Making magic work part 5: Making it happen

Written by Liz Hill-Smith on 22 April 2015

This is the final blog in my mini-series exploring Frederic Laloux’s work examining how organisations will look going forward. My last four blogs have looked at the culture of these organisations, the mind-sets that leaders of “Teal” organisations need to hold and the key practices that define these organisations.

This month I am concluding this mini-series with looking in more detail at how the transition to Teal can take place and what we learn from that for learning and development practice.

There are basically two ways to create a Teal organisation – to start one from scratch, or to transition from an existing traditional organisation into the new way of working. Laloux’s case studies have examples of both. Buurtzorg, the Dutch home nursing organisation is an example of a small start-up that grew in response to the over-mechanised practices being delivered in mainstream home-based nursing care. In contrast, FAVI, a French manufacturer of motor components, transitioned from a traditional structure. AES, a major electricity production and distribution company built its business through taking over successive power plants and transitioning each plant in turn to Teal practices.

Laloux observes that the start-up situation is by far the least painful. As a business founded on Teal principles grows, it is more able to pass through the growth transitions that occur for any growing business. Critical to this though is the strength of the co-founders in maintaining the conditions for the structure, practices and processes to take root, and to keep the questions that drive purpose alive.  I.e. “What is the purpose this budding organisation wants to serve?”, “What shape should it be to best serve this purpose?”,“What pace of growth is right?”, “Who is meant to join it?” The founders,and co-founders invited to join at this early stage are crucial. 

Transforming an existing organisation is more challenging. There are two crucial conditions – does the CEO “get it” and do the board members “get it”? Do they believe in the principles of Teal and are they able to live these themselves and hold the space for the organisation to explore what it means to be Teal? When transitioning, Laloux observes that incremental change is the way to go – starting with one of the three key principles, rather than all three at the same time. Any one of the three key principles - self-management, wholeness or evolutionary purpose, is likely to stand out as best suited to the organisation’s needs.

What is fascinating, yet unsurprising, is the different responses of different levels of managers. As Laloux researched, he noticed that lower levels of the hierarchy warmed to self-management quickly.  They relished the power and decision making offered and jumped at the freedom to shape their work as they saw fit. Age, sex, educational background, political inclination, union membership, colour, ethnic background or even IQ had little effect on ability to adapt to Teal and indeed flourish. The only ones who found it really hard were those who had been scarred by many years in a command and control environment. Self-management is demanding – it requires people to take responsibility for their actions. It doesn’t protect them from difficult news and tough trade-offs. There is no-one to hide behind or pass the buck to. Some find this hard and ultimately chose to leave. 

Even those who stay and thrive find there is a significant mind-set adjustment required – to take some “psychological ownership” for the organisation, and the responsibility that goes with that. Trust is crucial for this to happen. People really do have to trust the leader that is introducing self-management. They have to know that the leader truly cares and can really be trusted. In the many plant acquisitions that made up AES, time was given for the new leaders to build up the required trust before introducing self-management. This took as long as a year or two.

The level that struggles most to adapt is the middle and senior managers. They lose their hierarchical power. They also often lose their jobs as these higher paid supervisory roles no longer really exist.  Resistance at this level will be the hardest nut to crack in the organisation’s transition.

So what does this mean for learning and development practice? Well to start with, L&D as a function will look very different in Teal. Potentially it is itself a self-managed team, taking responsibility for facilitating the learning of the various self-managed teams across the organisation. A very practical role is likely to be in supporting leaders and teams in building capability in the various Teal practices and processes. For example, in conflict handling, decision-making and dialogue. Expect a bumpy ride, a huge amount of learning and the role emerging along the way. Also expect considerable resistance from those managers who stand to lose their roles and all the status that goes with them.  A carefully managed approach, involving attrition where possible, and valuing the experience, redeploying it constructively with care and wisdom, and taking a highly developmental approach is more likely to succeed here. It stands to reason that L&D leaders supporting this transition should ideally have some experience of what excellence in Teal looks and feels like in practice – even though this is hard to come by in these pioneering days. It suggests an increasingly consultative approach with a stronger emphasis on team coaching and less on set piece training delivery. It also demands that L&D leaders are truly able to take their share of the significant psychological ownership required. 

I have no doubt too that the CEO’s and Board’s looking to implement Teal will value the support of their L&D specialists in holding themselves to the new paradigm. Taking the role as true partner in the adventure would seem to be a vital position to adopt.

Teal is complex, highly emergent, and likely to take some time to become a more dominant paradigm.  Nonetheless, Laloux’s research is fascinating and I strongly recommend his book and the videos of his presentations that are now available on the web. 

Liz Hill-Smith is a senior consultant at DPA 

 

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