The Future and The Future of Work at Niaga with Kelly Hall, Debbie Appleton, and Margreeth Klein

August 15, 2022

Share This CONVERSATION

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

Our guest from Niaga at Covestro are Kelly Hall the managing director, Debbie Appleton Materials Recovery Manager, and Margreeth Klein Customer Service and Logistics Manager.

Living Room Conversations: Niaga @ Covestro with Kelly Hall and team

Ricardo = Ricardo Ghersa (Host)

Kelly = Kelly Hall (Guest)

Debbie = Debbie Appleton (Guest)

Margreeth = Margreeth Klein (Guest)

RICARDO: Welcome everyone! I’m Ricardo Ghersa and I would like to welcome you to the 36th episode of the Living Room Conversation. So I know there are persons watching from YouTube, from LinkedIn, from Facebook live. All of you should have the possibility to interact with us through a window that you have on your screen. So Living Room Conversations, what’s the purpose here? The purpose is to actually provide the audience you guys with inspiration with ideas about what’s happening in the space of new ways of working so that you can take some of this and bring it back to your current reality and so the purpose is also to have conversations in a cozy atmosphere and you probably already see a sofa here and so we’ll we are here to to see where the conversation leads us through your questions and through what comes up with the interview so go grab a cup of tea or coffee if you haven’t done so already. So without any further ado today we have a great interview ahead I believe and by the way I think it’s the first time that we have not only one person not only two persons but three persons of Niaga this is the name of the company that will explore so we have three persons from Niaga joining us and this is a great opportunity for us to learn from three different perspectives about how Niaga is working the title of this conversation is the future and the future of work at Niaga and I don’t want to say too much I’ll leave this to to the three ladies who are with us. What I can share is basically that Niaga is engaged both in external sustainability and it is also engaged in making work sustainable internally so without any further due I would like to introduce you to

the Niaga team, who is here with us. And I would wish that each one of you ladies briefly introduce yourselves and then we can start pick it up from there.

KELLY: Thanks Ricardo I’m Kelly Hall. I’m the managing director of Niaga. Niaga is the word ‘again’ spelled backward and we are a team of chemists and engineers and humans in other functional capacities who are here to redesign everyday things to make sure that 100 or as close to 100 of the materials can be recovered and recycled and reused and kept out of waste and in the circular economy for years to come I’ve been doing this for four and a half years and really grateful to have this time with you today. Debbie, would you like to introduce yourself? 

RICARDO: Debbie can you hear us?

KELLY: Here you go. We can hear you.

DEBBIE: I’m having some IT challenges. Thanks Kelly. Yeah I’m part of the Niaga team and responsible for what we refer to as the materials recovery which means that all the beautiful products that our teams is designed in such a way that using all the moves and all the material covered however but well of course users can also still choose to throw it away burn in your should and we need corresponding stems and a flow of information and a flow of value to prevent that and to really make sure that there is the right triggers and the right systems and make sure that these these valuable materials do come back in and life.

RICARDO: Thank you Debbie at least for me we understand what you’re saying there are some breaks but overall it’s still good enough for us to follow so let’s see if maybe the technical team can even make the connection better. And last but not least, Margreeth. 

MARGREETH: Hi I’m Margreeth Klein. Working with Niaga from the beginning I’m responsible for customer service and logistics but next to that I’m also participating in two of the growth teams and I think we’ll talk about that later. So it’s a small organization which means that you do a little bit more than just what your function is saying and that’s what I like about it.

RICARDO: Very nice. So welcome again and great to have the possibility to now to dig deep and actually learn perspectives from you. And so as a starting point I think Kelly it was your intention to show a short video in relation to Niaga right?

KELLY: Yeah so I picked just a short two minute video that is always on YouTube. We’ve so far redesigned products with partners in three categories: carpets, mattresses and furniture.

This is a really short video on the mattress story to give you a feel for what we do and how we do it.

[Video presentation starts]

Alwin = Alwin Papegaaij (Speaker)

Kelly = Kelly Hall (Speaker)

Wouter = Wouter Dijkman (Speaker)

ALWIN: It’s our philosophy to design and produce products that can be recycled 100% into new high quality materials and products.

KELLY: An entire team of 30 plus people full of technical expertise and experience and backgrounds. They’re doing their work from their heart and from their gut because they really want to change the world. Auping and ECOR right here in the Netherlands are great examples of people that already had a passion for sustainability.

WOUTER: We know how to create mattresses but now we also want to disassemble the mattress after its life cycle. Niaga dives much deeper into the materials and they really know what to change on the materials to make the difference and make it reusable.

KELLY: You got to start with somebody who’s equally passionate who’s willing to challenge the status quo and then you can scale it to the rest of the world over time. But you gotta find that brave and courageous partner is willing to do it with you in the beginning.

ALWIN: Currently we are researching the possibilities to create carpet mattresses and furniture that can be recycled 100 percent. We are looking for new industries that can be transformed into a recyclable industry.

KELLY: When you hear Niaga, you know that if Niaga is inside of a product it means that that product is made with simple ingredients, it’s designed for non-toxicity, it’s a transparent supply chain so you know exactly where everything has come from and it’s designed for reuse so that it never goes in to landfill and we’re enabling the circular economy.

[Video presentation ends]

RICARDO: Thank you Kelly. Looking at this video I don’t know if there is something yourself who wanted to say on this video before I jump in with the question.

KELLY: No, you can jump in.

RICARDO: So I can jump in.

KELLY: I hope it gives people an idea of why we exist because we we all share a purpose

it’s a very purpose-driven organization that’s very well at home and our new owner Covestro they have prioritized at the tippity-top corporate level the fully circular economy and here we are inside of a big chemical company, doing things with to people have been making mattresses for 100 years or carpet for 50 years, to rethink their portfolios so that we can make sure that it’s built in a way that it can be disassembled and reused in the future so we’re glad to share this time with you today.

RICARDO: So Kelly and team by looking at this short video I immediately feel as a strong sense of purpose for this sense of purpose for what the company is doing shines through the video and so perhaps we could start by hearing a little bit more about how this interesting and meaningful purpose that the company has trickles down to to basically to you how you are inspired by this purpose? And anyone can start and intervene.

MARGREETH: Well I want to start I come from a customer service department a big customer service department and that’s totally different we’re working than to what I do today in a small Niaga environment and first of all we have a big purpose design products with the end in mind so redesign products keeping them away from trash and having such a big purpose already changes the way you start to work every day well at least for me does and also bring that internally into a flat organization structure where every voice is heard where everybody is challenged to speak up to say what they think they challenge each other and with that you get the synergy and you come to much better ideas and work and getting things done. Then you would do otherwise well at least that’s how I feel about it.

DEBBIE: Yeah I think yeah I think it also helps to just continuously thrive to live situations whenever you have a challenge you really want to solve this it’s all very mission based.

KELLY: You still have an echo for some reason I don’t know.

RICARDO: So we are getting the gist which is good but audio is not ideal. Nice maybe then Kelly I let you finish off.

KELLY: Oh goodness I it’s probably one of my favorite things about working with this team I call it soul food I guess the work because I learned something from them or from the community that we’re a part of almost every single week some you learn something that’s kind of disturbing about materials or about waste or you know one of my favorite things to share that I learned was I’m a 60-ish kilo woman and in my American lifetime I will make 150 and that’s insane that each one of us in the world are on autopilot creating these massive massive amounts of waste and here this team is taking responsibility to use their educations and their time and their talent to rethink all of that so that we leave the world better than we found around it and that future generations our children and their children don’t have to go back into the dentures to find materials because we’re enabling them to use everyday things again and again so I really love working with these super smart people that teach me something new it’s usually pretty bad news but it also creates a possibility because you can make better decisions when you know the truth.

RICARDO: Kelly and team. If there is something that struck me when I watched the video and also did a little research on the company is the fact that in order for you to be successful you need to create strong cooperation with all kind of external partners. Customers, suppliers, I guess authorities so there needs to be the ability from the team to to foster these relationships and make them long-term make them thrive and so I would be curious to hear a little bit

about how how you go about doing that?

KELLY: I would love it if Debbie could answer that question if we’ll see if we can hear her uh let’s give it a try but I’ll tee it up a little bit because Debbie is a cultural anthropologist by training

not every team in business gets to have a person like that in your group and she’s a very special person because it’s her nature to be curious about how systems work and how things interact and engage and so we’re creating new ecosystems and creating new ways to close loops and so she has a front row seat to those dynamics every day.

RICARDO: Thank you. Let’s see Debbie, we really hope we can hear you well now.

DEBBIE: I might try my best. I tried to shut down every single wrenches which is ongoing. I hope that helps. Is this better? Yes so personally I find it fascinating to really assess why do we things that do the things that we do and how our traditions formed and share passed on us and then from there humans can then sleep which then also have suffered which impacts other parts of the parts of the system because always you think owens is each other and the main the main things in these economies ecosystems and in system thinking that that’s going to be going to build something new which doesn’t exist today so every time every time you get a no for example a that’s a consequence unfortunately can’t process this product in our machine it’s because they are used to the traditional subjects and then when these products are redesigned they enter cell recycling facilities but you need to really engage and partner up with people to make them understand that it’s different that it’s real stated status quo and that takes time and that takes multiple exposures and of course seeing is believing so we always try to show

its wheels and represent with proof points. 

RICARDO: Thank you Debbie I’ll see if the rest of the team wants to build upon that.

KELLY: Margreeth?

MARGREETH: Well what what makes a difference for me is that I was used to work with customers and now we work with partners and that can be a customer or a supplier and the big difference is that we really work together to change the status quo because that’s also what

teddy said and with the products that are here today if you redesign them and reuse them you also have to team up to make sure that they get back where they belong to reuse them again we can make circular products but if they end up in the waste anyway then they’re still not

circular so we really need to team up and sometimes even competitors get together to work on it and that’s awesome. That’s really something new which I haven’t seen before and that’s I think the power of Niaga.

KELLY: Yeah I might add a supplement to that Margreeth I love that thought. We’re challenging everything about the status quo I think we’re challenging the way people interact with everyday things including ourselves, we’re challenging the way we work and we’re challenging the nature of business transactions and business relationships because I’ve grown up in a very competitive world where someone has to in order for someone to win someone else has to lose and that there’s so much competition that people have to hate each other or they have to be you know really fearing each other and really if you take away the fear and you take away the anxiety and you and like Simon Sinek would say see your best competitors as worthy adversaries there’s win, win, win possibilities to be found if you change your mindset. And so I really think we approach what we’re doing believing that it takes all of us to create the society and the impact that we’re really out for.

RICARDO: From what you’re saying it it feels like with this mindset you can almost attract the right partners the right stakeholders that that somehow get with the place you’re coming from. And so in a way you are well by being so authentic what I get is you also engage the partners who are ready to work with you. Is there maybe a fair assumption?

KELLY: And something more yeah well we we have what we call a Frontrunner program because the people that we’re working with first have to be exceptionally courageous to break away from the industry and the way the industry’s been working to create products in a different way, manufacture products in a different way, train their sales people in a different way, interact with their customers in a different way, figure out how we’re going to get these products back and recycle and repair and refurbish and reuse them and it that takes a tremendous commitment from a partner and we’re so grateful for that that we do believe we found the right lead partners in in the mattress industry, in the furniture industry, in the carpet industry and hopefully as we show the way more and more and more and more people will come on board and be a part of the change.

RICARDO: Thank you Kelly. So let me challenge you a little bit because now we are very much talking about purpose and the excitement that you all have working for this company and going into this groundbreaking territory. At the same time many I guess your company as well as many are always faced to an extent or another always challenged to to find balance between purpose and profit. This is for many companies something to be reconciled one way or another and so I would be curious to hear a little bit more about how it works at Niaga because I can imagine there are situations in which maybe the pressure for short-term profit is there and you still need to keep through to the longer term perspective. Anything you would like to share here?

KELLY: Sure would one of you guys like to answer?

MARGREETH: Well of course we do need to make profit. I mean otherwise we couldn’t exist but we need we getting big pulls from the market and the time is still right at the moment and the big momentum and so with the support of on the big company like Westwood we can grow we can get our act together which we are doing in a very good way and we are at the point that

we are going to make profit so that is it takes time every startup takes time and in the beginning you don’t make a profit. But if you team up if you have to put front runners if you make sure

your products fit in the market and still are recyclable then I think I’m sure we can make it.

DEBBIE: Just to add to that, that’s one of the challenges that we also face is it’s comparable to the trend which you see ongoing are now about true cost so businesses are incentivized to sell as low as one. But the impact of the products that they sell those costs are being paid by others that’s a trend ongoing and I think you also see this in transitioning to circular economies if our if our front partners really good materials materials that they can use again and again and again in cases it is it means that the first cycle is slightly more expensive but your future cycles are way more cheaper. But that’s not how the current system is monetized and if you design a healthy recyclable product the actual lifespan of the individual components intends to be longer because there’s less mixing of materials it’s a pure material allergenic just naturally it’s literally flame retardant but sometimes those benefits are then being valid parties about just about how do you business model the whole added benefit of such a portfolio.

KELLY: Thank you. Yeah I hope that that came across clear enough that the I think the point Debbie was making is we live in a world where things have gotten cheaper and cheaper and cheaper and cheaper at with mass production and mass scale and by by combining materials and shortcuts and materials and when you kind of clean up that mess and you reintroduce thoughtfully designed products with high quality materials that can be used again again they’re they can be more expensive at first they take people who are making very thoughtful decisions to choose the better product over the cheapest product and yet more and more people are wanting to be a part of a responsible and circular future so when a hundred billion euros has spent a year on carpets mattresses and furniture alone with more than 95% of it headed to trash at the end of its life there’s a tremendous opportunity for here to be for us to be difference makers and to make plenty of money doing it.

RICARDO: To be sure, team, you are you have been focusing on carpets and mattresses and looking into the future is there any limitation to the kind of product that you could look into or

you want to keep a specific focus on certain products?

KELLY: Really we believe any category can be redesigned between you know between

chemists and engineers and smart creative people anything can be redesigned for for it to

be a better fit in the long term and we have people reach out to us once or twice every single month since I’ve been here who want to work in another category but we really feel a responsibility to become profitable in the first three businesses we’ve started before becoming more complicated.

RICARDO: Sure. Nice. So why don’t we do a turn into how you are organized internally? And here I would be curious to hear a little bit if there well I assume there has been a journey in your company I I’m making the assumption that you used to work in a relatively hierarchical way

and what I know as is that as of today I’ve seen your model. It’s very self-organized so it would be nice for the audience to hear a little bit how this transitioning has been taking place what has been driving the change. Let’s see.

MARGREETH: Okay shall I start then? Well we used to have a linear organizational structure which we felt didn’t fit us. We love circularity and we also love to work in a circular way. We have three growth streams that’s for carpet, panels and mattresses. We have service teams; manufacturing, innovation, circle closes taking the product back and make sure it’s getting recycled and our movement mobilizes which is our marketing team and of course we have a source team which is like a management team and that’s more a coach role than a real management role. So the good thing is we work together in these teams and we need we need each other it’s not just I’m responsible for this part and this is what I don’t know we need our technicians we need our chemists we need our marketing people and we all work together to get our products to the stage and on the market and it’s yeah it’s it’s awesome to work in a way because everybody is included you you get to thrive in your own way and you do your expertise and yeah it’s it’s far more it’s a big pleasure to work in a way for me it is it’s far more rewarding than being told what to do and now you just own your part and work together to get your goals to achieve your goals.

RICARDO: May I ask, Margreeth, what was the initial or anyone, what was the initial driver?

Because you confirmed that at the beginning a few years ago you were working in a more linear way you said I think hierarchical way so what was the driver that wrote you to say hey this is not really for us anymore we want to do a bit different?

KELLY: I can share the moment because it was September of 2018, I had joined in January of 2018 and right away had brought all hands on deck when it was a much smaller team and we

had two kind of first team workshops where I brought everybody together and I remember them kind of looking at each other like ‘why do I have to be here?’ like ‘I’m a lab tech’ or ‘I’m an operator I’m this’ like ‘why do I have to take two days to sit in a meeting with you?’ like ‘it makes no sense to me, I’ve never done this before, I feel like this is wasteful’ and I just made them a promise that as you know as long as we’re working together to the best of my ability things will happen with you and not to you but we were still in a very traditional structure a lot of people had come from from the bigger company and we’re used to all the ways of working and how decisions got made and everything else and after eight months we were at a workshop together and I showed an old I showed an org chart for the first time. We I had had to create one for somebody at DSM and so I put in our our chart up on the screen and the whole team looked at it and they were like well thank you that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that and it’s nice to see an org chart but that doesn’t feel like us and I was like tell me more and they’re like well it really feels like we don’t work that way and I had already been exploring Sociocracy and Holacracy and Ricardo Semler’s work and different ways of working. And just by the weird ways the

universe works a week later I found myself at the Wynn conference in Rome with the woman who wrote the book … and I was like ‘well we can change the design of our organization if we want to at the time we were a joint venture’

And so within the team we created a team to design our future structure we presented it to the rest of the team everybody weighed in December of that year everybody picked which teams they wanted to be a part of and in January we implemented it and now it’s our third year in this structure or the beginning of our fourth year in this structure and it’s changed and changed and changed and changed. But I’d like to believe it keeps getting better and better. Debbie, maybe you could share your experience, because you kind of came in pretty early on in this whole adventure.

DEBBIE: Yeah I think just when that first workshop was because that was because ours orchestras worked hard I think one big thing people think you realize is it comes to self-steering teams as not a one-size-fits-all format. So a lot of the trends seem to go to a very open flat hierarchy and like it needs to be like this it needs to be like that but it takes into account every organization already his own structure has a dry culture and it’s really about me entering to what fits us best and closest to Kelly’s evolved format and I think some of the elements could so some of the elements that a lot of the team prefers to keep could be considered traditional and some of the elements could be considered very modern but that’s the best fit for this team.

RICARDO: One question for you Kelly so you came in, you decided to go this way did you get free room immediately from your superiors? Did you have a safe island from the very beginning? Or did you somehow have to explain why you were doing this experiment and justify it? How was it?

KELLY: A little bit of both we had skeptics still do always will and that’s okay and we had advocates I think that we were really overall blessed that the innovation center at DSM is very much they had really created a different paradigm for the ventures and the startups and supported them being a different type of business in a different phase than their big big established global businesses and so they were very curious about our experiments with agility and different ways of working and we even saw it as an incubation or a chance to experiment and learn together and there were some times when we had traditional processes like annual merit reviews or talent assessments or other things that are usually done by a group of people behind a closed door in a very repeat rinse and repeat every year kind of way and we were able to use the existing systems with the freedom to use them in a way that worked for us and so when you have an organization where there’s zero subordination but you do need to assess talent and you do need to do performance reviews we had to come up with a way to have those conversations to support each other and we just chose that that we took two levels of management at two levels in the experience structure and gave them the responsibility to collaborate on assessing talent and that was a different way to do it that had been done before but it still worked in the calendar, it worked in the systems, it worked for us, to be us inside of a much different approach all around us. And we’re broadly supported in trying it. 

RICARDO: Margreeth any any words on your side on the journey on the beginning of the journey?

MARGREETH: Well for me personally it’s yeah I love it. I mean it’s what I said before it really makes a difference working this way you own your part, you work together, you get your goals and you know, we we’re a startup we have chosen a way to go and we have to redirect every now and then that happened before and then you need to be swift you need to be Agile and this

organizational structure really helps to do that and to work in that way and then sometimes it’s a disappointment that it didn’t work out but the way we stick together we get our heads together

and we move on and when it does work then yeah it’s very rewarding. So yeah, it really supports I think it will support a lot of organizations, maybe every organization but especially for startups it’s a great way to work. 

RICARDO: So let me play the devil’s advocate again a little bit even if you are in a startup context like you know I’m trying to picture myself having you Kelly coming in as the new CEO and telling the organization now we go into these workshops and going through this exercise and I mean based upon my experience in bigger well this is more in big organization but still I would imagine that part of the team probably from from the beginning said ‘oh that’s really interesting I believe in this let’s go for it’ part of the team perhaps a bit in between and then maybe some resistance as well at least this is what I’m assuming and I would like to ask if this was the case and if it was well then how did you did you overcome the resistance?

KELLY: No it’s it’s absolutely true that there it’s to be honest with you it’s not for everybody. This way of working isn’t for everybody and I think the one of the biggest values that we have we have values around radical transparency and fierce inclusion and when you have a traditional structure that’s really power driven then people want to make decisions that have an element of I have power or I delegate to you or I need to have control or I need to hold secrets or I need to to do things assert my way or a certain way and there there’s plenty of jobs in the world for people who have been hungry for power or for who for really feel like organizations need to have a power structure there’s plenty of places to work with that dynamic but we really are trying to foster an environment where everybody is one human. Everybody’s got 24 hours a day, everybody’s got talent, everybody’s an adult, everybody’s got a point of view. And yes we have respect for education we have respect for talent we hire the very best and we attract top talent into our mission and into the corporations behind us but then the rules for playing once you get there are that you need to fight fairly, you need to say you’re sorry once in a while, you need to drive hard, you need to bring people along, you can’t have a black box of of ideas or ambitions you can’t manipulate each other. You can’t- you don’t get to choose work for someone else you have to enroll them in it and so that is not for everybody and that’s okay.

It’s okay but we also can’t really allow it and so if people want to work in a in a different way that doesn’t serve the greater good and it doesn’t serve how we think of customers and partners then we need to help them find a better fit for them and we do that with the utmost of kindness and compassion and support and we stay friends with those people for life. And then we then we also changed our hiring practices so we have way more people involved in hiring decisions so that people pick the people they’re going to be working with and the people that are coming in the organization have then met 10 or 12 people that they’re going to be working with side by side so there’s just less surprises when people walk through the door.

RICARDO: Nice so I had a question in mind and it felt like it was very interesting let’s see if it comes back. Yes the question is this one because okay I understand so it’s not for everyone. Now based on my experience I’m working now for two years in a self-organized setup-

KELLY: During COVID no less.

RICARDO:  -During COVID even. Though I knew this is what I wanted it has been really a journey for me and a shift in mindset and so you mentioned two of your values and based on my experience to truly stay through to these values it requires a lot of vulnerability and courage and for me it has taken time to simply start believing that all of this can truly be lived to the extent that we do it here. So this is the introduction to the question and the question is from a mind mindset perspective and what has been your biggest challenge to truly stay through to what you wanted to achieve? And I would want each one of you to answer.

KELLY: Anyone who knows? Do you- something pop in your head?

DEBBIE: My thing is to have colleagues. Who every now and then show you a mirror and say hey this is interesting I know you appreciate that value do you realize that you’re actually not thinking accordingly at the moment or yesterday or whenever they give you that feedback and I think one of the good things is really it’s really tried to not take that personally because it all comes from a good heart and one of the things which has not been imagined but it definitely definitely helps to have inspiring leader, thank you Kelly. And I think can definitely she lead by example she will not do any do anything she has not respect and will definitely result up against as well I think he really helps it helps it’s not it’s it’s not it’s not a value or behavior that it’s just a request to one single one. And we have Kelly is also interested everybody in our team gets a little book which is which is called TED: The Empowerment Dynamic and this is all being the creator and sir in studying inning in the and not only only is it in theory but it’ll be but it also gave our lengthy great language gave us words and tools that we can all share now. So if you see somebody being a little bit like I have this idea but I don’t want to be challenged too much or I don’t want this then the other thing the other person can always go me the creator how would you like the situation to be and because you have this shared language it’s very easy then

to your performance again.

RICARDO: And Debbie for you personally, has there been something specific to adjust to this set to this new setting which you found particularly challenging?

DEBBIE: Yes and I think it’s a very common herd phenomena, but decision making processes within can take time, can be challenging and I think the main thing there is to really get back to with and sometimes we perform sometimes, sometimes we perform not so good at that.

RICARDO: Thank you Debbie.

KELLY: What do you think Margreeth?

MARGREETH: Well maybe not a challenge, maybe more like a surprise which is how it works with a decision by consent not consensus but consent and then some people agree to a decision that was made by the minority but they’re not really agree or they not really feel it

the full way but still they agree because it’s not their expertise for instance or it’s the others have good reasons to do that so they agree but sometimes we haven’t we have had an example when we were hiring a new candidate and we all agreed that it was a perfect candidate and one of us said but I don’t want this candidate I have an objection and then you have a problem because then you don’t have consent then you have an issue and there was a challenge so but how we solved it was getting this candidate, getting this colleague of us that was objecting and two more colleagues and they just get together address the questions and addressed yeah the doubts there were. And then the candidate could really explain very good and in the end, in the end the objections were gone the candidate was hired and she’s doing really well. She’s a top candidate and we’re happy to have her. So that’s yeah that was for me when that happened that was a challenge but the way we dealt with it it was awesome.

KELLY: Yeah and I- great examples. I also think that through COVID and through everything else we’ve had everyone’s been troopers about working online and dealing with long days, working with partners on Teams, working with each other on Teams, being a- and there were times when all of a sudden you have the drama of little camps and little cohorts that start bonding and group think and some drama and things kind of got pretty hard and the interesting thing was you could feel it. You could feel some of the frustration and tension and at a time when everyone’s talking about the great resignation and everybody’s talking about low unemployment in the Netherlands and you know we still are in our lost making years so there’s always tension and always pressure and we knew it. You know, we were aware of it. We could see it it was frustrating it was it was troublesome we knew it was and we just went through

an entire integration we got sold from DSM to Covestro. So on top of hard work and being trapped behind computer screens in covid and being sold to a new owner we know we just saw that there there were same passions, same people, same work, same teams, but we had 

just gotten a lot harder all of a sudden but we used some of the tools actually that you guys connected us with other people in the Teal network and we decided to take on a well-being

initiative and just have an open dialogue about how people are feeling as humans on the team

and it was- we brought people together for the first time in a long time and we went through our road maps so everybody knows where we’re going, why we’re going, where we’re at, what’s coming up next. All that practical, tactical, business content but then when we opened up the pandora’s box of what was going on in people’s heads and hearts we call that the elephant you know our emotions are our elephants and our brains are the writers on top of those powerful elephants and I say the elephants were running wild but the neat thing is once everybody kind of got that energy out, the ick of everything that we’ve all just been through in the world, we kind of looked around at each other and realized we were all kind of feeling similar and we all really cared about the other people we were sitting to our left and to our right and it just became fuel to like refresh our care for each other and refresh what we needed to be working on as leaders and to refresh how we were talking to each other and to refresh how we’re tackling this societal change we’re so hungry for and it’s been an interesting summer after that. So I think that the being vulnerable, allowing those conversations, letting people be themselves, letting it out when it sucks is all healthy. It’s important. And those are things that we have to do and that we do together and it makes me feel even closer to all these people I love and makes me feel very confident that we’re on the right track with how we’re doing what we’re doing, which enables we will get it done.

RICARDO: I guess this is the right moment to ask you this question from one of our listeners. We have three ladies here and the question is do you find that doing these kind of changes towards a Teal new ways of working is perhaps more difficult for male as compared to female? And there is some depth to this question so I’m curious to see how you answer it.

KELLY: I don’t experience that we have a beautifully diverse team. I find it’s harder to get them to join a call like this to be on screen because I really tried to get a man. A lot of them are on holiday just by chance. But you know we come from the chemical industry. It’s traditionally very masculine in leadership and masculine in many roles but I think that we’re very balanced and the men that are in our team are equally benefiting from being able to spread their wings in a different type of structure in a different type of work. What do you guys think?

MARGREETH: Yeah I agree I don’t feel there’s a big difference between the male and female colleagues in working this way it’s embraced by everybody.

RICARDO: Showing vulnerability- sorry Debbie I didn’t want to interrupt. What do you think?

DEBBIE: I don’t think I think any masculine feminine. I think everybody shines and has talent in their own way but it’s not masculine or feminine.

KELLY: Well we have some I wish we did have a couple of our colleagues here when it comes to men showing vulnerability and we’ve had some two beautiful cases of of people on our team who were in a burnout situation and they felt safe enough to share their pain and their frustration and to get the right support and to get the right help and they overcame their burnout and they they not only got back to being fully active but even took on more and did more over time. And they’ve become not only people who have their hands on other people’s backs when they see that someone else is in distress or someone else needs to be taking care of themselves or that they’re beyond the stretch zone and into the panic zone they’re the folks really close fastest to clue in on the other people’s pain but also we all get to learn from their successful examples of dealing with incredibly difficult situations. And I just applaud them for being vulnerable and sharing them. But yeah. Those are the men.

RICARDO: Thank you. Thank you for sharing. So you mentioned the word burned out and so this brings me to the question of work-life balance. You are all passionate about what you are doing, you are going into groundbreaking territory. I can imagine that this passion can easily bring persons to well to be fully there for the job and then perhaps somehow come to a burnout that’s the worst but I’m curious to hear about how you in Niaga deal with work-life balance?

KELLY: I think Debbie’s a perfect person to ask if we can hear her because she’s recently returned from maternity leave after dealing with the premature birth and is handling it masterfully so maybe you’re a good person to talk about work-life balance right now.

DEBBIE: Oh thanks! [laughter] I just feel a little lighter or late before the eating musical pukes of nervousness everybody’s okay with the cave-

RICARDO: I missed it, Debbie. I didn’t hear well. 

DEBBIE: Oh sorry. So sometimes you’re late for a meeting because in the morning you just got puked under everything just you think just went wrong and you just like ‘sorry I’m a little bit later’ and then there’s always somebody to back you up. There’s always somebody. I think the support is great. Yeah so it’s completely new life basis this is all of the sudden the sudden your parents and your even weekend the weekends are no longer just yourself even though you you still working in some of those hours as well. But I think also there is something that during best practices and I just when I from work and with a couple of colleagues. I know these are my eight folds. What if you advised me ‘how did you cope with this?’ It was a very interesting round actually.

KELLY: Yeah and I think I think in our culture, the teams figure out how the teams work and how the teams support each other and we do check in on everybody every two weeks to see how they’re feeling about their stress level and their focus. But it’s most important that you hit your milestones and that you keep things moving forward. It’s not that important that you work nine to five or eight to four or ten to ten. It’s more important that you organize yourself in a way that fits with your life and your cycle and your work and then deliver the milestones. I think we all know that there are some people who could work 80 hours a week and get nothing done and then there are people who can work 30 hours. We can get tremendous things done and the most important thing is that we do the work. Not that we put the time in and then I find that when there’s a lot of flexibility and a lot of freedom and people are oriented to the outcomes and to the goals they find a way to get them done in a way that is joyous for them and the way they like to work and it all kind of seems to come together but if people aren’t doing the work in a way that serves them I love to talk to them about it. 

RICARDO: Thank you. I would like to take a step back because I wouldn’t want our audience to leave this meeting without having a bit of a clearer idea about how tangibly you ladies, guys work. And so maybe this is a broad question but maybe we can reference to the structure, the

processes, and the mindset in your company. And it would be nice if you could give us the you know the broad strokes about how you have organized yourself from a structural standpoint, which key processes make you unique, and from a mindset standpoint, what is it about it that that makes you, you?

KELLY: Okay, let me try. Because by design we have the eight teams that marguerite talked about earlier. We have three growth teams that are building our ventures in the outside world. So they’re working with partners to redesign their product portfolios. We have so those teams are responsible for the proof points in the marketplace then we have four service teams that back them up a manufacturing team that has run our carpet and panel innovation lines we have an innovation team that is our scientists who run trials and test materials and really sort out a lot of technical details. We have our circle closers Debbie’s, a member of the circle closers team and they’re out there building new ecosystems and finding partners who do pieces of the puzzle to collect things and recycle them and recover them. And we have our movement mobilizers who work on marketing and our digital passports and our transparency programs. And then we have a source team that is me and our controller and our attorney and one member from each team so our governance model is that each team is represented in the source team when it comes to decisions that are across the teams or have a platform level impact.

So that’s our structure and then every single team creates what we call a plan on a page so every team has to own a one-page document that shows their wildly important goal for the year and the major work streams that they’re working at with quarterly goals. And so there’s a structure around goal setting what we’re trying to achieve every calendar year and then a process of going through learning and execution where we kind of color code it red yellow green and we come together to talk about it. We have a all hands on deck team meeting every two weeks where two teams present their progress updates in a structure that everyone shares

and we have quarterly team workshops where everyone comes together digital during COVID, in person when we can. And that’s a combination of making sure everybody’s aligned making sure that we’re surfacing issues making sure that we’re building bonds and relationships and that is the platform and then the source team meets every single month and that that’s the forum that probably keeps changing the most and when it comes to how we work together Debbie did I miss something? 

DEBBIE: Yep the POEPS are very very strong too.

KELLY: Yeah the Plan On The Page is an important tool. But those are the basics that are consistent for everybody. So everybody in Niaga has that level of governance and infrastructure and support and after that the teams have tremendous freedom for how they organize themselves. Some of them use Agile tools and sprints and some of them use Obeya rooms and some of them use other structures. Some of them get together physically, some of them get together online. They have a lot of freedom for how they execute week to week to week within each team.

RICARDO: Very nice. So this gives us a good idea about the structure and perhaps the processes. Anything you would like to share about the mindset? How you keep this alive?

KELLY: How do we keep it alive guys? [laughter]

MARGREETH: Well by our team events three times a year. That really helps what what you

said Kelly about having the freedom within a team to meet whether on teams or in person

to do things together, get things done but also have some personal time. Have a talk about how somebody’s doing a real talk, not just ‘hi, how are you?’ ‘I’m fine and you?’ and then you’re off. No, it’s getting more personal, more in-depth and that’s yeah that’s what works I think.

RICARDO: So I see the time. Unfortunately we are almost at the end but there are still

two questions I would like to ask you. One is for you Kelly. So you are the CEO was I mean was there were there moments where you have implemented all of this and then you found yourself going back to maybe a mindset which is more command and control and where you felt this is hard I would like to take things a little bit back towards you know, saying what people should do. Do you still have some of these moments? 

KELLY: No not I don’t have those moments but I faced those moments. Because I have bilaterals with everyone on the team every month if not more frequently and so I hear when they want to go back to more traditional structures or they want to do things in a different way and or there or there’s criticism of things, or discomfort with things. And so sometimes, I’m pushed. But Debbie kind of mentioned it earlier, that it is a mirror. I mean when somebody doesn’t like something and it you know it creates a frustration in you. You know it’s saying something about yourself you know? Like why am I having resistance to this and how do I hang in here and understand what exactly what they’re talking about and why? And what I kind of find most of the time is when people push me and challenge me to think differently about how we could

do something better, or how we could do something faster, or how we could change things, or

address resource gaps or work you know work differently in our new parent. I love that those ideas can come from anywhere and that most people are safe enough saying whatever they want to say that’s in their hearts or what that they believe and it’s always my challenge for myself to take a deep breath and listen first before I just have a quick reaction because I can be pretty forceful from time to time and I really I really love it when people are courageous and sharing ideas and I know they’re invested in us being better. But you get tested all the time against these values. You get tested around radical transparency, you get tested around fierce inclusion, you get tested around you know, pushing decision making to individuals as close to the work as possible. And it’s nice to have people around you that will call you on it if you’re

not living those values because they are important. 

RICARDO: I said there were two questions and I see we are at the end of our time. I’m Italian so I could maybe justify why we go a bit over time but I think I shouldn’t. So I would like to really thank you, Margreeth and Debbie and Kelly for having been with us, with me today. It was great to have your insights. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for your open sharing. Perhaps there is room for one final word if there is something you would like to close this conversation with.

MARGREETH: Well thank you it’s been my first time in a situation or a setup like this. I was a bit nervous at the beginning but I liked it a lot so thank you.

KELLY: Anything from you Debbie?

DEBBIE: No, just thanks for the time and the engaging conversation I think.

KELLY: Yeah and I’m a selfish member of this community because I’m always happy to share our Niaga story and team hoping someone else could learn something from it but it’s also kind of an access pass to be a part of other events in other organizations so we can learn back from others too so I really appreciate the forum, I appreciate Teal Around the World, I appreciate all

the connections that are made through these kind of groups and if you want to link in with any of us we would love to learn more about what you’re doing and share more about Niaga along the way and if you need a mattress or furniture or desks or carpet we know where you can get some that you’ll feel really good about.

RICARDO: Nice I’ll be in touch with you then. So thank you so much and well, audience stay tuned for our next Living Room Conversation which will happen soon have a good rest of the day everyone. 

KELLY: Thank you.

DEBBIE: Thank you.

MARGREETH: Bye bye!

-End of Transcript-

Be More Pirate with Alex Barker

Our guest, Alex Barker, runs Be More Pirate: a global social movement and consultancy. She is a freelance writer, speaker facilitator, community builder and advocate