December 3, 2014

Behold a new model: teal organisations are the new agile

By Russ Lewis. Published online December 3, 2014

There is a workplace evolution underway, lots of people are signalling it. Dan Pink came-up with the label ‘Motivation 3.0’ in Drive; Jurgen Appelo followed suit with ‘Management 3.0’; and many of us speak of a move towards a Lean or Agile enterprise. Earlier this year, Frederic Laloux published Reinventing Organisations in which he not only identifies the way organisations have evolved during human history, but usefully classifies them all using a system of colours.

What characterises this latest adaptation, to teal organisations, is the move from ego-centric behaviour to team achievement. From greed-motivated and planet-sapping to socially-responsible and sustainable. From going to work because you have-to, to working because you want to be part of something that feels worthwhile.

Pioneering organisations have seen devolved decision-making spill over from engineering (lean) and IT (agile) into marketing and HR and finance. This is perhaps inevitable. A team that has learned how to improve itself and has the confidence to make change will not stop at its departmental boundaries. The way annual budgets are set, holidays booked, salary levels paid and even hiring decisions have all been examined and 're-engineered'.

The colour system of teal organisations' evolution

Laloux’s colour system is simple enough to become a very practical shorthand. Thus, gang and Mafia-type organisations are red; government agencies and the Catholic Church are amber; brands like Coca-Cola and Nike are orange. Where amber are ‘command and control’, orange has evolved into ‘predict and control’. If amber uses ‘sticks’ for control then orange uses ‘sticks and carrots’.

According to Laloux, green follows orange, exemplified by Southwest Airlines and Ben and Jerry’s. These organisations operate a traditionally hierarchical structure but empower employees through devolved decision-making, stakeholder involvement (not just shareholder benefit) and being part of the ‘family’.

After green, organisations that transcend hierarchy attain the state Maslow called ‘self-actualising’. They become learning organisations and, according to Laloux outperform all the other stages put together when measured in terms of problem-solving speed and capacity. The colour of this organisation that “can lift groups of people to punch above their weight” and will “start healing the world of the wounds of modernity” is ‘teal’.

Can you lead a revolution with teal?

Named after a duck, teal is a greenish blue colour. Not the obvious choice for the herald of change. Teal’s former moment of glory was as the default desktop colour for Windows 95. If the teal organisation is to transcend the limitations of its predecessors then why not enlightened white, or sunshine yellow?

Then again, I’m colour blind, so perhaps I’m missing something.

Categories: ,
Newsletter signup

    3 comments on “Behold a new model: teal organisations are the new agile”

    1. What questions me in Laloux's color model is the following : what did he reinvent a colored model that looks so close to the well established Spiral Dynamics approach that describes the some evolutionary steps and go even beyond ? This brings confusion while the SD model has been developed, emulated and applied since such a long time. And I didn't get the answer yet.

      1. Interesting point Philippe.
        I've met a other people that have been surprised at Frederick's omissions. What I don't know is if the omissions were deliberate.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Recent Posts

    Ways of Working: 5 improvements for leaders

    Most ways of working still rely on functional hierarchy, where managers make decisions and workers do the work. Managers know they can't change this work structure, but they can transform its effectiveness without asking for permission and without needing a budget. Before exploring the changes that transform the way people work, we need to recognise […]

    Read More
    Manage tensions if you want an agile transformation

    Today’s challenge is that traditional management approaches, where managers tell people what to do and how to do it, are not as effective as they once were. Agile transformation takes years, but changing management’s focus from people to tensions could be a better solution. It is simpler, faster, and considerably more cost-effective. Management is the […]

    Read More
    Collaboration versus simplification for organisational change

    One of my favourite books on organisational change is ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ It’s short, and mice looking for cheese to eat is an appealing analogy. It’s a model for managers because it covers four theoretical outcomes of change. Those outcomes are: what happens if I (or we) do, or don’t make this change, what […]

    Read More
    12 signs that using 'ambidexterity as an agile transformation model' is not my original idea

    You see, I thought I was the first agilist to make the connection between agile transformation models and organizational ambidexterity. Certainly, it seemed original when it emerged in conversation with my supervisor. In fact, it was Dr Alireza Javanmardi Kashan’s idea (better make it 13 signs), but it came from our conversation so we said […]

    Read More
    What is contextual ambidexterity?

    Contextual ambidexterity is a culture that expects exceptional performance in both innovation and operation, overturning the illusion that it is either/or. Contextual ambidexterity is agile for managers.

    Read More
    The Future of Agile Leadership

    Introduction The future of leadership is Agile There are many different types of leadership styles and not all work well in every situation. The most popular method, the "Command and Control" style which has been dominant for centuries, may be on its way out as research shows that this type of leadership does not foster […]

    Read More
    August 13, 2021
    Visualising Progress at Daily Standup

    In the standup, we had a (brief) team discussion about tracking progress. I reacted against Jira because a) I dislike the user interface as it's a collaboration killer, and b) we aren't a software development or IT support team. Standup game visualises progress Three weeks later, team members Sam Thomas and @HughHadfield demonstrated this way […]

    Read More
    October 7, 2014
    Cost of selling on-line down by 45 points

    Another true story about the art of Agile Estimation About 14 months ago, I wrote this story card: We should sell estimation cards online, to offset the cost of producing them We gave it an estimate of 50 points as it seemed “do-able”, but no-one was exactly sure “how” to do it. Amazon was a […]

    Read More
    February 21, 2021
    Engagement Model

    Engagement Model for Digital Transformation / Agile Adoption Consultancy template for improvement and organisational development work A proven approach used by external consultancy firms. This engagement model is appropriate for internal improvement initiatives and Centres of Excellence. As an embedded coach or improvement lead, it’s important to realise you are effectively providing a consulting service […]

    Read More
    1 2 3 11
    linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram