Research says that human consciousness develops in spirals, which define how the human mind sees the world. The existential questions it faces and how the human brain copes with the complexity of the world-space it finds itself in, determine the various worldviews that result. None of the paradigms of human evolution are good or bad. They are simply the current developmental stage of humanity. As soon as humanity reaches a certain level of development, it is ready for a paradigm shift. Integral theorist, Ken Wilber assigned different colors to the various developmental stages of these worldviews. These colors, in turn, inspired the book, ‘Reinventing Organizations’ by Frederic Laloux who used them in the organizational context and also made the term ‘Teal’ popular in this area. Teal is the latest stage of development, which takes the positive aspects of the previous stages and complements them with its own new facets.
Existing paradigms influence both, how people cope with the surrounding world and prevalent organizational structures. Nowadays the most predominant organizational structure is Orange. Orange was developed at the time of the Industrial Revolution. It is accommodating a world where people work next to assembly lines. An Orange type of leadership believes that people need to be coordinated and told what to do. They are not seen as having the inner motivation or the ability to look beyond their needs and therefore they cannot be trusted and have to be motivated with money. Today many signs indicate that humanity is ready for a change. We are doing more creative knowledge work and not just repetitive production tasks. According to a Gallup survey on workplace engagement, 85% of employees are disengaged at work worldwide. This issue can be observed on all levels of organizational hierarchies. Managers are as much pressured as their subordinates to deliver ever growing yearly targets. They try to juggle high numbers of emails and meetings, while they are expected to make people happy and motivated. As leaders, they need to make decisions about the strategic direction their company should take, often projecting years into the future but in a highly complex and unpredictable market. The hierarchical organization, due to the central power-holding, makes the decision-making slow and thus the organization experienced inertia in an ever-changing and demanding market.
Money is not the first and foremost motivator of employees. Increasing salaries, bonuses, perks don’t bring the expected outcome anymore. There must be other reasons, why people choose to belong to an organization and companies have to find other incentives to keep and find talent. Individuals are now looking for a deeper purpose; they want more autonomy, impact, and flexibility. Along with these needs, a new paradigm, called Teal has been emerging.
Note: If you want to learn more about the different paradigms out there, developmental stages of humanity, head to the end of this handbook, where we recommend some sources for you.
While Orange refers to organizations as machines and employees as cogs in the machinery, a Teal organization is viewed more like a natural ecology: a living organism, a self-organizing ecosystem. Like nature, a Teal organization is ever changing, evolving and reacting to its surroundings.
Teal brings 3 main breakthroughs into organizations: self-organization, wholeness and purpose.
Let’s take them one by one and see what they mean in organizational practice. In doing so, you will be able to see if this is something you can identify with on a personal level and if you would like to work in a team and/or organization which operates along these principles.
- Imagine a company with 500 CEOs. That’s what self-organization looks like in practice.
- It means individuals at all levels are powerful. It increases inclusiveness. Everyone regardless of the level of experience, age, time spent at the organization etc. can become an idea or decision initiator. The advice process ensures that the best decision is made by examining all aspects of the issue and double checking it with all affected parties.
- Self-organization means separating individual and organizational needs and purposes and acknowledging both. It brings more transparency, distributed ownership and self-awareness.
- Working in a self-organizing environment requires the ability to trust colleagues and that they will do their jobs the best way they can to serve the organization.
- Strongly connected to trust, transparency is an important aspect of self-organizing teams. In order to operate in a self-organizing way, to make the best possible decisions in the interest of the organization and free flow of information is a must.
Organizational purpose is the answer to a strongly emerging need in the world. If more people sense this need and start acting upon it, they form an organization around this need. Meeting this need, relieving the tension it causes in the world, will become the evolutionary purpose of organizations. This purpose is evolutionary because it might change and adapt as the environment and the need changes. A Teal organization does not try to predict the market for years to come but rather senses it and responds to market needs. It is so powerful that it attracts individuals who resonate with this purpose, to work in the organization.
Evolutionary purpose goes beyond making a company profitable - profit is the byproduct of pursuing the purpose. For example, Patagonia, one of the pioneers of Teal, has been continuously outperforming its competitors.
In practice: see some practical tips in finding personal purpose and aligning them with the organizational purpose in the section ‘Does my own purpose match the organisational purpose?’
: Workplace has been an environment where people used to force themselves behind a professional mask, letting only a small fraction of their personality come to the surface. This behavior had evolved due to the fact that people assumed they would not be accepted at work or could even lose their jobs if they acted naturally, expressing all their feelings and thoughts. Teal encourages people to take off the mask and show up at work as who they really are, because they are in a safe space.
In practice: see some practical tips in the ‘How can I exercise more wholeness?’ section.
It is important to acknowledge that there are many organizations out there which already practice Teal in various ways. Some put more emphasis on one of the principles than on others. There are many frameworks out there (see the section ‘What frameworks are out there?’) which guide teams in implementing Teal or similar practices and there are also many hybrid solutions on the wide-scale between Orange and Teal.
So is Teal for you? Rule of thumb: if you are attracted to the idea and the principles described above, it is for you. But bear in mind that becoming Teal does not happen overnight. It takes practice to get there. We all have various experiences and maybe some wounds from past organizational structures that influence us. In challenging times we might fall back into old habits and thought patterns. We also have to make this step together with our organization and with our colleagues, so it needs the commitment of all.