If you had a business genie at your disposal and could dream up a perfect organisational structure what would it look like? Flexible working hours, location independence for employees and freedom to fulfil their job roles how they liked? But would the necessary results be achieved if there weren’t any firm strategies, procedures and regulations implemented, if there was no clear chain of accountability in place?
In our post last week we talked about how important it is to have a business vision, goals and to know what direction you intend to send your business in. A directionless business will get nowhere. For the large part, your business vision will be underpinned by your values, and, in turn, these personal values will influence the structure of your business.
Recently, I came across thought-provoking article that really made my business ethics sit up and say ‘Aha!’ as author Frederic Laloux outlined a pioneering new organisational structure that ticks many of my values boxes and then some.
In his insightful and in-depth article Laloux explains how human civilization and various societies experienced different types of organisational structures throughout history, which he differentiates by colour, progressing and arriving at one very special colour: Teal.
First there was the ‘red’ social structure, which, like a wolf pack, involved the powerful using reactive violence to keep foot soldiers in line. With an understandably short-term focus, this structure still exists today in street gangs and organised crime.
The subsequent ‘amber’ structure was army-like with a strict top-down approach and organised in a formal hierarchical way. It’s not just the modern day military that take on this ethos; the Catholic church and most government organisations like the police and public schools emulate it too.
The ‘orange’ era shone a light on innovation and competition, with the goal to generate a profit. This is known as ‘Management by Objectives’ where it is dictated to employees how what they should be achieving but they were afforded the freedom of decided how they accomplished their fixed goals. Most multi-national companies and charter schools operate this way.
The next ‘Green’ way of doing things saw empowerment motivate employees with businesses renowned for idealistic practices like Ben & Jerry’s and Starbucks exercise egalitarian management.
Each organisational structure has it’s pros and cons. ‘Amber’ clearly has its drawbacks yet, Laloux points out that it was against an ‘Amber’ backdrop that the pyramids, cathedrals and the Great Wall of China were constructed. The flaws of ‘Green’- that the drive to be equal covered power struggles and time was wasted in debating rather than doing- are being improved on by the emerging ‘Teal’.
Ground-breaking ‘Teal’ involves self-management in which organisations, such as the few pioneering ‘Teal’ businesses Laloux profiles, are seen as living, fluid, evolving bodies, with employees/members able to naturally detect their potential and goals. These living entities are made up of people-people who can be creative, innovative and uniquely effective.
Three things characterize ‘Teal’ organisations, though often an organisation will excel at one in particular. They are:
- Self Management.
- Evolutionary Purpose
When was the last time you surprised yourself and your ‘superiors’ or team by being free to just run with an idea, make it a successful reality and put your own stamp on it by doing it ‘your way’?
‘Teal’ organisations are based on peer-relationships with the ‘power’ naturally spread evenly rather than being designated to a CEO and senior layer of staff. One commonly misunderstood aspect is that everyone is equal and decisions reached by endless meetings are made only when everyone agrees. In reality, as Laloux highlights: “decision rights and power flow to any individual who has the expertise, interest, or willingness to step in to oversee a situation.”
This fluidity of the power of decision making requires training. Dutch healthcare non-profit, Buurtzorg that Laloux refers to puts all employees on a course that teaches learning and communication skills and the ability to coach fellow team members and gain perspective. Communication is key to collaboration and making ‘Teal’ work. As Buurtzorg founder de Blok says: “The whole notion of competition makes no sense, if you share knowledge and information, things will change more quickly.”
Laloux asks: “Many of us end up disowning some fundamental aspects of our selves. When an organization feels lifeless, is it because we bring so little life to work?” Wholeness is about being your ‘whole’ and ‘true’ self at work, quirks and all! Yes, you can be respectful and professional while letting your personality shine through in business.
In his article, Laloux cites the example of ‘Teal’ company Sounds True having meetings with dogs at employees’ feet and it being warmly accepted that employees can bring children to work at the ‘Teal’ business of Patagonia. This innovative approach means that each employee sees their colleagues not just as co-workers but as the same as them: human.
Employees are more likely to corporate with one another when working towards a common goal. The success of a company naturally ensues if employees’ guards are down and the organisation’s structure less rigid. We all work better when we all relate more comfortably to each other when we’re all being ourselves.
In ‘Teal’ organisations versatile and flexible individuals proactively and naturally ‘sense’ when a goal needs fulfilling or a practice needs changing and respond accordingly. The living entity has its own sense of direction so its goals don’t need dictating.
The lines blur in ‘Teal’ organisations. Laloux gives the example of ‘Teal’ company, automotive gearbox forks manufacturer FAVI. There engineers and admin workers alike are trained to operate a minimum one assembly-line machine. When things get busy, admin workers pitch in to help run the machines for a while, working alongside the engineers under the guidance of machine operators, gaining an insight into how much skill and hard work operating a machine involves. They also work towards a common goal.
I admire the potential ‘Teal’ organisations have to facilitate business freedom, which is what the systems and tools we provide can enable you to enjoy. What will your business colour of the future be?