The Learning Accelerator Blog/TLA: A Culture of Urgency, Fun, and Flexibility

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TLA: A Culture of Urgency, Fun, and Flexibility

by Michela Marini on June 19 2018

At The Learning Accelerator (TLA), we focus every day on programmatic activities that help us achieve our mission and get a step closer to the world we have envisioned since our early days – a world in which every child in America receives an equitable education that is engaging and personalized. Over the last several years, we experienced a significant pivot in strategy and a change in leadership. We had to ensure we remained focused on our mission while adjusting to our new ways of working.

Changing from our sunset horizon to a perpetual programmatic organization was one of our main strategic changes, and led us to reflect on our organizational culture more deeply. While we had systems in place that worked for a small, nimble organization that initially aimed to close shop after a few years, we had purposely neglected to think about structures that would set us up for success as the team grew, and as we faced another significant strategic change: more collaboration and interdependencies amongst team members.

As an added “complication,” TLA is a remote-first organization, with a team of 12 stretched over four time zones and eight states.

During our leadership and strategic pivots, we realized that many of our practices were known but not codified, and new team members only discovered some of our processes as they came face-to-face with them. This proved especially difficult as a remote-first organization since some of that knowledge was not shared until quite some time after new folks joined the team.

Since then, we have taken several steps to support our remote-first organization as we have grown in size and moved to a place of higher collaboration. This series of blogs will illustrate some of those steps and the resulting practices and structures we have adopted to strengthen our relationships as humans, improve the quality of our work, and allow us to live according to our values of fun and flexibility, as well as with urgency.

To tackle the challenges we faced, we decided we needed a small subteam to focus on making sure we had a healthy, happy, and collaborative team. The new Happiness Team took its first step to reflect on the behavioral norms that supported our values. We asked ourselves “how do we operationalize our core values daily – internally and externally?”

The result of that thinking was the creation of TLA’s Culture Handbook, an ever-evolving document with the objective of making sure we all have some common ground and understanding of “how we do things” at TLA.

Creating and sharing the Culture Handbook amongst the team allows for higher transparency around our day-to-day “etiquette” and provides clarity around certain expectations, from the perspective of both managers and employees. The Handbook includes a list of some of the touchpoints we use to reinforce our behavioral norms.

The most important aspects that make our Culture Handbook a living document are:

  1. As a team, we revisit our values and norms yearly. Through the recently introduced practice of distributing a culture and engagement survey yearly, we collect team’s feedback on how are we living by our values, and consequently reflect on whether those still resonate with the team, and/or whether we need some adjustments.
  2. As a result of the feedback collected through the culture and engagement survey, we also evaluate whether some of the practices and artifacts we have in place to reinforce the norms are successful, and make the necessary adjustments/changes.

This blog series will focus on a number of culture-related topics including:

  • How to better make use of team time
  • Deeper Learning Week (our own version of a 10% project)
  • Team competencies
  • Some of the tools we use to strengthen our bonding
  • Our framework to support better team collaboration

The past 18 months of my work at TLA have focused strongly on team culture and collaboration, and I am especially curious and interested in knowing how other remote-first organization tackle some of the issues that working remotely bring to the table. If you have ideas of thoughts to share, please contact me at I would love to discuss ideas with you!

View the next post in our work culture series about tools our team created to enable success in a remote setting.

About the Author

Michela Marini is the Chief of Staff at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to and follow Michela on Twitter @michelam.