27–29 September 2017, Churchill College, Cambridge

Teal, there has been an awakening - have you felt it?

A 60 minute Case Study by:

David J Shrimpton

DPJS Enterprises

About this Case Study

The term Teal, to describe the corporation as a living organism, was proposed by Frederic Laloux in his book, Reinventing Organisations. The colour teal, along with its living organism metaphor, is seen as the next phase of organisational evolution. But does it actually work, and can it ever be implemented? Join me in this case study to find out how the departments in my organisation are moving to implement Teal.

We will start off with a self-organising task drawing 20 cubes on 20 separate pieces of paper. Do people do this? How do they work together? How do they interact?

"The Teal paradigm refers to the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness. When applied to organisations, this paradigm views the organisation as an independent force with its own purpose, and not merely as a vehicle for achieving management's objectives." See the Reinventing Organisations Wiki.

In Teal, organisations are represented as colour bands to represent their state of consciousness. What are the colour bands?

Red - power and allegiance. You are the most powerful and you subject other people to your authority. Or you are the least powerful and you show allegiance to the boss, who has to take care of you. For example - a criminal organisation. A red organisation normally works best in areas of chaos where a powerful leader is the only thing that saves the group.

Important discoveries in Red are: command authority - where a leader can set a direction and people will follow it. And division of labour where people can specialise in areas that benefit the overall group.

Amber - hierarchy and conformity. These are normally stable organisations that control the group through a hierarchical structure. For example, a government or the Catholic Church. Important discoveries in Amber are: formal and traditional roles, repeatable processes that can be replicated, offering stability in the long term, through something like an organisational chart.

Orange - machine and management. This is where there is competition inside the organisation, the group concentrates on profit and everyone is working towards and aligned on an objective. Nearly all large companies today are in the Orange space. Important discoveries in Orange are: areas where innovation takes place, there is accountability on objectives and if you are good enough you rise up the ranks of the organisation.

Green - family and empowerment. The organisation concentrates on delighting the customer, shared values among staff and engagement with work practices. This is where the agile and lean philosophy prospers inside companies. Important discoveries in Green are: empowerment, a values driven culture and a place where almost everyone has a stake in the company.

Teal - living organism. This is where organisations can work effectively without organisational structures. Businesses in this space have very flat structures accompanied by distributed decision making, where anyone can make a decision as long as they have consulted the people it affects. Important discoveries in Teal are: wholeness - where a colleague can bring their spiritual, creative and intellectual side to work and will not be judged for being themselves. Self management is the second feature. Evolutionary purpose - which evolves when new people join the organisation - is another.

How do you become Teal?

I'll be examining areas where we are experimenting with wholeness, self management and evolutionary purpose. I'll be talking about each of these stages and how the department I work for is putting these in place.

For example, if a firm is in the Teal space, the values and core principles from agile and lean are used to come up with new practices and approaches to getting things done. We're currently experimenting with Teal and how it can work with a loose fitting scrum or kanban approach where the organisation has evolved to a higher level.

Challenges to becoming Teal

Frederic Laloux states that an organisation needs the support of the board and the CEO to become Teal. If they do not have top down support to protect this way of working, Teal will not work. The company could then slip back into the Green and Orange states.

A company is made up of many colours - each new person could bring a new way of doing things into the company. So a company may decide to employ only those people who have the same culture as the organisation they are joining.

Organisations can move from Teal back to Orange

While organisations can move up to Teal, there are cases where organisations start as Teal and can move to Orange as they expand. For example, a start-up can move the reverse way down to Orange to cope with massive growth.

Is there an issue with agile and lean within Teal?

Although agile and lean sit within the Green space, they are normally implemented by companies in the Orange space. Management within this space are primarily profit orientated, so they may not care about agile and lean values. Firms in this space also use top down management where instructions are implemented from above. This can, on occasion, conflict with some of the core principles of agile and lean.

Where does Teal go from here?

I would argue that practices like clean language, servant leadership, spiral dynamics, liquid distribution, creative leadership and human spontaneity should be part of the Teal thinking.

However, I would also argue that Teal needs some core principles. The reasons I believe this are:

  1. We need to be able to explain the benefits of Teal to C level execs and the industry - and software / agile as a whole. Currently no-one really understands what Teal is and it is hard to start a Teal implementation or get backing without guidelines on how to do this.
  2. We should be able to sign up to a set of values that we all believe in and focus on ideas for future collaborations around Teal.
  3. If we believe in Teal then we should have an idea of what our ideal Teal workplace would be.

Is Teal the future of agile and lean? Or can companies really only use the Teal interactions to be agile and lean? This is something I will comment on in my conclusion.

About the Speaker

David Shrimpton is Director of DPJS Enterprises a consultancy focusing on growing people and teams to improve efficiencies and delivery. David has been a frequent speaker at industry events in Southern Spain.

For the past six years, David has written blogs and articles around Agile and Lean. David started has worked for some of the UK's biggest companies coaching teams at Shazam, AOL and the BBC in Lean and Agile techniques


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