Can a Teal Department Exist Inside a Green Corporation?
Author: Elizabeth Pearce, CFA, Founder/CEO of SymSoil Inc.
A Teal Organization
Laloux popularized a collaborative organizational structure, labeled Teal, in his book Reinventing Organizations. In contrast to Green organizations, such as Ben & Jerry’s or Southwest Airlines, which are characterized by shared values, delighting customers, high employee engagement and empowerment, Teal organizations are based on 3 key principals:
>> Self-management (peer relationships with no need for central command and control)
>> Acceptance of individuals and a workplace where people bring “all of who they are”
>> And an evolutionary purpose, with a direction of its own
SymSoil has a department responsible for a single service/product, the manufacturing of high quality thermo compost on-farm for organic growers, which is ideally suited for a Teal workplace.
SymSoil is an evidence based, AgTech company focused on mass production of soil amendments to facilitate the adoption of regenerative agriculture. The company has products and services, but the core offerings, RC and FIB (Robust Compost & Fungal Infused Biochar) are based on a belief that soil microbe biome biodiversity matters.
Healthy soil contains in excess of 10,000 species of life, crossing 7 types of life. Robust Compost has in excess of 1,000 species and includes at least 7 types of life. SymSoil® RC is manufactured using patent pending process which allows large scale production and DNA analysis has confirmed over 2,000 species or families, including 184 families of fungi.
SymSoil® RC also contains 7% biochar, which acts as a soil conditioner as well as a tool to revive or reseed the soil microbe biome. SymSoil® FIB is 90% conditioned biochar, loaded with fungal spores, fungal food, humic acids and 10% RC, as the complete soil microbe biome appears necessary to stimulate the fungal spores once blended with dirt or soil.
While SymSoil’s core offerings sequester carbon, the corporate focus is less on these societal benefits than on benefits to agrichemical customers. RC and FIB reduce irrigation needs and improve soil health.
SymSoil’s primary marketing focus is on products and services that benefit grower profitability: healthier plants that produce higher yields and better flavor.
As a California B-Corp (Benefit Corporation), focused on improving the economics of organic farming, SymSoil seeks workers who are passionate about the environment and knowledgeable about soil microbes. This focus on the engagement, shared core values, and providing products and services that delight customers makes SymSoil a classic Green organization in Laloux’s lexicon.
SymSoil® RC is Robust Compost, with over 2,000 species, is usually used to make compost extract or tea. One cubic yard makes 6,700 gallons, with most farmers using 20 to 50 gallons per acre to revive or reseed the soil microbe biome on their farm.
A key component of RC is the biodiversity that comes from well-made thermo compost. Thermo compost which meets or exceeds SymSoil’s quality standards is difficult to find from external sources. Thus, most of this raw material is manufactured internally by knowledge workers with expertise in the biology of composting. They have extensive experience with managing the variables (moisture, airflow, temperature, timing and balance of materials) needed to produce a quality end product.
Robust Compost is shorthand for a complex community of soil microbes in a solid transport medium. Well-made thermo compost includes beneficial organisms from 7 types of life, in specific quantities and quality, while all the pathogens, in each of the 7 forms of life, have been killed.
The manufacturing process for thermo compost is well documented and is taught in multiple educational institutions, including Cornell University, California State University San Louis Obispo, and University of Wisconsin. The techniques for managing the biology, killing pathogens while keeping beneficial microorganisms alive, are widely associated with Elaine Ingham, PhD, who published the earliest papers on the soil microbial ecosystem, which she dubbed The Soil Food Web.
To acquire thermo compost for use as a raw material, SymSoil offers on-farm composting services to farmers, converting their agricultural waste into high quality thermo compost. In addition to payment for services, SymSoil’s compensation includes part of the end product. Each farm has a unique set of variables and waste materials, which assists SymSoil is increasing the biodiversity of its Robust Compost. This also requires the thermo composting staff to be creative and proactive in each location.
Internally, we often say, If you have seen one farm, you’ve seen one farm.
Through its hub system, SymSoil Inc’s offering includes specialized labor, materials and equipment to convert this waste into a product that EVERY organic farmer wishes he or she had … high quality compost made on their farm from their own materials.
Tacit Knowledge & Knowledge Workers
In addition to understanding the science behind the biological process of decomposition, making high quality thermo compost involves active monitoring of the piles that includes the look, feel and smell of the materials. Temperature and moisture must be tracked and monitored in multiple locations within each pile. Additionally, samples must be reviewed with a compound microscope, and the worker must be able to distinguish between pathogens and beneficial microbes — confirming the beneficial microbes are present in sufficient number and alive. Thus, developing the skills to become good at making thermo compost almost defines tacit knowledge.
Tacit knowledge (as opposed to formal or codified knowledge) is the kind of knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it. Examples cited in Wikipedia include riding a bicycle and playing a musical instrument. Usually tacit knowledge includes information that is not known explicitly, even by expert practitioners, making it difficult or impossible to transfer to other people, except by experience.
Microbe Herders is the job title for SymSoil staffers who make high quality thermo-compost for the company and its customers. They are knowledge workers, just like programmers and accountants, who have formal training and varying levels of experience.
Microbe Herders harkens back to the idea that SymSoil is farming. Rather than cows, goats, sheep or pigs, the company farms fungi, nematodes, amoebae, bacteria, archaea, flagellates and microarthropods. These are the soil microbes that live in the ecosystem of healthy soil, making nutrients bio-available to plants.
The Soil Microbial Biome or Soil Food Web, in the wild, includes in excess of 10,000 individual species in each sample of healthy soil and billions of individual life forms in each cup. (Visualize this: if all the microbial life in one acre of soil was above the surface, the weight would be the same as two adult elephants.)
As with most specialties, it takes 10,000 hours of experience, to become an expert in thermo composting. This hands-on experience is in addition to several thousand hours of classroom and/or book learning. (A great place to start is Teaming with Microbes, by Jeff Lowenfels.) It takes several years of practice before the Microbe Herder is a skilled craftsman who can consistently produce a quality product without supervision.
A typical organic farm, dedicated to producing high quality compost, might put 150 hours or labor into the process per year, and use a compost turner 10 days out of the year … making it difficult of any one farm to develop expertise within its labor pool.
The required experience and skill level, combined with the physical and biological limits on scale, explains why Soil Food Web composting has never been widely adopted. Until the insights and innovation that resulted in SymSoil’s patent filing, this product to restore a healthy soil ecosystem was not scalable.
Knowledge in the Shared Economy
While working on a single farm, it is difficult for an individual to gather sufficient experience to acquire the tacit knowledge and become skillful enough to consistently produce thermo compost. In addition, once the experiential learning is sufficient for the skilled craftsman to produce quality thermo compost consistently, the skills are underutilized if only available to a single farm.
Enter insights from Collaborative Consumption or the Shared Economy. Firms like Lyft, Airbnb, WeWork, and TaskRabbit have learned to leverage underutilized assets or labor by sharing them on a project basis. Leveraging the expertise of the Microbe Herders seems an obvious solution.
Prior to SymSoil, this was an unseen opportunity. Skilled composters are rural agricultural workers, often without college degrees, practicing a skill predates the agrichemical revolution. Ag Colleges are quick to dismiss their experience as peasant farming, as tacit knowledge is more relevant to the process than the explicit knowledge.
By offering composting services, and training to less experienced Microbe Herders, and training Senior Microbe Herders in coaching, finance and sales, SymSoil is creating a hierarchy of experience and skills. This is a Teal Organization because the service/product remains entirely dependent upon the sense of smell and touch of the person on site at the farm. This information is confirmed by microscope, but many rural locations lack wifi access for images to be confirmed by the science team in real time. Thus, information needs to flow collaboratively in both directions, with mutual respect and skill transfer.
The Journeyman Microbe Herder’s acceptance of the skill of the more experienced Microbe Herder, and that staffer’s willingness to take guidance from those with more experience is key to job success. Similarly, the Senior Microbe Herder’s ability to hear nuanced information and to oversee and coach multiple Journeymen is the key to success at their supervisory level. Each team is responsible for making thermo compost on multiple farms in close proximity.
SymSoil Inc. is an evidence-based, soil health company with products and services for regenerative agriculture which improve grower profitability. The company is a leader in development of biological soil amendments for agriculture that restores the microbes that provide the right food to the plant roots, improving plant health, and making food more nutrient dense and flavorful, the way nature intended. The flagship product, SymSoil® RC (Robust Compost) is a complex community of soil microbes, which includes in excess of 2,000 species, covering broad biodiversity of bacteria, fungi, amoebae, and other protozoa, beneficial nematodes and microarthropods. SymSoil was named one of 2019’s AgTech Companies to Watch. For more information about local hubs, please click here. For product information visit our website, or speak to a Soil Maven at 833 SYM-SOIL (833–796–7645)