So let’s talk Teal

The next stage of organisational evolution?

We have an understanding of how organisations have evolved to fit the latest and greatest worldview, and we know the difference between Red, Amber, Orange and Green organisational paradigms (you remember the colours, right?) it’s time to get down to business and talk Teal.

Orange (Innovation, competition and profit) organisations, which are still the most predominant, was the organisational response to the age of reason and the industrial revolution. It’s been around for a few centuries, and is deeply ingrained in the way we think, act and work. Then pretty recently, at the turn of the Millennium we started seeing Green (Pluralistic, engagement, inclusiveness, agile/lean) organisations evolve as the information age added another level of complexity. Many modern organisations use practices from both colours, but it’s still relatively easy to find clear examples of either colour.

So a few questions arise:

1. We’ve only just started experimenting with Green, isn’t it to early to add another colour to the mix?

2. If each colour comes from a new way of thinking, a paradigm shift in the way we see the world… Then what is the Teal paradigm shift? What has come after the information age?

Great questions! Which can both be address at length (I might do in later posts), but to get them out of the way to allow us to look at Teal, I’ll try to give the quick answer.

The stages (or colours) don’t just suddenly appear. It’s a gradual process where certain individuals or groups of people start questioning the status quo, and start thinking differently. When others are exposed to the thinking they might get curious and over time join, while some might first want proof that it’s not just new age hippie talk, and that the thinking can be translated into actions which are more powerful than the tools we have available today. First when we reach critical mass where a significant part of the population ‘believes’ can we claim that we’ve reached a new stage.

I think it’s fair to say that this has happened with Green. At least in the western world. A critical mass would agree that we live in the information age, that increased access to information has opened our eyes to problems caused by the industrial age, and that many would agree that shared values, culture, inclusiveness and empowerment is the way to go. We also see organisations adapting to this by flattening their organisations structures, embracing Lean and Agile, and caring about a wider range of stakeholders than just the shareholder and the mighty dollar. This doesn’t mean all organisations are acting from a Green perspective, or that all people subscribe to that worldview. It just means that enough do, so that we can identify it as a stage.

So what about Teal? If we look to Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory, they describe Teal as the next stage of human consciousness. A stage where we loosen the grip on science, accepting it can’t answer all questions. A stage where we open our minds and hearts and start exploring the larger questions of who we are and what our purpose is. Where we integrate various perspectives, stop judging, and start asking questions. In Maslow terms we would refer to it as self actualisation (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice and acceptance of facts). Or as I tend to think about it: “The rise of the modern hippie”. Note that I’m using the term ‘hippie’ with the highest measure of love.

You see it everywhere. People looking for meaning and authenticity. Not being happy with where they are, or what they’re doing. Yoga has become mainstream. We meditate and take courses in mindfulness. We travel the world to find ourselves (yes, I’m writing this from India). People volunteer their time for causes they believe in.. for free! A new philosophy/religion called “The Syntheist Movement” is challenging Atheism, and people are finding solace in growing communities such as Burning Man (more on this in a separate post). Hippie? Definitely. Growing? Quickly. A new stage of human consciousness? To early to say, but none of this was the case 20 or even 10 years ago.

Ok, enough with the babbling. What is TEAL??

It’s to early too give the exact and final answer as we’re just starting to see signs Teal. I’m pretty sure our thinking will iterate and evolve several times over the next few years. But lets’ give it a shot anyway. In his book Reinventing Organisations, Frederic investigates a range or organisations where leadership has adapted a Teal mindset and while the organisations were mostly unaware of each other, they have individually all through experimentation developed and implemented very similar practices, and have a few clearly recognisable characteristics.

So here goes: Teal organisations are characterised by a sense of higher purpose, self realisation and trust and compassion. Let’s pause and read that again. Higher purpose. Self realisation. Trust and compassion…. Now ask yourself: Are these the guiding characteristics where you work? No? Wouldn’t it be cool though?

According to Laloux the three breakthrough ideas of Teal are:

  1. Self Management — A non hierarchal organisational structure where the members are entrusted to make all relevant decisions based on transparent information, the advice process and their own common sense.
  2. Wholeness — Members are encouraged to stop wearing masks, and instead be their authentic selves at work, including but not limited to their emotional self, intuitive self and spiritual self.
  3. Evolutionary Purpose — The organisation is seen as a living organism with a life and a purpose of it’s own. The members become servants to the greater purpose, listening carefully to where the organisations wants to evolve and where it can do most good based on 1. the market (or world) needs, and 2. the abilities and dreams of the people in the organisation
Overview of the various stages (colours), this time including Teal

Seen from an Orange (or even Green) perspective, these are pretty radical ideas. No management? Anyone can make any decision.. including setting their own salary? An organisation seen as a living organism.. where the members are only servants to a greater purpose? They ideas are radical in themselves, but the consequences.. for people.. for organisations.. for society… There’s no way it could work… 😉

First time I heard about Teal, those were my exact thoughts: “This is hippie bullshit. It will never work.” Then I immediately recognised having had that exact same thought 10 years earlier while working at GE (at the time acting primarily from Orange). Somebody had pitched Lean and Agile, and I remember thinking: “That’s hippie bullshit. It will never work”. Today I run a startup factory having fully embraced lean and agile and acting primarily from a Green perspective. I admit.. I was wrong 10 years ago. Could I be wrong again?

I guess what I’m saying is that all breakthrough ideas by definition seem radical. We’re so used to thinking in one way that when it’s challenged, suddenly your whole world view is challenged. “I’ve always know the world is flat — there is no way it could be round”. “Profit and growth has always been the ultimate measure of success — there is no way there could be a greater purpose”.

What if we instead turn these statements into a questions? Could the world actually be round? Could there be a greater purpose? I don’t know the answers. And I don’t know about you, but personally I feel I can’t afford not to at least entertain these questions…

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