How this Canadian firm successfully adopted self-management

Lisa Gill
28 January 2020

A man stepping up some blocks towards a flag

Edwin Jansen is Head of Marketing at Fitzii which is a hiring platform for small and medium businesses based in Canada. Every February for the last four years, Fitzii has celebrated what they call “Valenteal’s Day”, as it marks the anniversary of when they decided to become a teal, self-managing organisation.

Edwin Jansen is Head of Marketing at Fitzii which is a hiring platform for small and medium businesses based in Canada. Every February for the last four years, Fitzii has celebrated what they call “Valenteal’s Day”, as it marks the anniversary of when they decided to become a teal, self-managing organisation.

I interviewed Edwin about what he’s learned for the Leadermorphosis podcast, which you can listen to here. These are some of the highlights of our conversation.

Getting started

Fitzii began the transformation from a traditional, hierarchical organisation to a self-managed one by looking at processes that involved a manager and how they could reinvent them. Given they were also a startup and therefore already very busy, they prioritised a few practices and “punted” the rest into the future.

The three stages of self-management adoption

Edwin’s noticed in the last six months or so that people seem to go through three stages of self-management adoption at Fitzii.

  • Head – people gain an intellectual understanding of the teal paradigm and how it’s different from, say, orange and green. At this point, people hopefully want it and say yes. Edwin says they can’t hire someone at Fitzii until they’re past this first stage.

  • Heart – the messy middle, the emotional stage. Edwin’s found that many people, when they start to get lots of feedback or they find themselves in a conflict, can become triggered, as their worldview starts to get challenged.

Here’s Edwin: “We like to say leadership development is a team sport. So the whole team gathers around that person and says we got you, you don’t have to be afraid of this thing. Ultimately they have an emotional awakening around that fear and realising they don’t have to operate out of that fear. We know someone is out of stage two when they’re able to put the needs of the team ahead of themselves because they’re no longer afraid that they have to take care of themselves. The team will take care of them.”

Fitzii has also been using the personality-type assessment tool Enneagram as a way to help people understand each other better and navigate the Heart stage.

Habit – Edwin says we never really get out of this stage, it’s a continual process of behavioural change. It’s about unlearning habits of the old paradigms, and it’s easy to get triggered and regress into old or bad habits.

Every February for the last four years, Fitzii has celebrated what they call “Valenteal’s Day”, as it marks the anniversary of when they decided to become a teal, self-managing organisation.

Fitzii’s feedback practice

Edwin told me, “We’ve spent a lot of time working on a clear expectation for how feedback is given and how feedback is received. It’s super important that we provide feedback as a gift and from a place of love, not from a place of fear. Fear begets fear.” Inspired by the book Feedback that Works, Fitzii has a three-point feedback model called SBI:

S – Situation.

B – Behaviour.

I – Impact on me (crucially, not a judgment or an interpretation, just an account of the impact the behaviour had on me).

They also have a three-letter acronym for how to receive feedback: TIR:

T – Thank you, i.e. acknowledging that it took courage, love and care to give this feedback. The more difficult the feedback, the bigger the gift is.

I – Inquire. Let me understand more about this feedback…

R – Record. Fitzii have “gamified” feedback by asking people to record the feedback they receive in Microsoft Teams with the hashtag #TIR. Peers give an award to feedback giver of the month.

Edwin reflects: “It’s been important for me as a former manager to be the best “TIR” in the company. I needed to do an over-the-top-job of making the person feel safe and rewarded for giving me the tough feedback.”

On leadership development

“I like to say going teal is like leadership development on steroids,” says Edwin. He says he learned more in the first couple of years not being the boss that fifteen years of being the boss. One of the reasons is that in a top-down hierarchy, subordinates are scared to give you feedback. Here’s what he’s learned about how to redress this:

“You have to be proactive in addressing perceived power and authority, you gotta make fun of yourself, you have to admit every mistake that you do, you have to be the most vulnerable person in the room, you have to speak last, if at all, not first, you have to undo this tendency that people have, the dynamic people have with you, for you to have power over… It’s very difficult to change your dynamic with people. I’ve found it helpful to just talk about it and put it out there.”

Some other key practices at Fitzii

Hiring – people are asked to do some core reading and understanding of the teal paradigm, and then do a “teal fit interview” where they spend time with multiple people in the company to get a sense of if they truly understand it and, more importantly, want it. They also make sure that candidates are up for the “heart” stage and the emotional turmoil this inevitably brings up.

  • Onboarding – each hire has a three month onboarding process with a “teal sponsor” who helps them adjust. Some people haven’t made it through this period, realising that self-management is too difficult for them or not what they want.

  • Radical Responsibility – this is a core principle which says that every person is 100% accountable for their own engagement in the work and their impact on the business and the team. If someone sees a problem or opportunity, they need to do something about it or let it rest.

  • Role Advice Process – anyone can announce at any time that they’re doing the Role Advice Process. They can ask some specific people to be advisors, but anyone can volunteer. Fitzii uses Loomio so everyone can see all of the feedback and the role as it’s moving through. The individual is essentially asked to understand themselves introspectively and get feedback around three things: What does the business need? What do I love/what’s purposeful for me? And: What am I good at/what are my strengths? Some people do multiple RAPs every year.

  • Decision-making – Fitzii decided to formalise their decision-making processes and so created a “Sensing and Responding” flow chart. It starts with noticing a problem or opportunity, then if you’re not sure you can post a #inkling. If you already know you want to do something about it, you can either use the advice process, or, if it impacts a lot of people, launch a sensing process where you get advice and stakeholder alignment and finally, use a Generative Decision Making process (developed by Samantha Slade and adapted from Holacracy.)

  • Transparent salaries – when Fitzii was just ten people, they had an “opening the kimono” meeting where everyone shared their salary, how it came to be, and how they felt about it. Similar to RAP, they have a Compensation Advice Process which people can do each quarter. Individuals announce it, answer a number of questions (how they feel, do some market research), then get advice (and can see all advice and feedback on Loomio), and “pinball” until a figure is arrived upon. It’s great for personal development, Edwin says.

What’s next?

Fitzii’s significantly larger parent company, teal as well. This will be an interesting challenge, not least because some of the team is based in India where the hierarchical culture appears to be much more ingrained. “Perhaps it will be a different shade of teal there,” Edwin reflects.

In general, though, he says in the last eighteen months, “I’m regularly like jaw on the floor, can’t believe how amazing this is. In every different way. The highlight for me is the connection that people have with each other, the level of trust and vulnerability, genuine care, and people bringing their whole selves to work.”