The future is TEAL?
What might this mean for the evolution of us coaches and mentors?
We have recently been inspired by Frederic Laloux’s new book “Reinventing Organisations: A guide to Creating Organisations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness”. A quote on the cover being “This book is a world changer” which in our view is not an overstatement.
The book is a compilation of case studies and reviews of twelve highly successful and effective businesses and organisations that have been created and run over the last twenty years or so by leaders and leadership cadres functioning at or near the TEAL stage of consciousness. The TEAL stage of consciousness referring to the more advanced stages of psychological and spiritual development outlined in the works of Ken Wilber and the works of other developmental thinkers such as Robert Kegan who refers to it as the Self Transforming stage, Billl Torbert who refers to it as the Post Conventional Stage and Don Beck the Systemic/ Global View stage.
In our view Laloux’s book is very timely as in the the years since the financial crisis public distrust has been growing not just in the leaders of the financial organizations that led us into the financial crash of 2007-8 but also failures of leadership in sectors as diverse as the health service, the media, supermarkets, the police and Parliament. Such is the depth of distrust and cynicism in our community that we are now witnessing the emerging first steps of a struggle to move on from the legacy of the past three decades. What the shape of the new consensus will be, who can tell? But the future surely entails profound changes for the way businesses and public sector organizations are run. The public wants these institutions to exercise greater stewardship of community assets and to operate in a more socially and sustainably oriented way.
If this vision sounds nebulous and, frankly, utopian, the exciting thing about Laloux’s book is the detailed portrayal it presents of successful companies and organizations that are making real today the model of tomorrow. Laloux sees the forces for change being driven not only by the collapse of the existing order but by a fundamental evolutionary shift in human development, the kind of shift that occurs as human consciousness develops towards the later stages of consciousness as described in the works of Kegan, Torbert and Wilber, Beck mentioned earlier and many other authors.
Laloux discusses how numerous disciplines are converging around a developmental perspective and sets out an agenda to apply this to organizations. He shows how each stage of human development generates a typical organizational form. Modern organizations tend to be based on either a conformist paradigm (for example, public sector bureaucracies) or an achievement one (banks or technology corporations), both rooted in rationality, structure and suspicious of spirituality. A newer pluralistic form (think Ben & Jerry’s) recognizes a need for human empowerment and attention to values but still clings to hierarchical forms. Laloux identifies a form that goes beyond this, to organize around self-management whilst remaining conscious of the interests of the whole system and nurturing human potential without the need for ego-based contracts and controls.
Like Margaret Wheatley, Laloux identifies the living system as the abiding metaphor of the new paradigm, in contrast to the prevailing metaphor that likens organizations to mechanical structures. He identifies three breakthroughs that characterize the organizations he presents as pioneers of the new paradigm:
- Self management – by which peer-based relationships replace hierarchy or consensus and autonomy is reconciled with accountability to the whole.
- Completeness – where people are encouraged to bring the emotional, intuitive and spiritual parts of themselves to work as well as the rational.
- Evolutionary purpose – in which decision making and work is guided by a sensing of the purpose that the organization exists to serve, and that this evolves in an emergent way rather than being defined from above.
The book is an invigorating read since it demonstrates with example after telling example how organizations can thrive while swimming against the tide of instrumentalist, shareholder-value-driven bureaucracy. He provides exhaustive detail on the structures, practices and processes the organizations adopt so as all the time to put themselves, whenever there’s a choice to be made, on the side of human development and sustainability. Employees are encouraged to find their own roles and play to their strengths. Decisions are taken by peer groups rather than by leaders, or often by individuals acting simply on advice from relevant colleagues, with the consequence that corporate centre’s are largely redundant. Employees are trusted rather than controlled to do the right thing, so that cumbersome compliance practices are no longer needed. Throughout the book, the costs of leading from less developed stages of development are revealed.
An inspiring example of TEAL leadership in action is that of Buurtzorg, an organization of Dutch community nurses,that established a patient-focused approached to care. This has swept aside the time-and-motion based approaches of incumbents, which tied nurses to administering practices rather than treating patients as humans. While nurses are able to spend considerably more time with patients, and to pursue their vocation of care, their efficiency is greater as patients recover more quickly and are helped to care for themselves. 60 per cent of Dutch community nurses switched to Buurtzorg in about six years.
Laloux shows how the self-managing approach works in diverse contexts – including solidly blue collar environments, such as FAVI, a European car components business, which has weathered the onslaught of cheaper Chinese competition and the economic recession. He shows that TEAL led organizations are attentive to matters of purpose and culture but not at the expense of thinking through what kinds of behaviors and systems are needed to sustain them.
From a TEAL leadership perspective
“The organization is viewed as an energy field, emerging potential, a form of life that transcends is stakeholders, pursuing its own unique evolutionary purpose. In that paradigm, we don’t ‘run’ the organization, not even if we are the founder or legal owner. Instead, we are stewards of the organization; we are the vehicle that listens in to the organization’s deep creative potential to help it do its work in the world.”
Laloux lists the cultural assumptions that are at play in these pioneer TEAL organizations. Here’s a selective list of some which seem very reasonable yet would be deeply challenging to conventional organizational cultures:
- We relate to one another with an assumption of positive intent.
- Until proven wrong, trusting co-workers is our default means of engagement.
- Every one of us is able to handle difficult and sensitive news.
- We each have responsibility for the organization. If we sense that something needs to happen, we have a duty to address it.
- We are all of fundamental equal worth.
- We strive to create emotionally and spiritually safe environments.
- Failure is always a possibility if we strive boldly for our purpose.
- We don’t blame problems on others.
- Trying to predict and control the future is futile.
- In the long run, there are no trade-offs between purpose and profits.
The leaders in Laloux’s pioneer TEAL organizations are close to or have attained the TEAL stage in their development and as a result are able to cope with the ambiguities and uncertainties of enrolling large numbers of employees in putting purpose at the heart of what they do. Their capacity to handle complexity and uncertainty in unstable and anxiety provoking situations enables them to create harmonious systems which can move forward in times of uncertainty and ambiguity.
Laloux is not glib about the prospects for more organizations developing along evolutionary TEAL lines. He identifies two necessary conditions:
- The founder or top leader must have attained and be able to act in a manner consistent with the characteristics of the TEAL developmental stage
- The owners of the organization must also understand and endorse the thinking and behaving arising out of the evolutionary TEAL stage.
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in how businesses and organizations might evolve and thrive in an increasingly volatile, ambiguous and complex world. It does not provide a simple path to a new model, but points to the need for coaches and those of us influencing the future of business and organization to pay attention to our own levels of development especially as the research of Kegan, Torbert and Wilber point to the fact that it is not possible for someone at an earlier stage of development to coach or mentor someone at or to a higher level. There is thus a significant need to pay attention not only to the developmental stage of our clients but to consider whether we have arrived at a sufficiently advanced stage ourselves to contribute to this work .
It seems to us the evolutionary questions to be asked of the coaching and mentoring community are
- What stage of development are we at collectively and individually and how do we know that.
- What methodologies and processes are we using to obtain /attain the further levels
- How are we determining the stage of development of our clients
- What are we doing to share this developmental knowledge
- Are there any examples of TEAL functioning in CMN
Davidson, S., & Vogel, M. (2015). Review of Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness [Review of the book Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, by K. Wilber & F. Laloux ]. Retrieved from http://new.coachingnetwork.org.uk/book_review/review-of-reinventing-organisations-a-guide-to-creating-organisations-inspired-by-the-next-stage-of-human-consciousness/