As an agile coach for many years and the founder of TeamMood, I have been wondering and inquiring about different types of organizations over the years. Indeed, over the years, agile has become a dogma in many organizations, blindly following the principles of methodologies like Scrum, SAFe or XP, thus distorting the very principles of the Agile Manifesto. Following my last article on Radical agility, I wanted to go a step further and share some thoughts on “Teal organizations”, a concept explained by Frederic Laloux in his book Reinventing Organizations. Could this concept help companies realign with the Agile Manifesto?
This article doesn’t claim to summarize nor detail the niceties of such organizations. It is merely an introduction to the book based on my understanding, aiming at convincing its readers to peruse Frederic Laloux’s full manuscript (or its illustrated version , much more digestible, if you ask me).
If I imagine a dream company, I picture an organization in which employees are aligned with their firm’s purpose, are given the freedom and responsibility to manage the topics they feel called for and are encouraged to be their true selves at work. How would such a company work? And would it work?
Companies have long been considered as machines, in which people are defined by their role like a piece in the mechanism, and actions follow processes as machinery of a purring engine. In such companies, people are resources, pushed and monitored to reach goals and to continuously self-improve, with no consideration whatsoever for their psychological state.
The problem is: people are not robots that can blindly and coldly play a part that was written for them, leaving all feelings and personal matters aside. And considering them as such is the best way to a minor (or rather major) glitch in the organization: interpersonal issues, depressions, burnouts, … are flooding in organizations of all kinds.
I believe that companies should be considered as living beings, the place of individual and collective deployment in which we are “called to discover and rejoin our true nature, to deploy our unique potential, to unleash our innate talents” as Laloux says. Of course, such organizations require us to subdue our egos and to no longer allow ourselves to be governed by our fears, ambitions, and desires – but instead, to welcome them. They demand to follow our inner righteousness as a compass – our values and causes. They ask for a new level of consciousness, called “Teal” by American writer Ken Wilber – pioneer of the integral theory –, or “evolutive” by Frederic Laloux. And in return, they offer the end of cognitive dissonance and a path to fullness.
In Reinventing Organizations, Laloux shares the three pillars of “teal” organizations: self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose. I did the exercise of imagining how an agile team applying these pillars would work. The following thoughts are mine only.
The power of self-management
Laloux describes self-management as a system based on peer relationships, with no need for a fixed and statutory hierarchy, consensus, nor central command and control. Without falling in the trap of horizontal organizations in which everyone has a voice on every topic, self-management offers a fluid and efficient system of distributed authority and collective intelligence.
This pillar makes total sense in agile teams. It even is one of the Agile manifesto principles: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Indeed, an agile team is a complex organization. Who better than the team members can choose how best to accomplish their work? In such a self-organized agile team, external considerations are taken into account of course. But the team members hold the power to make their own decisions and bear the responsibility to deliver their promise at the same time.
Don’t fall into the trap of flat organizations! Self-management doesn’t mean that everyone in the team has the influence on decisions, nor that the team needs a consensus to make a decision. An expert may have more leadership on certain topics than a newcomer. But the youngster may also be more comfortable than his elders on adopting new tools, and take the lead on a project according to his drive and skills.
The idea of separating private and professional lives is based on the idea that we can (and should) act as two separate personas, a work persona who is efficient and focused, and a private persona who only expresses itself behind-the-scenes. It promotes the belief that one should leave personal matters at home. Emotions, feelings and aspirations are masked by the pressure of corporate or even societal cultures: a man doesn’t cry, a woman is less profitable because she gets pregnant, …
In reality, we are complex human beings and our personality includes all our different aspects: I am at the same time a father, a husband, a son, a friend, I care deeply about sustainability AND I am the founder of Teammood, an agile coach, a coworker, a volunteer in charities. Separating these worlds can only create a sense of misalignment. Rather than a truncated professional “I”, evolutive companies have developed processes that invite us to drop the masks, claim our integrity and come to work the way we are.
This pillar is particularly relevant in this period of confinement and massive working-from-home. Attending Zoom meetings in our living room, possibly with our kids playing nearby, can’t help but highlight personal environments and circumstances that used to be hidden or at least ignored.
Once again, this pillar completely applies to agile teams, in which team members are asked to be themselves to facilitate communication in the group. And to help you safely reach this level of authenticity, TeamMood allows you to share your current state of mind with your team.
Embrace an evolutionary purpose
Budgets, multi-year plans, and projections are common practice in most companies. But instead of taking it as it is, merely dreams and intentions for the future, companies hold to them and strive to make them happen. Let’s be honest, how can we predict anything in our complex and ever-evolving world? 2020 is a perfect example, and I believe radical changes are yet to come.
In teal organizations, instead of trying to predict and control the future, employees are encouraged to listen and understand what they are called upon to become and where they are naturally heading. The organization’s purpose is the result of the personal purposes, causes and values of the people who comprise it. Therefore, it evolves over time as the organization grows and people join or leave it.
Adopting an evolutionary purpose makes organizations more resilient, like a living system, which has a natural aptitude for change. Agile teams that embrace this state of mind will therefore be in a position to “adapt to change more than following the plan” (agile manifesto’s fourth principle) while listening to weak signals and making sensible choices according to the context around us.
I truly believe that if considered as a whole, given the freedom to self-organize and questioned about their purpose, values, and cases, agile (or not) team members will work towards the “desired change”, one that is concerned with social value and the impact on living beings – to borrow the words of Jean-Pascal Boignard, Claude Aubry, and Anthony Cassaigne.
Does that sound crazy to you? Utopian? Unrealistic? Yet dozens of companies around the world are successfully applying some of these principles: The Morning Star Company 🇺🇸, Patagonia 🇺🇸, AES (international), Buurtzorg 🇳🇱, ESBZ 🇩🇪, FAVI 🇫🇷, Varkey 🇬🇧, and many more.
Thanks to Adrien Tardif for his comments 🙏.
Header picture by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash