March 08th, 2017
Dimo’s Goes Teal: An Organizational Evolution
Since we opened our doors as Dimo’s in 2012, our goal has always been to empower our team members to stake a claim in the organization. But even after many transformations and changes, our company still hadn’t realized true empowerment in our operations. Particularly, we saw a bottleneck at the management level of our organizations. Our leaders had too much responsibility, which both prevented our team members from reaching their full potential and prevented our managers from attaining a healthy and fulfilling role in the company. We knew something had to change.
In our search for something different, we found case studies of other companies succeeding under a model called Teal. Outlined in a book by Frederic Laloux called Reinventing Organizations, companies of different sizes and industries and from countries around the world found success using self-managing teams as a guiding principle. We thought this might work for us, too. So, for the last year our team has been on an ongoing journey to turn our organization Teal. We want to share the beginning stages of our evolution with you and hope that you’ll join in our movement to create a more dynamic company for our team members and cRustomers.
But before we get to Teal, we should probably start back at the beginning.
If you have ever worked in the restaurant and hospitality industry, you’ve probably experienced a strict hierarchy and defined roles. The managers implement new rules and systems from the top and channel it down. This has been the norm in our industry. As a result, employees often just follow orders (sometimes against their better judgement) and feel little ownership over their role. Clock in, make money, clock out, repeat.
This approach can be highly effective, especially in an industry that is known for high turnover. The rules are clearly outlined, and the upward mobility is merit-based for a select few who can put in the hard earned hours and move into a management role. A server can develop highly tuned skills in her or his role, moving into lucrative positions in fine dining. The same goes for the back of house, often with meticulous, creative positions for those in the culinary field. But the hierarchy still applies and is often more rigorously followed.
The trouble with this approach at Dimo’s is that we sought something more. A reason to get up in the morning. A calling to make our work meaningful—not for a select few, but for every team member. As such, our company followed a fairly natural progression. With an emphasis on internal growth, we developed a company culture focused on our values and philosophies.
Many of our dedicated cRustomers may know that this movement led to our Purposeful Passions, a commitment to giving back based around our three focus areas: bicycle advocacy, education and the arts. We upheld the tenets of open book management to maintain financial transparency about our progress and setbacks; we operated by the triple bottom line factoring in people, the planet, and profits to measure our success; and we trained our team members around our core values, including being data driven and showing a commitment to uncompromising quality.
“People see Dimo’s as a cool place to work. We get to choose our own music, and we get to wear whatever we want, and there’s no script for how we should act—we should put our own personality into it,” said Mikey Spiller, a team member at the Wicker Park location.
During this implementation, we grew a second store and developed a commissary. We created a set of centralized departments to implement new systems and support both stores. Yet still many of these successes came at the expense of a balanced work life for our leadership teams. Managers worked long hours and felt immense pressure to keep the ship afloat. Employees experienced burnout and only saw one path for growth toward managerial roles that didn’t seem all too appealing.
“We made the move into Teal because my goal has always been to create an organization whose members are liberated to achieve that which helps them actualize,” said founder, Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau.
In many ways, this natural transformation of our company mirrors the breakthroughs outlined in the aforementioned book by Laloux. He describes different stages of organizational evolution, as this diagram shows and this video explains in great detail.
We had started performing like a Green organization, as a values-centered company with a family-like mentality, driven by customer service. Yet our management and roles remained stuck in Amber, causing constant conflict between our operations and our mission.
“At just two stores, we adopted the traditional Amber organizational patterns with many remnants of Orange and Green. But the structure nonetheless remained stuck in Amber and try though we did, to incorporate as much Orange and Green as we could, still the ultimate problem was that we were stuck in a problem of our own creation,” said Syrkin-Nikolau. “Thus, instead of growing outwardly, we chose to grow on the inside and reinvent our structure in a way that matched the overarching need to provide power for all in a manner that is scalable.”
As Laloux describes from his research, there is nothing wrong with any one of these phases, it’s just a matter of finding what works. Once someone reaches a Teal mindset, he or she can still pull from other colors to find the right solution to complex operational issues.
In this sense, a company is a living entity, and it needs the right nutrients to keep growing.
Now that we’ve started implementing Teal, have you noticed any differences around Dimo’s? Perhaps not. We haven’t made any drastic changes to our products or people. The most startling difference has been our biggest and most challenging undertaking—we have removed managers from our operating teams and are working towards autonomous self-managing teams.
“You’re allowed to think about what you do instead of being told what to do,” said Aaron Johnson, a member of the Wicker Park team. “It takes a very specific mindset to flourish in a Teal environment. Everyone has to be a leader.”
As self-managing teams, everyone in the organization can follow our decision making process and move an idea into reality. This protocol asks that the team member garner the advice of experts in the topic of interest, as well as anyone who would be affected by the decision. Once that person weighs the advice of all parties, he or she can move forward with the decision. Even if others disagree, it’s on the decision maker to determine the best course of action.
“The idea behind the decision making process is that now that there’s not one person at the top telling people what is happening, anybody is able to make decisions. To stop anarchy, we created this process,” said Jay Westcott, the director of operations, providing support to both stores.
In some ways, this is the ultimate power, but just as Uncle Ben reminds us, this also brings great responsibility. It’s up to the teams to decide how to problem solve and move forward. Once team members are fully trained, they can begin taking on additional roles to help the store function effectively. From ordering food and recruiting new candidates to creating the specials boards and planning events, it’s entirely up to the team member to decide how she or he wants to grow and at what speed.
“We have a couple of people now who are fully trained and looking at what they can do to better the store. That’s literally what roles are about—how can you make the store function well? A lot of people are starting to think this way,” said Kae Flester, a member of the Wrigleyville team. “It’s thoughtful investment versus just coming in and accepting things for the way they are. When people bring ideas like that it’s pretty clear that they are invested.”
The transition is still a work in progress. At times, the responsibility has been a tough and overwhelming adjustment for team member. Many are still testing the boundaries, with the support of mentors and feedback from peers. Of course, we’re still working out the right answer when a cRustomer asks to speak to a manager—whether for good or bad reasons.
“You have to take ownership over everything you do. You have to make these decisions that affect everyone. It’s a lot more in your face. I’m not a number here; I’m part of what makes everything run,” said Johnson.
The beauty of Teal is that it is, at the most basic level, just a mindset shift. Once you commit to working in Teal and have the right tools available, the transformation is ongoing. Since we have built our own systems from scratch, we know that there will be more challenges. It’s messy, and we’re all learning together. Over the next few months, we will continue to share aspects of this transition with you. We’ll walk through some of our systems and what we hope to see for the future of Dimo’s. We hope you’ll join in the dialogue.
Next time you grab a slice, ask for a manager and see what happens.