Building Apex Lab: Our Path to Becoming a Remote Company with Teal Principles
Building Apex Lab: Our Path to Becoming a Remote Company with Teal Principles
Welcome to the pioneering journey of Apex Lab, where we are reinventing the remote work experience through the Teal Mindset. We are forging a path where self-management, wholeness, and purpose are not just ideals, but the bedrock of our culture. Explore our journey, our struggles, and our victories as we redefine what it means to be a remote organization in a rapidly changing world.
Building a company from scratch offers a unique chance to fashion something extraordinary, a place where individuals can flourish and collectively create remarkable outcomes. As an organizational development specialist, I’ve come across numerous theories and structures over the years. However, Frederic Laloux’s concept of the ‘teal mindset’ from his work “Reinventing Organizations” resonated with me profoundly. His evolutionary approach to organizations illuminated the reasons I had struggled with implementing changes in the past. For a deeper understanding, I highly recommend his book. Here, I will share our interpretation of the theory.
Teal organizations rest on three fundamental pillars:
- Evolutionary Purpose
While we easily embraced two of these three pillars, we’re still grappling with articulating the first one effectively. Wholeness and self-management were ingrained in us from the start, as I firmly believe they derive from basic life values. But defining your calling or crafting that single sentence that brings coherence to the jigsaw puzzle is a challenging task. Let’s delve into these pillars.
Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
This quote from the Agile Principles epitomizes the role of a leader. However, its implementation is not as straightforward. We prioritize values and attitudes in our hiring process. If a candidate shows intrinsic motivation, eagerness to learn, and readiness to step outside the job description, they get an immediate green light from me. Such an approach facilitates the seamless integration of new colleagues. By adhering to the agile manifesto and principles, maintaining a flat organizational structure, and inviting everyone to challenge any idea or decision, we create an environment conducive to team success.
When we initiate a new project, the team is formed by volunteers, and we kick off with expectation management and goal setting for the project. Our approach is lean and flexible. For instance, a client once said to us: “I want to reduce the DevOps cost of each unit of my product from $20 to $2. You’re my special force, tackle whatever comes your way.” This approach empowers us to function as full-stack developers and DevOps engineers and to propose cost-effective alternatives company-wise.
We use Scrum practices during the daily operations. The team, in consultation with the customer and the product owner, determines the tasks. The team makes the commitment. We avoid fixed scope and deadline projects. While we previously had Tech Leads dedicated to projects, we have recently been experimenting without designated leaders. If a team needs expert opinion or is unable to decide on a tech topic, they proactively seek help within the Apex Lab.
Operating in a fully remote setup affords us significant freedom. Team members can work from anywhere at any time. However, this autonomy requires responsible handling. The team is the paramount unit, and functioning as one often involves compromises. As long as schedules are managed and clients are satisfied with the availability, team members can manage their work as they please.
Despite having areas that need improvement, we are not a completely self-managed company. We have established a good form of democracy, which is an excellent starting point.
The initial challenge employees faced during the pandemic was delineating their work and personal lives. How do you maintain a work-life balance? Being a remote-only company before the pandemic, we were familiar with this challenge. However, solutions are largely personality-dependent. Remote work necessitates easing the strict separation during working hours. Interruptions from pets, postal deliveries, or children are inevitable and normal. This working style offers colleagues a glimpse into your everyday life, fostering connection and trust.
I gauge the wholeness factor of the team through simple observation. We communicate regularly, discussing various topics, debating, or simply sharing a laugh. I understand their typical reactions in most situations. When I meet their significant others (or friends, family members), I observe how they communicate and react. If their behavior aligns with the personality I’ve come to know, I’m confident that they are being genuine during our meetings. How did we achieve this?
And we talk a lot, about work and beyond. We share weekend stories, discuss current affairs, and enjoy silly videos together. We carve out time to connect at a deeper level. We have a daily morning call, where the whole company comes together. If someone is having a particularly good or bad day, we pause and address it, offering help or simply lending an ear.
We conduct retrospectives.
We adopt a non-violent communication framework to handle difficult conversations. Most conflicts are resolved immediately or during the retrospectives.
Remote work doesn’t imply total isolation; we simply prefer to choose the time, place, and beverage that we share together. Some of us play squash on Sundays, others have lunch on Fridays. We organize team dinners every month or two, and twice-yearly onsite team-building events spanning 2-5 days. We also go on trips together, such as our 3-week stay in Croatia every May, where family members are welcome too. You can choose to join us for a vacation or work as a digital nomad.
Last but not least, this is the area where we’re striving for improvement.
Creating an enjoyable remote work environment while building impactful digital products.
We’re confident about building impactful digital products and fostering an enjoyable remote work culture. But the link between these two components needs further refinement. These aspects motivate every person at Apex Lab. Even those initially hesitant about remote work are now embracing the digital nomad lifestyle. When discussing a new product, you can see the excitement in their eyes, and how touched they are to see users’ lives enhanced by our work.
One of the best moments in our company was during a user interview for our digital health app. For the patient side, the biggest USP is to have all the relevant information related to the patient journey in the health system in one place: where is your next appointment, how do you get there, what you need to bring, etc. The interviewed patient was a young woman dealing with cancer, her life was frustrating in so many ways, and when she found all the necessary information in one click - the ones that she was afraid to ask from the doctor - she started to cry. She said she would feel safe by using our application.
That’s why we do what we do.
We may not be a teal company yet, but we’re working towards that goal every day. There are moments of immense pride when we feel we’re on the right track, and there are days when the goal seems utterly impossible. But that’s the journey we’ve embarked on, and we want to share it with you. If our journey resonates with you or if you’re curious about the teal transformation, we’d love to hear from you. Share your stories, ask your questions, or just connect to learn more. Together, we can explore new possibilities in this uncharted territory of organizational development.