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Competitive advantage through organisational culture – be like a startup or lose the market


The concept of turquoise organisations entered our language permanently in 2016 when Frederic Laloux's book entitled "To work differently" was translated and published in Poland. The book named what everyone had already been observing for a long time, a trend in the labour market, which is appearing stronger and stronger in various countries - also in Poland.


Time for turquoise organisations

There are two business needs at the root of this, firstly to build a competitive advantage in an over-saturated market where “everything is already there”. The second need is to keep people highly engaged at work – statistics show that people are less and less engaged – only 22% in Poland according to Gallup. In such conditions a business that wants to succeed needs to change its strategy to a more turquoise one, because this is the right time and place for it to succeed.

Turquoise evolution in Poland

The technology industry has always been one step ahead of the rest of the market, it sets the trends for how we operate both in terms of IT tools (software) and the way we work (self-organization of work).

One of the basic tenets of Turquoise is self-organisation at work, or (in simple terms) giving power back to employees. Self-organising companies are those that, despite their size, operate efficiently like Silicon Valley startups, which in effect make it possible to give new value to the market. It is the start-ups that are able to give new value to the market, while companies have so far fought mainly with better quality or price. Better quality of products or the lowest price no longer guarantees success, because nowadays the number of goods and services is overwhelming and only those who give new directions to the industry and create completely new value on the market succeed. Another very important aspect is the labour market, which is no longer an employer’s market. Now it is the employee who dictates the conditions and it is very difficult to find competent people to work with.

An extreme example of the employee market is the IT industry and start-ups, where disproportions are so high that there are situations where programmers earn more than company owners. In such a competitive market, it is very difficult to find a specialist who will want to work for us. In fact, almost all the most experienced programmers work in large companies on international contracts or run their own businesses. In this situation, IT companies that are looking for new people to work with spend more and more on recruitment processes, and the process itself takes months. From the point of view of an employee, IT companies mostly tempt with the offered salary and the so-called “interesting projects”. Since programmers are scarce and the demand is high, salaries are relatively high compared to other industries, which results in them dictating the terms of cooperation.

For IT companies, this state of affairs means, among others:

  • high cost of acquiring a new person to work;
  • long time of recruiting a new person (even a few months);
  • high turnover of employees, which causes an avalanche making it difficult to manage projects and cash flow of companies (financial liquidity, solvency).

While so far we have been observing this trend mainly in the IT industry, for some time now there has been a shortage of workforce also in other industries. It is both a social and economic problem on the scale of the whole Poland, something like this has never happened before and entrepreneurs have been surprised by this state of affairs, because the management and recruitment methods they used so far have successfully stopped working. While it is still possible to find a common language with people who have been working on the market for several years, the generation that is now entering the market, the so-called millennials, who constitute a significant number of founders in startups, is still puzzling. 😉

The millennial generation and the following generations are already motivated in a completely different way and by different things, apart from financial – if it is “fun” at work, it is a value in itself. It is for this reason that young people often decide to work in a startup for less money compared to what they would get in a corporation, for example.

The three pillars of Turquoise

Self-organisation: Teams set their own priorities and carry them out.

Fullness: We are as authentic at work as we are at home. Having a “sad day?” Instead of playing corporate political games or putting on masks you reveal your emotions and that’s OK because you are OK the way(s) you are!

Evolutionary sense of existence: “Why do we do what we do?” When we drive a car, we don’t drive from the gas station, but we fill up when we need to, and all the while we get our business done. It’s the same in these organisations: we work and make money because money is an opportunity to fulfil our purpose, but it’s not an end in itself. We operate within a higher purpose – in the case of startups, this is often a complete game-changer in a given market.

Time for change – turquoise practices in Poland

How to find yourself in this topic? The best way is to get to know practitioners and specific business cases from Wroclaw.

I especially recommend examples from Wroclaw, i.e. IT Corner Association of Technology Companies and RST, which as a startup capital group shares its experience in the field of turquoise self-organisation. Both of these organisations were guests at a series of turquoise breakfast meetings in Wroclaw.

At the moment, turquoise breakfasts provide a space to talk and share experiences about what a creative work environment can look like.

Startups need creativity above all.

Acquiring competencies is relatively easy, because there are many online courses on literally every topic, this is knowledge that is completely free.

It used to be that you had to enroll in a university and commit a lot of time to gain a given competence, but at the moment competence is becoming more and more secondary.

Technology is already so automated that you can sometimes cuss out something that used to take up to several months of work for a whole team of programmers.

I think that the so-called “creativity muscle” will be developed especially at our Turquoise breakfasts, because our meetings exist to share experience and good practices also it is directly related to how startups work.

What’s more, many startups start without a clear leader, they are friends, either people who work together in a corporation or just students or simply came up with the so-called “idea over a beer” to earn the “First Million”.

Either way, they are often acquaintances who may not yet have leadership competencies and lack a clear leader, but due to their current relationship do not want to appoint a boss from their circle – at this point they just want to build a startup together.

There are many examples, such as Apple or Google, where at the beginning there was literally a couple/garage of people, there was no boss, only partners.

In turquoise, it is (co-)working on the basis of partnership, therefore what is at the beginning a startup is a work culture that is often close to turquoise. Startups with time change their culture from organic to more mechanical and thus lose flexibility of operation, but companies that operate in a turquoise way retain their flexibility (agility of operation) even having many partners (employees).

In simple terms, by applying turquoise we can have a large company creating value on the market just like a startup from its very beginning – such an approach is highly desirable in the current market dynamics.

What are ‘those startups’ and how does it connect to turquoise? – video (in Polish)

Łukasz Solarsk
Łukasz Solarsk
Blue moon

I invite you to the turquoise breakfast in Wroclaw and online to see how it works already in Polish companies. 🙂

As for startups, I especially encourage you to check out Startup Poland.

Łukasz Turkus Solarski is a co-organizer of meetings for change leaders in organizations called Turkusowe Śniadania and an ambassador of Startup Poland in Wroclaw.

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