What is teal?
Teal is a name for a particular style of organization that is healthy and fulfilling while achieving amazing things. As described in Frederic Laloux’s seminal book, Reinventing Organizations, these organizations:
- Are run by principles of “self-management” distributing power and authority throughout the group in a meaningful and effective way. Rather than waiting on permission to act from someone in charge (a boss) or the group as a whole, people use an “advice process” to consult with anyone who has expertise to offer or would be impacted by that decision.
- Welcome people’s whole selves. Instead of wearing “masks” at work, people bring their full being. This principle is expressed differently in each setting; examples include inviting kids and dogs into the office, beautiful work spaces, personal check-ins at meetings, each person choosing their own “coach” within the organization, and more.
- Have a clear, motivating purpose that drives people’s behavior and day-to-day decisions. Instead of a dead mission statement on the wall, this is a living testimony that everyone involved knows and refers back to regularly for guidance. The purpose is honest, fulfills a real need, and can change over time.
Old-paradigm hierarchies put one person in charge who, by the nature of the system, creates a bottleneck in decision-making and is out of touch with the front lines, leading to abuse of power and all the other problems people are painfully familiar with. Alternatively, 1970s-style, egalitarian organizations replace the boss with the whole group — now the consensus group meeting becomes the bottleneck, as individuals with enthusiasm wait on permission from all before taking action. Sociocratic consent tries to shift the group’s default response from no to yes, applying the mantra “safe enough to try, good enough for now.” Smarter 1990s-style alternative organizations create active teams and committees who have some power and shepherd the process along. Teal or liberated organizations take this further and add something fundamentally different, as power resides with the people carrying out a task, and individuals and teams give each other influence rather than consent to take action.
These principles have a bunch of implications. For example:
- Self-management divides power among many roles and functions, which are held in a fluid and dynamic way; instead of job titles, people tend to hold multiple smaller roles. If central staff or leadership exist, their role and powers are limited, and their status is similar to everyone else’s (as evidenced by the disappearance of exclusive perks). If the organization scales large, then it is composed of fully empowered small units with resources and autonomy.
- Wholeness relies on building in transparency from the ground up: everyone knows the organization’s financials (often including knowing each other’s salaries, or sometimes even setting one’s own salary) and how to understand the numbers and apply that information to decisions.
- The role of profit and competition shifts, as the driving mission is not to maximize quarterly returns. As the saying goes, “Profit is for an organization like breathing for a human being. Air is necessary for life, but no one lives to breathe.”
- Downstream from mission, when it comes to other goals, targets and plans are set by the people fulfilling them, recognized as best guesses, and adaptive to changing circumstances — the basic ethos is sense and respond rather than predict and control.
- The metaphor for teal organizations is a living organism. Like any other life form, the culture of each teal organization is unique, distinctive — while sharing traits in common, each has its own organic feel and functions in its own way.
What else? The name “teal” arises from spiral dynamics and integral theory, a stage-development model of human progress that has many skeptics. Nonetheless, like any name it serves as convenient shorthand. One may find relevant material under other banners as well, such as responsive work, agile, lean, liberated or next-stage organizations, etc.
I founded a meetup for people in the Eugene, Oregon area who want to get together in person to explore these ideas. We gather one or two Friday afternoons per month 4-5:30pm through some combination of in-person and/or Zoom.