Teach For All: A Global Self-Managing Organisation

In: BlogDate: Feb 23, 2022By: Henry Stewart

Five years ago staff at Teach For All came together and proposed dismantling the senior team, changing the role of managers and exploring new ways of working. "The senior team was abolished on the spot!" explains Marwa Farouq, Global Head of Operations.

Marwa will be speaking at the 2022 Happy Workplaces Conference on May 12th about Teach for All's journey towards self-management. It is a remarkable story with a lot to learn from.

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That staff meeting was not entirely a surprise. Wendy Kopp, one of the two founders, had read Reinventing Organisations by Frederick Laloux, and had invited Laloux into the organisation.

Wendy talked about 'pebbles under the feet,' processes that were getting in the way of Teach For All being effective. One example was decisions having to go up to senior management, often without the people there who were actually performing the work.

So the senior team was abolished and the role of managers became to manage the work, not the people. Instead employees could choose to have a sponsor whose role was to be a coach, a mentor and an adviser. "The sponsor should be your biggest cheerleader in the organisation," explained Marwa, "giving you a safe space to explore."

Staff do their own performance management, informed by 360 degree feedback — and they decide who will provide that feedback.

Most self-managing organisations are currently in the developed world, so it is fascinating to find an organisation that is developing these ideas across 25 countries in both developed and developing countries.

"And there are cultures where this can be difficult," explains Marwa. "In some cultures people would never give a superior — or even a peer — direct feedback."

Teach For All introduced a Leadership Development programme to tackle these kind of issues. One thing I love about Teach For All's approach is that this programme, which they run internally, is not just for the most senior people. It is open to everyone who joins the organisation. "It is about leading self, exploring your core values and finding your limiting beliefs."

Equality, diversity and inclusion is a crucial focus of the organisation. "For talent acquisition, candidates must be at least 60% diverse before it goes to the hiring manager. We train our managers in unconscious bias and we also coach the candidates, to help them understand what is needed and about using the right language."

Marwa talks about avoiding "white dominated ways of being." I asked what those were and she explained that a working group had explored that. They came up with four: perfectionism, worship of the written word, paternalism and fear of open conflict.

On the latter point, Marwa is a strong believer in Non Violent Communication. This means not avoiding difficult topics, but encouraging the tensions to surface. "We don’t shy away from tensions. We talk about meaningful conversations, where you give and receive frank feedback. Nothing is taboo. We want everybody to be reflective."

Being based in education, one approach is the idea of Leading Questions. When a few people transitioned from the organisation, the question became 'what are we learning about these transitions?'

That might lead to an Open Call, across the whole organisation. Another example of this was where their survey found that the score on 'relationships with peers' was low. So an Open Call was arranged to explore how they could build more trust.

This led to some simple solutions (like adding 'only answer in your own time' to emails) or more complex ones, like creating spaces to talk in more depth about topics.

Teach For All is itself inspirational. It is currently across 25 countries seeking to find innovation in education and spread it around the globe. Its 25 year vision is that 'in 2040, communities in every part of the world are enabling all of their children to have the education, support, and opportunity to shape a better future for themselves and all of us. These communities are inspiring and informing a worldwide movement to achieve this everywhere.'

I was truly inspired by my talk with Marwa. Do come and hear her talk about both what has gone well in self-management and the challenges, at the 2022 Happy Workplaces Conference on 12th May.

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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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