Investing in people is one of the most important things you can do as a business owner. As part of the teal series, this post focuses on the difference in approaching training between a predominantly ‘orange’ and ‘teal’ organization. I’ll also address what teal training will look like.
If you missed the previous parts of the teal series, here is a summary:
- What does a teal organizational structure look like?
- What does teal project management look like?
- What does real leadership look like?
- What might teal hiring look like?
- What might teal onboarding look like?
In this post, I’ll first outline the typical ‘orange’ characteristics of training within an organization. Then I’ll look at what a more ‘teal’ approach might look like. Finally, I’ll outline a rough roadmap to transition from ‘orange’ to ‘teal’.
Why invest in training
People, or human capital, are by far your most valuable resource as a business owner. When you see people as assets rather than replaceable parts, it makes sense to increase their value over time, as it will increase your business value over time.
A key benefit of investing in training people is the probability that it will increase people’s loyalty. There is little need to search for greener pastures when there is a possibility to grow with a company. This is of course provided the other hygiene factors are met. People will feel more valued when you invest in them, and in return, they will be more likely to stay loyal.
“Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” – Richard Branson
There any many other benefits to training people, with a more quantifiable one being the ability to deduct the expense from tax. Enabling growth and innovation as a result of training also has the likelihood of extending the organization’s lifespan.
Although there are many more benefits to training, like the ability to be more productive and able to deliver better service, let’s move on to what training typically looks like in an ‘orange’ organization.
In a more traditional ‘orange’ organization, training is usually carefully curated by the Human Resources team. It is often only available to top performers or those identified for future leadership roles. Training is closely linked to a specific role, and success is commonly measured by obtaining a certificate. It is treated as a once-off investment.
The key characteristics of typical ‘orange’ onboarding include:
1. external, usually off-site
Training is typically provided by an external training provider that specializes in one area or skill. The training is usually off-site at the training provider.
As training is done by an external party, it is usually rather general. If, for example, a team attends Scrum training, the trainer teaches the specifics of the Scrum framework without taking into consideration the organization’s internal dynamics and ways of working. Whether you are an engineering manager or an HR professional, the contents are the same.
On the upside, this means you get a more pure perspective of a topic. On the downside, however, few people can apply these general skills back in the workplace. The work environment and structures are often very different from what was described in the blue sky training environment. To start using the knowledge gained, the existing ways of working need to be adapted, and few organizations prioritize this after training.
2. Selection based on accreditation
Human Resources is often responsible for finding training providers and suitable courses. They curate a list of reputable training providers. Often the primary selection criteria are to evaluate accreditation to certification bodies. While the benefit of this approach is that the training adheres to industry standards, it doesn’t guarantee good quality content. Only coverage of content.
3. Completion measures Success
Success is usually measured on course completion in a predominantly ‘orange’ paradigm. Once you’ve completed a course, you are rewarded with a certificate or label to proudly add to your profile or resume.
Most training providers test competence in a written exam format after completing classroom training.
An organization operating from a mainly teal paradigm treats training as an ongoing investment. Compared to an ‘orange’ paradigm, where the certification marks the completion of the investment, in a ‘teal’ paradigm, certification makes the beginning of the investment.
For more on my perspective on the training process, you might also read “Redefining the learning process”. The key takeaway is that obtaining a certification is a tool for awareness. It allows you to ask the right questions, but it doesn’t guarantee competence. That takes practice.
Below are the key characteristics in more detail:
1. Hands-on and contextual
Training in a ‘teal’ operating paradigm is often in-house and more hands-on than a typical ‘orange’ operating paradigm. Rather than go to an external training provider, a training provider is asked to adapt the material to be more specific to the organization.
Training is specific to the team or organization rather than generic, as in an ‘orange’ paradigm. There is more context surrounding the training topic that aims to bridge the theoretical knowledge and the practical application thereof.
2. Evidence measures success
A key difference between ‘orange’ and ‘teal’ is how success is measured.
In a predominantly ‘teal’ organization, success is measured by the ability to apply the newly gained skill or knowledge in different situations. Having the certification isn’t enough. After completing the course, the team is typically asked to apply their newly gained skills in a practical project. For more on this perspective, I recommend reading “5 Steps towards Mastery in Learning“.
There is space and time allocated to experiment and reflect after training finishes. The people that went on training will plan and implement an experiment on a real project to practice and integrate their new skills. They will reflect on the learnings – both what worked and what didn’t – and demo the results to other team members.
This means people extend their investment to others in the organization, compounding the value. More collaboratively, skills get cross-pollinated when people and teams openly share their successes and failures.
3. Selected by people
Certifications and accreditation become less important in a ‘teal’ operating paradigm. Experience is far more important than certifications. The people also own their training path and have a dedicated personal budget. They have the freedom to choose how to spend.
Each person is responsible for their personal development. They might choose to spend their training budget on attending conferences, or maybe they prefer to buy books. Maybe they most enjoy attending formal classroom sessions or enrolling in degree programs. Or maybe they choose to work with one coach while another prefers someone else. Each person has the freedom to make their own choices, supported by the organization. The emphasis moves from dictating and controlling to supporting and nurturing.
When group training requires a minimum amount of people, people self-organize to find other interested people. They may also opt to give one person the responsibility to facilitate and organize training as in a more typical ‘orange’ environment, with the difference being that they have the freedom to change this decision and structure when it no longer works for them.
Getting from orange to teal
The main difference between training in a predominantly ‘orange’ paradigm and a ‘teal’ one relates to being more practical and collaborative. Below is a possible roadmap to transition to a more teal way of training.
1. Introduce demos
The first item to meaningfully focus on is to introduce space and time for people to showcase and share their learnings with others within the organization.
After completing training, give people adequate time to apply their new skills on an actual project facilitated by their coach or mentor. Schedule a team demo where they could share the new talent and show the benefit by comparing a before and after scenario. The demo could include a hypothesis, what was done, what worked, what didn’t work and how it was solved.
Another example of the concept of demos is hackathons, where people can work on any project of their choice, showing the results at the end of the hackathon. The goal of these hackathons is more that of exploration and what could be.
The key, however, is to share knowledge by showing rather than telling.
2. Allocate a personal training budget
The next step is to distribute the central training budget to individuals and, with that, the responsibilities surrounding training.
The policies and procedures might need to be updated. At a minimum, include what is acceptable to spend money on and what is not and when to initiate the decision-making process. For example, you might conclude that anyone can choose any training of their choice as long as they can show a benefit or improvement in their work productivity. For other companies, it might be that if any training is selected that doesn’t directly support an employee’s primary role, they need to initiate the decision-making process.
3. Create a shared knowledge repository
As a ‘teal’ organization leverages the knowledge of the whole, creating a shared knowledge repository is essential for long-term success. This is also the most challenging part of the transition, thus making sense to do it last. Once the process is streamlined and working, start solidifying the outputs in a more long-lasting structure. Attempting this too early might restrict you from something better in the future; thus, be patient.
Create a shared space where people can share and review their learnings. It might be a Dribble-like website with images and videos of learning projects. Or it might be a searchable community like the VSCode, Figma or Miro shared resource library. It might simply be a dedicated Notion site or internal wiki. Or a shared Google Drive with free format content.
The key is that the objective and benefits of the training are clear. It is also important that others can comment on and review it. Ideally, make it possible to filter successful experiments and improvements based on a problem or keyword. The more one solution is re-used in the organization, the more valuable the results from the training.
Teal organizations democratize learning. It becomes a shared experience where people can learn and teach together. The focus is less on obtaining certifications and more on applying the skills to improve the quality of work and productivity. Success is measured by tangible results and how learning a new skill improves the quality of service or delivery.
The goal is to invest in the organization’s people, which ultimately leads to the success of the organization. Training is seen as a way to achieve the organizational purpose, with freedom regarding how individuals will do this.
Are you ready to transition to a more teal way of working?
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With more than 20 years experience in the software development industry, Kate specializes in helping teams get unstuck, communicate better and ultimately be more productive. She believes in efficiency through fun implementing lean, agile and playful design as tools for process improvement and organizational change. Her goal is to create more happy, healthy and whole workplaces where each person thrives and productivity soars.