Using the TEAL model to bring the human touch to tech

No job titles or line managers. The MD of Mindera, where TEAL is followed, explains how it works
Richard Hilsley

Getting your company’s workplace culture right is one of the most critical challenges faced by senior tech leaders. Staff retention, performance, and growth are all predicated on environments that engage, value, stimulate, and reward staff.

And in the tech industry that places a huge amount of value on innovation and delivering solutions at pace, it’s especially important that your culture is agile, and highly responsive.

This is something that was thought about long and hard when Mindera was conceived by a group of industry veterans, over a pizza, in 2014.

They’d experienced a range of cultural challenges that are often part and parcel of working in larger tech businesses: from the isolation of being ‘cogs in the machine’ to the superficial, short-term benefits of being well-remunerated in return for unmanageable workloads.

What united them was their desire to create a caring environment, work with like-minded, inspiring people, and do great projects with partners.

It seemed like an almost unrealizable ask, but a framework for achieving this was provided by the TEAL organisational philosophy - a philosophy Mindera has adhered to since day one.

This unconventional management approach promotes self-organisation, individual empowerment, diversity of background and experience, and eschews traditional organisational hierarchies.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means ‘Minders’ are encouraged to be autonomous and take personal responsibility for their career development by working on projects that interest them.

It also means that Minders don’t have job titles or traditional line managers, and are encouraged to start and participate in initiatives they believe will be helpful for themselves and others.

To the uninitiated it could sound like a recipe for chaos, but TEAL has been fundamental to our growth over the past decade.

Most importantly, its chief benefit is how it positively impacts a business’ ability to innovate through a humanistic and inclusive approach.

How TEAL can make tech innovation more human and inclusive

When working with technology, the ‘best work’ usually solves problems and provides solutions with a human touch. What do I mean by that? Essentially, that the technology is built ethically and designed with the user in mind.

Consider the issue du jour, AI; software engineers must take care to avoid inaccuracy through bias or ‘hallucinations’ in large language models that form the basis of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT. Clearly, human supervision is needed to combat this.

A good example of this risk is in the financial sector. If AI models are poorly trained, then accuracy of financial advice is deeply questionable, for example, when checking a customer’s borrowing eligibility. It poses a significant problem, and it’s why authorities around the world are pushing for greater safeguards to protect consumers from potential AI bias. President Biden’s recent executive order is a good case in point, emboldening the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to require banks to ensure that their AI-based decision making models do not discriminate against protected groups.1

Using TEAL to empower developers to create impactful technology

In addition to helping make tech more inclusive, TEAL also supports creativity and innovation. It does this by affording employees the time to learn about emerging fields and giving them the freedom to collaborate with others and be trusted to fail.

In most hierarchical companies, this can be difficult to achieve. Traditional structures tend to operate with much narrower job descriptions and areas of responsibility, making it difficult to ‘step outside the box’ you find yourself in. They stifle the opportunity for personal growth where cross-team collaboration becomes more of an ambition than a reality and failure is still viewed negatively. By contrast, TEAL organisations encourage everyone to have an opinion and collaborate. This is especially powerful when the team is diverse, as multiple perspectives can be taken into account. The autonomous nature of the TEAL model allows people to explore new ideas and new areas of technology without limitations.

TEAL trusts people to turn their attention to activities that make sense for the business, develop new skills, play to their strengths and move on if an idea does not work. All of this contributes to an environment where people can innovate which is a crucial muscle to development in technology businesses like Mindera. Not only is this beneficial for the team members, it also allows for the company to be agile and open to new opportunities.

It’s time to embrace TEAL

I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact the TEAL structure has on Mindera day to day.

There’s countless examples of individuals moving across client work and changing the focus of their role, ‘testing out’ new experiences and challenges, gaining new skills, growing as more rounded individuals and exploring alternative career paths. For example, we’ve had people working in recruitment move to account exec roles, test engineers move to product owner roles or business analysis and so on. Of course, we manage these changes carefully so as to not impact our clients.

We assemble teams extremely quickly, with people coming together very naturally and organically to swarm around a particular problem that needs solving or to deliver a project for a client. Our current rebranding and marketing strategy is a great example of this, where we have quite a large and geographically diverse team all chipping in.

For organisations that are looking for agility, dynamism and autonomy in their employees, adopting TEAL as a philosophy is the single most impactful approach I’ve seen in my career to date.

By exploring alternative approaches like TEAL, tech companies can create workplaces that improve the well-being of the people in their teams, deliver great work, and empower individuals to do and feel their best.

And that’s what really matters.

Written by
June 25, 2024
Written by
Richard Hilsley
MD of Mindera
June 25, 2024