Clearing Up Some Confusions about What “Being a Teal Company” Means

By Bjørn Uldall for Enlivening Edge

Do people need to ‘be’ Teal to work in ‘a Teal organisation’? Is personal development a necessity in order to work successfully in a Teal organisation? Do Purple, Red, Amber/Blue, Orange, or Green organisational practices have a place at all in a full-blown Teal organisation?

thefivemostcAny confusion I might have had about these questions vanished through the conversations and presentations at the IEC2016 conference (not least, the one offered by Jon Freeman, who has written more extensively on the subject here and in more detail here.)

For me now, the answers are crystal clear: No, No, and Yes.

So, why and how are those my answers?

Well, what really became clear for me at the conference is that Frederic Laloux named his book appropriately when he called it ‘Re-inventing Organisations’ because this in my view is exactly what Teal is about. A Teal company still needs practices that address all the aspects of organisational and human life which the other previous stages (colours) emerged to deal with. But what becomes possible at the Teal stage is to ‘re-invent them’, making new smart versions of Red, Blue, Orange, and Green practices.

For example, a Teal company needs ‘smart Blue’ formal rules that regulate power—clear decision rules that you can count on. Let’s consider the ‘advice process’ as one example of a really smart formal decision rule that is used in e.g. Buurtzorg and Favi.  (A simple version of the ‘advice process’ stipulates that any person in the organisation can make any decision, but before doing so that person must seek the advice of all affected parties and people with expertise on the matter).

The advice process allows people with a strong Blue orientation and psychological construct to know exactly how decisions could and should be made; they can relax into the safety of following the rules once they have become used to this new rule of the game. They don’t need to develop vertically to a higher stage to work with it. Horizontal conversion to (what within a Blue worldview they might regard as) a new “religion of decision-making” suffices.

For people with a dominant Orange meaning-making structure, this smart-Blue advice principle is also great because they get total freedom to question convention, and to follow their new and innovative ideas and achieve great results. Ok, they have to live with the constraint that they must ask others for advice before they can act on their great idea.  However, since in the end nobody can block them, this is just an advantage because it can inform and challenge them to find even better innovative solutions.

A person with a Green stage of development-orientation would more ‘naturally’ ask around and be sensitive to the diverse needs and perspectives of multiple stakeholders, but with the advice principle they are now freed from the tedious tendency for longwinded consensus building, by the liberating principle that the final decision remains theirs.

Now, wait a minute, what about Red egocentric opportunistic tendencies, you might ask? Can’t they result in misuse of the advice principle to the detriment of the organisation and others? That indeed seems to be a possibility, so we better have some kind of organisational rules and practices that can deal with this, e.g.: a conflict resolution practice that combines a smart Blue institutional process for how to initiate and conduct that practice, and availability of Orange practices of assessing individual performance and contribution—along with some Green acknowledgement and empathy for human differences and the potential for collective and personal learning and growth, and ultimately some Yellow/Teal systemic appreciation of the needed functionality of the whole system. With these practices to hold unhealthy Red power in check, healthy Red power of individual action and decisiveness can flow more freely.

As the previous implies, I believe we ought to consider most of the ‘re-invented’ practices that are presented in Laloux’s book not as Teal practices in themselves, but as new smart Green-, Orange-, Blue-, Red-, Purple-practices etc.

The most distinctive Teal practice then, is the practice of ‘re-inventing’ these other practices in an evolutionarily congruent fashion in response to the larger context the organisation finds itself in. That means the ability to continually sense and respond, to learn and evolve with a feel for the systemic interdependencies of all the practices.

Probably, as Laloux argues, you need at least a founder/leader who has access to this kind of Teal perspective for this to work out well, but I remain open to the possibility that such evolutionary emergence might even get built into the ‘organisational collective intelligence’ perhaps supported by some outside ‘mentoring’ context? (This is one area where I would love to see more research.)

I guess by now, it has also become clear that with the above conception of what a Teal organization is, there is no requirement for all the members to be at the Teal stage of development themselves.

Nor should there be any personal development per se necessary to work successfully in it, although we would expect Teal organisations to be ‘holding environments’ that invite and spur personal vertical growth: People might in some ways be ‘in over their heads’ (as Robert Kegan explains in his book of same name from 1994) but they should also feel supported in being where they are, by structures and processes which allow them to navigate and orient themselves.

At the same time there will be plenty of structures and processes in the organisational environment which also invite and challenge them to step up to the next stage of functioning. And even though personal ego-stages may be distributed widely, people will be embedded in a culture with ‘values’ and ‘behavioural norms’ which can help them live more fulfilling and sustainable lives, and can allow them to contribute to the health of humanity and the planet. Why aim for less?

Bjorn

In 2000, I left my conventional Business career (M.Sc. Int. Business Adm., Manager at Carlsberg, McKinsey consultant), went on a 10-day Vipassana retreat, and started my quest for finding more meaningful ways of building and leading business organisations. This took me through a PhD of collaborative action research with business leaders; 5 years of psychotherapy training; and many years of coaching business leaders and teams as a partner in Scanlead. I am now energizing the role of Participatory Action Research Lead with Enlivening Edge.
  1. Great post. I am fairly new to the world of Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics and the work of Frederic Laloux and others. It feels as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders to know there is a new way to run organisations which fits the next stage of human evolution! As an L&D practitioner working in what I think is a predominantly Amber organisation, I am encouraged by your post to think that some of the current practices could be developed and adapted to work inside an emergent Teal organisation. There is hope! Thank you for sharing and I look forward to seeing future comments and posts.

    Best,

    Simon

  2. You have described this territory really well here, Bjorn. A couple of additional thoughts I would offer.

    Re. the potential for Red to exploit or misuse the advice process, I would say that the advantage for this kind of organisation is that the greater transparency, and the distribution of influence, mean that not only are smart Blue / Amber reponses available, but that the spread of power and empowerment through the Orange and Green values systems in the organisation will also facilitate push-back against such actions. The reduction of hierarchical power means that the Red individuals are more confined towards what they can do through impact of personality. Their other sticks have been taken away.

    The other thought I would add is that all that you describe is also potentially true for organisations that are not aspiring to be Teal, or not yet actualising that aspiration. Our ability to unlock the constrictions in existing organisations which are still dealing with their challenges at earlier stages (eg the Orange-Green transition) lies in loosening the ties one by one. What is the next single change that will release most energy now? Teal is not only about how we create Teal organisations. It is about the nature of Second-Tier thinking and perspectives. What can be see now in the status of first-tier stages that can be brought to more healthy functioning? What can be seen in imbalances between the contributions that Amber, Orange or Green are making, that could beneficially be adjusted?

    We will need such attitudes and mindsets if we are to meet organisations where they are, and not be narrowed in our thinking to an aspiration that makes Teal a end-point rather than a journey. It is not just that people don’t need to be Teal to work in a Teal organisation. It is also that Teal practitioners have a great deal to offer to organisations that are not yet Teal or which have no intentions to be so. Teal is also a way of seeing and acting, and its potency begins in what it can bring to the health of the earlier stages, and to people and organisations which “live” there.

    1. Thanks for these illuminating perspectives. I agree that there is a lot of value in helping organisations in whatever color they come to become more healthy versions of that particular stage, or to just take the next half evolutionary step even if this is far from a teal aspiration. At the same time, my concern with systemic social justice and ecological sustainability, gives me a nagging feeling whenever I feel that I help materialistic oriented corporations blind to how they are part of a wider destructive corporate neoliberal economic system become just a little more humane and a lot more effective. Am I not just patching up and helping a corporate system that I believe is sometimes doing more harm than good? Or can I claim that a healthy version of orange corporation must involve concern with systemic ecological impact and social justice?

  3. I love this open perspective, Bjorn. I’ve seen others suggest that a Teal org requires that all members be at Teal themselves. That always struck me as impractical, and also as missing the point that we develop best in relationship and through experience.

    One clarifying question re the “advice process.” You write that “nobody can block” anyone else’s decision and that the only requirement of this process is to ask for advice from all who might be affected by it. I know that in sociocracy and holacracy, you can indeed block someone else IF you believe what they are proposing is not “safe enough to try,” i.e. it would do harm or move the organization backwards. I thought that condition was a standard part of what is more generally referred to as the “advice process.”

    Checking the Reinventing Organizations wiki, I now see that it distinguishes the “consent” requirement in sociocracy/holacracy as a variant of the basic advice process: http://www.reinventingorganizationswiki.com/Decision_Making . So that confirms your description. And I can see how adding the advice process would be an improvement on the autocracy/hierarchy that one finds in Blue and Orange, especially for major decisions. And perhaps explicit consent is not needed in an org where everyone is operating from Teal, as that would imply that the decision-maker would never choose a course of action that knowingly cased harm. But perhaps this is a case where, absent the consent rule, individuals operating at lower levels can indeed make considerable trouble?

    The other big benefit of consent, of course, is as an alternative to consensus, and thus a way to get Green orgs unstuck. As someone who is often working in Green territory, I can testify to the power of this distinction!

  4. Thank you very much for this article – it is very very helpful. I have seen some practitioners emphasise the personal development aspect of teal which left me with the same questions that you open the article with. Thank you for answering them so clearly. It is great to have Jon Freeman’s contribution in the comments to about how we can support organisations to explore the next level even if they have no desire to become teal.
    I am intrigued by this statement: “I remain open to the possibility that such evolutionary emergence might even get built into the ‘organisational collective intelligence’ perhaps supported by some outside ‘mentoring’ context?”, I am working with the owner of an organisation who is at an orange development stage, who can see the benefits of teal and has invited me to work with him. I will keep you posted! Thanks, Helen

    1. The emergent, evolutionary development of stages concept arises from the theories of Clare W. Graves which became Spiral Dynamics and were then embraced by Ken Wilber as part of integral theory and now represented in the colours Frederic uses. There is a crucial aspect of that theoretical origin which describes WHY the development happens. Our ways of thinking evolve in order to solve the problems we face. As those problems change, so does the nature of our responses. It is an adaptive relationship between us and our environment.

      This means that when working with organisations, change is not only inner-directed or inner-impelled. In integral terms, it is a four-quadrant process. Inner and Outer aspects have to shift together. For emergence to be built in to the organisational collective intelligence it is not sufficient for it to inhabit the thinking of the individuals in the organisation. The organisation has its own systems intelligence which can enable or paralyse the individuals. Some people would tell you “organisations don’t change, people do.” That is a very misleading truth. Maybe half-truth. Organisations can suppress the changes in people or they can create space for it. If you change the organisational space, people have the possibility to adapt, to emerge into that new space. If you do not, you encounter the reason why such a high percentage of culture change programmes are known to fail.

      Organisations embed aspects of all the developmental stages into their functioning, through habit, culture, process, structure, and explicit systems. Comparing the examples of FAVI, AES demonstrates that each organisation will change these aspects in its own particular way. They took long journeys to do this, but we only see the outcomes, not the journey. We do not see how they changed these elements piece by piece, over what period and in what order. Even in Spiral Dynamics, where there is a far richer and much more explicit toolkit for how to support the journey, there are relatively few published examples. Nevertheless, these are the tools and the second-tier thinking and perspectives that will be needed if we are to deal simultaneously with all four quadrants. Organisational collective intelligence will need to be in all of them, or it will not sustain itself, let alone continue to evolve and emerge.

      1. Thank you jon, for elaborating on this – this is really important. For me the great gift of Frederics work, was seeing how companies had developed structures and practices that were supporting/holding the kind of personal and relational development that I have been helping individual leaders and teams with – in spite of structures that were not supporting this.

    2. Keep us posted indeed Helen ! Hope you will join the Enlivening Edge Action Research Initiative and maybe explore this case in that context.

  5. Thanks for your clear article, Bjorn! I totally agree with it. Teal is called the Yellow value system in Spiral Dynamics or also referred to as “Second Tier ‘. In the drive and rush to get quickly to the Teal level, quite a few people and organizations are skipping important steps. From our work with Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi), we found that a well-functioning Yellow/Teal organization needs a strong and healthy foundation of all preceding value systems.

    Indeed, basically Yellow/Teal organization facilitates the healthy expression of all underlying systems. This involves elements like the internal attachment with the company (Purple); decisiveness and addressing each other (Red); structure, procedures and discipline (Blue); results and strategic thinking (Orange); open communication and space for self-reflection (Green). Wholeness means putting everything into the light and hiding nothing. Because, at some moment you will be confronted anyhow with the hidden issue (like the Sleeping Beauty was stung despite the ban on spindles) and development will stagnate.

    We invited people to explore this theme in our Synnervate Workshop in Utrecht, Netherlands, on December 1, 2016. We paid special attention in this workshop on how to embody and organize Yellow (from model to practice).

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