Archives August 2022

Succeeding in a large organisation that doesn’t (yet) have agile or open management

It’s not often we get to talk about our work in big corporates. They’re so sensitive about sharing, and so bound in controls. So I’m pleased to share a report with you, with permission but anonymised. I would love to give them credit for the great advances they are making, but sadly we can’t identify them.

After our webinar Open Management: From Theory to Practical [in Vietnamese] Dr Cherry Vu had a question from a unit head: “What can I do if I’m in a large system that doesn’t have agile or open management?”

Perfectly timed, we received an email the day after from a Branch Director of a major bank [In the bank’s parlance, a “branch” is a geographic region with dozens of locations, run as a fairly independent business unit]. Fortunately, this client community (“Teal Tribe”) member helped us to answer the above question fully. It is fantastic what she and her people have achieved in less than a year. We asked permission to share with the community, translated from Vietnamese, hoping you find it helpful.

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Escalating decisions

I’ve seen again the WL Gore model of allowing employees to make “above the waterline” (i.e., low-risk) decisions on their own, and only requiring approvals for “below the waterline” (high-risk) decisions.

It always seems to me that this is just as patronising as not allowing employees to make any decisions at all.

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Forms of management

In the past; we have written a number of posts around the forms of management.  It is time to update and summarise them here as we get ready for our new book, Open Work. We see management in four forms: Executive, Value, Personnel, and Functional, and the not-manager role of coach.

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The word ‘open’ now underpins everything we do at Teal Unicorn. We believe the words ‘agile’ and ‘agility’ are overworked, over-stretched to cover more than the words actually mean. What do we mean by ‘open’?

Open Work, Open Management, open architecture, open systems design, open source, open access, open door, open space, open communication, open discussion, open leadership, open innovation, open for business, open ended, open up, open book, open eyes, open minded, open hearted.

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Being the owner of any digital asset (product, system, application, platform…) within a large corporate typically means making do with inadequate annual budget opex and inadequate people (in both numbers and capability) until the thing you own is so rundown that you obtain a large gob of project capex to try to clear the technical debt, which usually results in the decision to do a rip-and-replace which only causes new unfamiliar disruption and technical debt so you declare victory and move on (either internal or externally) to leave somebody else to manage the resulting mess instead because corporate politics is about sufficing, the lowest common denominator of management consensus, the art of the possible, so this pattern will repeat ad infinitum unless somebody in charge eventually decides there has to be a better way. </rant>

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Blog posts for July 2022

I’m moving all the news about Teal Unicorn to our newsletter, so please sign up for that to keep up with us.

In July, I got quite political (again).  This post grew into quite a manifesto 

Employees assess themselves and set their own pay

. Why not?  It can work.

…And I wrote some other diatribes:

Work will find its own level

For all the debate over work from home, or work from anywhere, or hybrid work, or return to the office because the Emperor of Mars says so, none of us – not even Elon Must – will control what happens.

Humans bring a lot more than processing power

People bring a lot more than processing power to the job. We aren’t wet robots. We contribute to a working community, not a production machine.

Retaining staff

A client is concerned at the number of people who move out of the organisation instead of moving within.

Don’t recruit strangers

If companies were less insular (or as we would say up here in the south: weren’t up their own arses) recruiting would be easier.

Freedom of religion

Religion in the workplace is such a delicate and nuanced topic. [So I stomped in]

Social advance

To recap what I’ve written elsewhere about social change, and specifically how capitalism isn’t the problem.


…Of course there was some philosophy of work:

Unintended consequences

Only some unintended consequences are foreseeable, and none are predictable.

Our radical view of the future

People (and organisations) are so wedded to predictability. No other area generates so much push back for the ideas in our S&T Happens book than the concept that we have zero information about what will happen next.


The world is advancing to higher ethical levels (despite regular evidence to the contrary). Young generations and rising middle classes are not going to stand for past behaviours from organisations. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues are becoming threats to companies. Integrity is becoming an essential element of organisational resilience. Building organisational integrity is a strategic response by governance to ethical challenges and risks. Integrity, governance, ethics, and risk are intertwined.


….There were a few more practical posts too:

The ASREDS loop

This is a really good artefact from the book Sooner Safer Happier, that we will use.

Our Shu-Ha-Ri technique

At Teal Unicorn, we have had a lot of success with a workshop to produce a Shu-Ha-Ri profile of a team, which unlocks higher performance, better results, and happier people.


I’m a huge fan of the general principle of picking your moment for a learning opportunity or a suggestion.


Finally, I reflected on our two months in Vietnam:

Vietnam prospering

If I were to sum up Vietnam in one word, it would be prosperity.