and exhilarating. Taking an idea from conception to implementation was something I’ve never experienced in the workplace and hadn’t even hoped to experience in the first year of my career. I felt a greater sense of ownership and it gave me a new sense of pride and accomplishment. Many employers talk about owning your work and having a stake in the company’s success, but this was the first time I had ever truly felt that.

It gave me a lot of respect for the process that one needs to go through when making a team decision, and certainly changed my view on what leaders in an organization are often tasked with.

There was a tense moment where my own vision and plans directly clashed with our Head of Marketing’s ideas for my proposed initiative. I respected his opinion and I often looked for him to advice. But seeing the evidence in front of me and my own intuition, I truly felt that the best decision to go with was not the one he suggested. What’s more I knew that our whole team really believed in this process and that to make a decision to appease a superior would be missing the point entirely. I knew that I had his and the entire team’s support to make the decision I felt was best, and in the end I was congratulated by him when he remarked: “you did exactly the opposite of my suggestion. That’s awesome!”

All around it was one of the most rewarding and valuable learning experiences I had this year.


Jonna   (Business Development)

The learning; constant, enlightening, learning, sums up my amazing! Through our peer 360 reviews (which were done with no judgement and was one of the greatest gifts I’ve received) I learnt what my colleagues needed from me and how to better deliver my communication. I watched our team start to really gel, and all head in the same direction, not for the bettering of us as individuals but the bettering of our team (and investors). Learning to stretch my mind, think in news ways, see our business from more than a sales aspect (really how often does sales pay attention to operations in a usual company?). It gets me excited every day to see how we can run our business in a more thoughtful, mindful, superior way.


The Experiment Continues

Overall the Fitzii team is extremely happy with our progress in creating a self-managed workplace. We’ve learned a ton and we can see the growth continuing for the foreseeable future. It’s also been a lot of fun!

Many of us remarked that it actually wasn’t such a big deal to become self-managed. No one’s job changed dramatically, no one had to make major behaviour changes, and there was no hell breaking loose. That’s likely because we already were a small, highly engaged team, who didn’t have much autocratic management happening. Larger organizations, or ones with managers who do a lot of dictating, would probably have more dramatic growing pains.

We’ll be continuing to publish articles about our journey every few weeks, with the next ones covering the incredible value we found in a 360 peer review process, and the juicy learnings involved in exposing and then self-setting our compensation.

If you’d like to follow along don’t forget to sign up below, and if you have any questions or feedback, we’d love to hear from you in the comments.

We Eliminated Management!… see what happens

About seven months ago – on Valentine’s Day to be exact – the team here at Fitzii had a fun ceremony to celebrate that we had officially eliminated any “management” responsibilities within the team.

We saluted each other and said… 

“We don’t have managers anymore!”

Why We Got Rid of Management

It all started when we came across an amazing book called Reinventing Organizations, by Frederic Laloux, which details the practices of 12 thriving organizations who replaced traditional hierarchical management with “self-management” practices.

These organizations made a radical shift towards employee empowerment and as a result created workplaces with amazingly high engagement and incredible performance.

The more we learned about this new organizational paradigm, which Laloux labelled “Teal”, the more we believed that it could not only benefit Fitzii – the self-management approach could solve many of the chronic issues plaguing business today.

So we bit hard – hook, line, and all.

Lucky for us, Fitzii’s parent company, the Ian Martin Group, is a B-Corp, part of a growing movement to improve the ability of business to positively impact the world. Many B Corps are attracted to self-management practices, and so with strong encouragement, we started down the road.

How ‘Self-Management’ Works

These days at Fitzii, no one has any special manager authority. Instead, we adopted a set of expectations for how decisions are made, using what is commonly known as the “advice process”.

Following the advice process means that anyone can make any decision, provided they first seek the advice of people affected by the decision, as well as any subject matter experts.

This is not a democratic or committee approach – the individual decision maker is left to make and be accountable for their decision – but they must seek and thoroughly consider all the advice they gather.

This requirement to work through decisions with all the right people not only drives both careful and creative thinking, it also uses the power of peer bonds to ensure that unpopular decisions are carefully weighed, reasoned, and explained.

Managing decisions through some version of the advice process is the keystone habit of self-managing organizations, but there are many other key activities that managers formerly took care of. Things like strategic planning, employee performance reviews, compensation setting, onboarding, hiring and (gulp) firing.

On the day we agreed to be rid of management roles we also decided to gradually implement self-management changes to all these processes as a team, with one person typically leading interested team-mates to come up with our own new way of handling each thing.

Learning From Our Journey

Now that we’re more than six months into our self-management journey we’ve had many conversations with people curious to see how it’s going. This is a major change, there’s lots to experiment with, and the payoff could be game-changing.

We were originally inspired by the 12 organizations Laloux investigated, but also have benefited from reading about other companies transforming into self-management, like the social media startup Buffer, and Zappos, the online shoe retailer who are implementing Holacracy (a more structured form of self-management).

The Zappos transformation has made self-management the biggest buzz in HR right now, and even mainstream publications like the New York Times and Atlantic are asking: “Are bosses necessary?

With all this interest, we think it’s our turn to give back and share our experiences with self-management. Hopefully we can inspire and help other organizations learn from this paradigm shift.

So from here on in, on this blog, Fitzii team members will share our progress, wins, mistakes and learnings for all to see.

Here’s a brainstormed list of potential titles for upcoming posts, which you can expect to come out every few weeks:

Why Comp Transparency Wasn’t as Scary as We Thought

How our 360 Peer Reviews Made the Best Annual Reviews Ever

Finding the Right Balance of Internal Transparency & Oversharing

The Incredible “AHAs” of We Found in Polarity Management

What We’ve Learned About Roles & Hierarchy

Lessons Learned Implementing the Advice Process

Using ‘Ask Me Anything’ (AMAs) to Bond a Team

Our Process for Intuiting Fitzii’s Evolutionary Purpose

What We Learned in the First Six Months of Self-Management

[Update May, 2016: we’ve written quite a few of these posts, which you can find by clicking the ‘Self-Management & Teal’ category. The most comprehensive articles are the Six Month and One Year reviews that we did. Enjoy!]

If you’d like to be notified when the next post drops, just sign up for updates on the very bottom of this page.

In the meantime, check out the fiery five minute speech I gave at DisruptHR a couple months ago, called ‘Let’s Get Rid of Managers’.

Are you with us? Let us know what you think in the comments…

Unfortunately you can’t see my super-slick slides in the video, so I posted them here on Slideshare. People make fun of me for my addiction to PowerPoint, but this talk actually required 20 slides which automatically moved along every 15 seconds. ‘Twas a slice of heaven for moi. Here’s all the talks if you’d like to see some more of them.