Reinventing Organizations, by Frederic Laloux, provides a comprehensive overview of how humans have organized in groups over the centuries. My colleague, Peter Green, did an amazing post with a video summary.
An alternative very short summary:
- Red: Street Gang (constant exercise of power by chief)
- Amber: Army (highly formal roles within a hierarchal top down command and control pyramid)
- Orange: Machine (management by objectives for the goal to beat the competition)
- Green: Family (focus on culture and empowerment)
- Teal: Living Organism (focus on realizing potential through self-management networks)
Personally, if I were to look back at the organizations I’ve been a part of – a rough generalized categorization would be for the entire company:
- Crowe Chizek (Orange)
- Bauhaus Technologies (Green)
- BEA Systems (Orange)
- CNSI (Orange)
- TechSmith (Green)
- Santeon Group (Orange)
- Pearson (Orange)
- Agile For All (Green)
Note: I’ve had exposure to Amber environments (typically clients through out the years) but not as a direct employee. I’ve also had numerous Orange & Green clients too.
For about the last year, I’ve noticed that many people in the Agile community throw around statements like “that’s a typical orange company”, “that’s why we should focus on being teal”, “your organization should be teal”, etc. Here’s what has been bothering me:
- I loved reading this book. The evolution (including the breakthroughs) of organizations was understandable, relatable and idea generating. Plus, I love getting a common vocabulary. However, please stop with the simplification of labeling an organization. Even when I was trying to list a general color to each organization above, I was finding myself highlighting exceptions. Organizations are complex. I settled on what was the senior leadership’s style/focus to finally categorize but when we as a community quickly label, we don’t help people learn. Also, it’s annoying to people without the common language.
- I love that there is an aspiration for teal organizations. However, stop expecting people to go from Red/Orange to Teal overnight, if ever. I’ve been a part of a few Green organizations; those values, the focus, the culture – didn’t happen overnight. I’ve even explored moving an organization from Green to Teal (before I had this material) – and as I was told directly “you’re ideas are ahead of where the rest of the company is right now”. Wanting teal, saying teal…doesn’t make teal happen. Plus, each color has value and a shift may not be needed or desired.
- Is Teal the right focus to start? I don’t worry about creating a self-organzing or a self-managing team if they currently are barely a group. I know how much I loved life at the primarily Green organizations. How much would we be creating a better world of work with helping more companies become Green vs overwhelming them with innovations required for Teal. Journeys are taken one step at a time, one experiment to gain understanding, learning and sometimes safety with taking the next step. Laloux highlights there is value in each of these levels (right type of org for the right type of situation); don’t equate success today as “Teal or bust”.
- What drove me to write this post specifically was I found myself accepting that I’m very capable in training/coaching shift to Green to solve challenges they were experiencing in Orange. I’ve experienced it first hand. I’ve helped numerous clients achieve Green. I have not experienced Teal. I have not helped someone shift to Teal. I’ve never even seen it as an entire company. Maybe I’ll sign up for a tour of one of the companies but touring is not the same as being part of that journey. This is me owning my current limitations as a leader. Do I want to change that, you bet! I have the luxury to be part of a company that is experimenting with Teal aspects along with a primary client that is also truly innovating towards Teal practices.
There are great resources out there about how this knowledge can be beneficial to your understanding and journey within an organization. I highly recommend this learning, just be careful to not want to skip to the end. The journey is important…as will be my journey of learning to lead towards Teal!
Where is most of your leadership experience?