How are you using your time?
How are you using your time?

What might teal time commitments look like?

How a time commitment is approached in an organization predominantly operating from a teal paradigm is very different from how a predominantly ‘orange’ organization operates. An organization operating from a predominantly orange paradigm sets the time commitment in the initial contract. Processes, salaries, and benefits are almost always expecting a full-time commitment from employees. Flexibility around time commitments is mostly unheard of. An organization operating from a mainly teal paradigm handles time commitments very differently.

This post outlines the importance of a time commitment related to productivity from a teal paradigm perspective.  It also proposes an alternative approach to productivity without full-time time commitments from employees.

If you missed the previous posts in the series, here is a summary:

But first, let’s take a step back and understand the characteristics of a time commitment and how it relates to productivity.

What is productivity?

When I asked ChatGPT to define productivity in one sentence, this is what it came up with:
“Productivity is the effective use of your time and resources to accomplish tasks and goals efficiently.”

Time is an essential foundation of anything associated with productivity as most people understand it. Another definition of productivity from Investopedia states that “At the corporate level, productivity is a measure of the efficiency of a company’s production process, it is calculated by measuring the number of units produced relative to employee labour hours or by measuring a company’s net sales relative to employee labour hours.”

Again time is the baseline for calculating productivity in the workplace according to them.  As a result of this definition of productivity many, if not most, companies tend to rely on time sheets and time in general to optimize their organizational productivity.

All of this of course makes sense, provided you are clear on the goal.  If the goal is purpose-driven, as in the case of organizations operating from a predominantly teal paradigm, time isn’t necessarily the best way to measure productivity.  But first, let’s look at time in a bit more depth.

About time

Time is the one constant thing about our world. We can rely on the fact that every day will last 24 hours day will always be followed by night. Without any exception. Time is a law of the earth much like gravity.

Many people, however, don’t spend a lot of time thinking about time.  Here are some characteristics of time to provide more context as to how it relates to productivity in the age of knowledge workers:

1. You can’t save time

Time is arguably the most valuable resource available to us. Every big company knows this and actively looks for ways to hold your attention, and thus time.  There is, however, one big misunderstanding when it comes to time.  You can’t save time.

It’s not possible to spend time you didn’t use today later. As a limited resource, time can only be spent. It can’t be saved.

The perception in many cases is that the faster you do something, the more productive you are.  This perception, however, isn’t always true. Just because you did something faster doesn’t mean you did the right thing.  Often people ‘save’ time by doing something faster simply to have to go back again at a later stage to correct what was missed with the first fast delivery.  In the end, you never saved any time, you merely postponed when you spent it.  Or worst case, you wasted it by spending it on the wrong thing.

2. Time is useful to measure progress

Another key characteristic of time is that it is useful to measure progress. You can’t go back in time. You can only move forward in time. If you don’t use your time on any day, you stand still on the metaphorical progress line.

Time allows you to know where you are in relation to where you were, and where you want to go.  Without a clear goal, any time you spend is unproductive.  You might be busy, but that is no guarantee that you are moving towards your goal.

3. Time enables face-to-face meetings

While you might randomly bump into someone in your local neighbourhood, doing business globally requires that you agree on a specific time to connect. Time is the tool that allows two people’s realities to intersect or come together.

Time is useful to allow two or more people to meet. It’s a social agreement between two or more people that enables human connection.

4. It always takes longer than planned

People are notoriously bad at planning. Whenever I speak to a seasoned project manager and ask them about their ability to deliver on time, the answer is nearly never. On average all projects take about 20% longer than anticipated. Humans tend to overestimate their ability to do something.

This means that time is more useful as a marker in relation to where you want to be than absolute goals in many cases.  It’s ready when it’s ready.  Or it’s ready when you decide that you don’t want to spend any more time and are willing to accept the risk of delivering.

5. Time is a cycle, not a straight line

Rather than looking at time as a finite, straight line, it’s a cycle. The cycle of time, like the clock, goes around rather than in one straight line.  There’s always another Monday.  There’s always another January.  Also, there’s always another year.  There’s always another opportunity.  When you view products or services in this circular way, you can more easily focus on what’s most important right now rather than try to finish everything at once.

Time is one aspect of a more complex design of life. The cycle of life relates to time, but time doesn’t guarantee a specific result. In nature, for example, a seed doesn’t flower based on a schedule. It flowers when the conditions are right. There needs to be enough sunshine, water, quality soil, pollinating insects, air, and time, for a seed to grow into a flower. Even when all these elements are in place it doesn’t guarantee that all seeds will flower.

Time is a cycle.  It isn’t one-dimensional as we tend to look at it.

6. Results are not proportionate to effort

In the book “The Art of Systems Thinking” the author explains that “…you can get a big change for a small effort when you know the leverage point.” Conversely, also, you can spend a lot of effort without any results when you don’t understand the system.

When you look at an organization as a living system, it’s not about the amount of effort but where you spend the effort that determines your productivity. To change a system you need to find the balancing and reinforcing loops. Time alone is not an effective measure of productivity.

7. Inspiration requires relaxation

It is no coincidence that most inventions in the world were either a result of an accident, like the discovery of penicillin and Post-it notes, or came to someone while they were taking a shower, walking, or simply relaxing.  Creative ideas can only be perceived when you’re relaxed.  It happens in the absence of being busy.

When you fully occupy your mind with busy work, it’s hard to come up with original ideas. Inspiration requires a relaxed mind free from thought or time constraints.  Like a cluttered home doesn’t have space for new articles, so too a cluttered mind doesn’t have space for new ideas and inspiration.

A typical ‘orange’ organization, which roughly came to being at the start of the Industrial Revolution, requires optimization around time. To build cars in a factory, for example, you needed to make the best possible use of daylight time. Workers’ hands were the resource most valued.

In the knowledge era, we are no longer bound by daylight to be productive. Our most valuable resource today is our mind, not our hands. For knowledge workers to be productive, they need time to relax.

A teal approach to productivity

With these properties of time in mind, let’s re-look at productivity and how to measure it in an organization operating from a predominant teal paradigm.

Most ‘orange’ companies’ primary goal is to make money based on goods made, like manufacturing cars or clothes. With the primary goal of making money, it makes sense to sell and measure time. If, however, you are a purpose-driven organization, the primary measure of productivity can no longer sufficiently be measured in time. For a purpose driven the primary measure of success is impact. Profit is a consequence of this success, not the primary goal.

With that in mind, here is an alternative equation to measure productivity:

Productivity = goal x feedback × motivation²

First and foremost the goal and purpose need to be clearly defined and accepted by everyone involved to be considered productive. Second, you need to find the balancing and reinforcing loops and design feedback loops around this. Thirdly, human motivation is probably the biggest factor in an information age where creativity and the ability to learn is your biggest differentiator.  A motivated person will be able to do something in a fraction of the time of a demotivated person.

Time isn’t a factor in this equation of productivity. Not that time becomes unimportant. It might still be useful to measure time on occasion to understand where the bottleneck in the system is. It does, however, not have the same importance and focus as in a predominantly ‘orange’ organization.

What might teal time management look like?

With this equation for productivity, let’s look at some of the main characteristics and how time commitment can be handled within an organization predominantly operating from a teal paradigm.

1. Asynchronous work

There are so many benefits to working in an asynchronous manner that it deserves a separate post. Being able to focus without interruption arguably being the most valuable, followed shortly by the ability to work according to your schedule for maximum productivity.

If you’re not familiar with working asynchronously, simply put it means that everyone isn’t online at the same time, and by default, you don’t expect an immediate response when you ask a question. This does not mean you never work together, and actually, you have a better chance of having someone online at odd hours than in a traditional model. It merely means that you don’t expect to get an immediate answer as is the case when you are co-located in a physical office.

This of course requires clearly defined outcomes as well as responsible employees with good communication skills. It also assumes a clear team agreement and communication plan where everyone explicitly agrees on when and how to communicate with other team members. Most importantly, and most valuable in my opinion, it means that employees need to plan and think things through before asking for help immediately when they run into a problem.

A predominant ‘teal’ organization (that isn’t customer-facing like a physical retail store), designs around asynchronous and flexible work hours.

2. Outcomes over time

For asynchronous work to be effective, outcomes need to be clearly defined.  When you can’t keep an eye on employees to see whether they are contributing or productive, results become even more important than before. If you get the outcomes you wanted, you have to assume that the people were contributing and productive.

A predominantly teal organization spend adequate time defining clear outcomes that are aligned with the organizational purpose and values.  The why and the what matter more than the how. The single most important question to ask is “How will you know you’ve achieved your desired outcome?” What evidence will there be that the objective has been met? What will people do differently as a result of the work? What will you see when it’s done?

3. Value or project-based billing over time-based billing

A typical ‘orange’ organization defaults to time-based contracts and billing and full-time employees. Employees are paid for their time and customers are billed for time spent on a project. In a predominantly ‘teal’ organization, however, the trend moves towards project- or value-based billing.

Employees are considered trusted partners rather than owned employees.  Rather than adding the responsibility and risk of employing a lot of people full-time, there is typically a small core team with an available resource pool of trusted collaborators that can be called on as and when needed, as Neo does.

A project is either quoted as a fixed amount based on the outcome, or the value of the project is agreed upon and used as a baseline for billing. For example, if you help move the needle in a company that results in a 10 million profit, the value might be a % of the gain. If, on the other hand, there are no measurable improvements, you might revert to a much lower fee to cover some basic costs.

The movement is toward evidence-based billing. Traditionally, consultants come into a business with the promise of an outcome. Regardless of whether the promise is delivered, they still get paid for their time.  The same is true for employees who get paid for showing up regardless of what they do. A teal approach puts more emphasis on the ability to achieve results.  You pay for the outcome rather than the time.

Getting from orange to teal

Moving from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’ requires taking an initial risk and building trust over time.  It’s advised to choose a low-risk and small project to begin with. Once you’ve seen the benefits and have more trust in the approach can you scale it up to bigger and more projects.

Here is a rough guide to get from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’:

1. Define the desired outcome

What do you want? First and foremost the desired outcome needs to be clearly defined. Coaching can be useful to help clarify the outcome. If you don’t have a coach you can call on, you can use this cheat sheet to articulate what is called Well Formed Outcomes.

Think about the evidence you will see at the end of a specific time, the constraints, as well as the budget you have available for this.  The more tangible an outcome, the higher the probability that you will achieve it.

2. Manage expectations

The next step is to explicitly manage expectations, especially around a time commitment. How often do you expect the employee to check in with you? What do you want to know and when? When should they inform you of slippage? When do you expect them to initiate the advice or decision-making process?

What happens when they don’t meet these expectations? What are the consequences?

Collaboratively design a contract to specify the expectations and desired outcome for each project.  Communicate whether someone is considered part of the full-time core team or a part-time collaborator.

3. Ending a project

Handling a project termination is the final step to take into consideration when transitioning to a project or value-based approach.

When does the project end? Is there a specific end date? Or will the project only end when the desired outcome has been met? What if you or the employee wants to terminate the contract before the specified end date? How do you handle this?

Are you ready for teal?

Having control over people’s time doesn’t guarantee productivity.  An organization operating primarily from a teal paradigm is flexible with its time commitment and focuses on the outcomes rather than the time spent.

Transitioning to a more teal way of operation doesn’t have to result in chaos, and it doesn’t have to disrupt the status quo.  The question is whether the pain of staying where you are is bigger than the pain of trying something new.

Are you ready to take a step towards a more teal way of operating?  Do you need help to diagnose where you are and define a strategy to transition towards teal?  Do you need a coach to instil a more teal way of operating in your organization?  Find out about an organizational growth coaching program tailored to your organization.  Or get in contact to design a consulting or mentoring engagement to help take your organization to teal.

Originally published in People Development Magazine: