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Teal Orgs and an Org’s purpose
I’ve been obsessed with the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux (wiki) for many years now. I have read a lot of self development books over the years and Laloux’s book reads like one of those but for groups/teams/orgs. It fascinates me so much. As I work on rebooting the possibility of designing learning experiences with readings and dialogue, I’ve been thinking back to a late chapter in the book, “Starting up a Teal Organization.” Here’s the exact line I think about rebooting from.
If for a moment you try to take yourself (your wishes, your dreams) out of the equation and listen to the budding organization, what is the purpose that it wants to serve? What shape does the organization want to take? At what pace does the organization want to grow?
Before I try to articulate my answer to the first of these questions I need to share my thoughts on Teal orgs in the first place. What even is a Teal org? While I’d like to dive into the other kinds of orgs to serve as a contrast to the Teal kind, I think I’ll just surface some of the descriptors Laloux uses.
The most general way to describe how Laloux views these orgs is with the metaphor of organizations as living systems (say, in contrast to families, machines or even computers which are other common metaphors).
Life, in all its evolutionary beauty, ever evolving toward more wholeness, complexity, and consciousness. Change in nature happens everywhere, all the time, in a self-organizing urge that comes from every cell and every organism, with no need for central command and control to give orders or pull the levers.
Laloux poses questions to the reader, what if? “What if we took this metaphor to heart, what would the orgs we live in every day and create from scratch look like? Feel like? A bit less soulless like a machine? A bit less dysfunctional than a family? A bit less transactional than a computer? These questions most definitely open my mind up to other, new org possibilities.”
The above metaphor is helpful, but still very abstract and high-level. On a slightly lower level he describes the three breakthroughs that were common among the Teal orgs he identified, researched, and interviewed. These are
<aside> 💼 Self-management - Teal Organizations have found the key to operate effectively, even at large scale, with a system based on peer relationships, without the need for either hierarchy or consensus.
<aside> ✨ Wholeness - Organizations have always been places that encourage people to show up with a narrow “professional” self and to check other parts of the self at the door. They often require us to show a masculine resolve, to display determination and strength, and to hide doubts and vulnerability. Rationality rules as king, while the emotional, intuitive, and spiritual parts of ourselves often feel unwelcome, out of place. Teal Organizations have developed a consistent set of practices that invite us to reclaim our inner wholeness and bring all of who we are to work.
<aside> 🧬 Evolutionary purpose - Teal Organizations are seen as having a life and a sense of direction of their own. Instead of trying to predict and control the future, members of the organization are invited to listen in and understand what the organization wants to become, what purpose it wants to serve.
Purpose and Learning Experiences
I have a handful of influences contributing to my intention to design and host learning experiences using readings and dialogue. To name a few of them
Discussion-based classes in my undergrad, St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland.
A wonderful, emerged-out-of-nowhere book club held at restaurants/brunch places around NYC with some long time friends. At this point we’ve read some big ol’ books like Don Quixote, Moby Dick, and 100 Years of Solitude. Even more specifically, a few glorious moments here and there of wowing ahas in which I finally understand the point of Jane Eyre, when, before discussing it, it was just a blur of words making me think about northern England.
Random visuals that’ve occurred to me of feasts on long tables out in fields at which everyone is discussing the book they’ve recently read. Along similar lines, reading 100 Years of Solitude in Colombia or The Odyssey exploring the Greek islands.
The magical book that lead me to an equally magical dialogue group during lockdown called Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together by Bill Isaacs. This book wakes me up, every time I read it, to the broader and deeper possibilities of really really great conversations. I just want to apply the learnings and frames in the book to discussing what you, as a group, have read together.
The fact is, I’m not the only one that enjoys reading, talking and actually coming to my own understanding of what I’ve read. And this is what I’m sensing is the purpose this not-yet-existing org wants to serve. It’s not about me, but what I’ve experienced, and the influences I’ve named above are clues. I can’t subtract my self from this equation completely but I can stop and listen more broadly. Zoom out a bit and look at the world context, what’s needed and also what it seems my soul is calling out for. That ultimately is the joy of learning. And maybe even more specifically the joy of learning with others.
Laloux labels this breakthrough “evolutionary purpose” but he’s not referring to capital E evolution. He means that over time, this purpose evolves. Maybe at one point in human history our purpose was mostly just to survive. We might see that day to day survival is more or less solved for and now might identify an evolved slowly over time purpose like, flourishing. This means I will have to continue to listen and so, I will have to keep myself and others updated about the purpose I hear whispered in my ear as I design and host more and more learning experiences with readings and dialogue.