Making Magic work Part 4: The nuts and bolts of daily working
I continue to be fascinated by Frederic Laloux’s work in exploring how organisations will look going forward, and my last few blogs have been exploring the culture of these organisations, and the mind-sets that leaders of “Teal” Organisations need to hold. In this month’s blog, I want to get curious about how these actually work in practice. What’s different about the behaviours and systems that enable work to get done in line with the “Teal” paradigm? As a reminder, Teal is the next evolution of how organisations work, and has three core underpinning concepts: self-managed teams, a clear focus on having an “evolutionary purpose” defining the organisation, and wholeness – bringing the whole authentic self into work.
Laloux covers Teal behaviours and systems in detail in his book in nearly 200 pages of closely written and concise text. I have 500 words, so I will just focus on four of the elements that particularly intrigue me.
The first is self-managed teams. Formal structures are history in Teal. Teams have roles, but not managers, and it all seems to work very well. Teams themselves make the decisions about rosters, priorities, and who does what when. There are no “bosses”, and no hierarchy. Self-managed teams work as a network of roles to get done what needs to be done. A job can comprise a number of roles. Sounds like chaos? In practice, surprisingly, not really. Drawing examples from complex systems found in nature, like cells, forests, the human brain, Laloux observes that in fact, high complexity is better managed through networks governed by a set of rules, not by a pyramid or hierarchy. Hierarchy works fine in a simple, low complexity environment, but not in a highly complex environment.
One of the key rules used in the self-managed environment is that to make a decision, you need to consult those with greater expertise and consult with those who will be impacted. The idea is that this tunes into the collective intelligence of the system in making decisions, resulting in better decisions. In the case studies explored by Laloux, it seems to work pretty well.
The second aspect that intrigues is the idea that team members play an active role in deciding who does which role. Almost as if you can fire your boss, even though there are no “bosses” as such. Those taking on leadership roles are selected by the team members rather than the upward hierarchy. Again, this seems to result in those taking on those roles being able to do so from a place of respect and appropriateness.
A third crucial feature that makes this work is that time and effort is made in developing people’s ability to work with and resolve conflict in a constructive and creative way. These processes are at the heart of how the organisations work. Again, this is about things working according to a set of basic rules, rather than a hierarchy. The effort is put into ensuring the rules are the right ones for the organisation and its purpose.
The final element I’ll highlight here is the way in which meetings are run. Many of the organisations explored have neat ways of ensuring that the “ego” has no place. For example in one organisation, any participant can chime a bell in a meeting when they hear someone speaking or acting from a place of ego. As this practice has evolved, all anyone has to do is to reach in the direction of the bell for the ego to be checked.
In practice, I have seen glimpses of these elements of Teal in organisations I have worked with or in. Where ground-rules are clear, and teams have opportunities to self-manage within them, I have seen very positive shifts in energy, motivation, and performance in a variety of settings from schools to hospitals, from insurance teams to electronics manufacturers. Where egos are kept out of meetings we see a vast improvement in effectiveness, driven by a greater openness and honesty. This is on top of the removal of waffle, posturing and lengthy anecdotes.
So, some fairly radical practices – yet easy to see how each of these could be extremely refreshing to work within. There is some debate about how straightforward Teal is to implement in practice, and how organisations can make shifts in this direction. In particular if it can be achieved through evolution or if whole scale revolution is necessary. Next month I will conclude this mini-series with looking in more detail at how those transitions occur and what we learn from that for learning and development practice.
Liz Hill-Smith is a senior consultant at DPA
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