Here’s the notes from the latest Human Organising Project gathering.
Note the recurrent reference to “Teal”. This is borrowed from Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organisations. In our conversation, we used it as a shorthand for “next stage” organisations, ones that are more values-driven than profits-driven.
In the first part of the conversation, we explored various aspects of what it means to be Teal. In the second part, we discussed the organisation of a Festival of Human Organising that is planned for late spring or early summer 2016.
Present: Dave Pendle, Victor Vorski, Anna Sexton, François Knuchel, Patrick Andrews
Patrick: There is an idea that evolution goes in spurts, in quantum leaps. [“Punctuated equilibrium.” said Dave]. Human beings do this. I have this idea that organisations go through similar life-stages.
You get to a stage where you’re quite professional – you’re focused on growth, efficiency and profit. This could be the equivalent of adolescence. Then you realise you are not taken into account the needs of those around you (your stakeholders, in business language). You may then move on to become adult. The adult stage is roughly equivalent to Teal.
Death can intervene at any stage. One of my theories is that some organisations get trapped in adolescence, in part because the fact that they are owned by distant shareholders prevents them.
Here’s an outline sketch. The movement is clockwise.
What’s beyond Teal? Maybe an elder? And then beyond that a sage (such as Joanna Macy). The book that I am writing maps out the different stages that I have passed through.
Victor: [who is starting up a “Teal for start-ups” group]. These next-stage organisations are much more documented than hierarchical ones needs to be, because you need to record things. In a hierarchy, if in doubt, you ask the boss. You can’t do that if you have no boss. You have to record what you are doing for others to know.
Anna: I am try to start a business starting from social value – the other way round from the way businesses are usually started. Perhaps within each section there is a circle of life and death.
Patrick: there is definitely an arc within each stage, and every transition is tricky. Failure is always possible.
Victor: Within my project, we are trying to make it make it easy for people not to fail. We think you can be Teal from the start. Of course Teal when you are three people means one thing, and when you have 30 or 100 people it means something else. In fact, I’m interested how you make Teal the pre-birth stage.
François: Is that not contradictory? If Teal is an evolutionary stage, how can you start from that level?
Patrick: Teal could be a level of consciousness, but the organisation itself might need to go to baby steps before it matures.
Anna: If you accept you start as a baby, can you apply Teal at each stage?
Victor: I think you can fast forward through the stages. We already have 80 people signed up to our project, and 28 are willing to contribute time. Those of us who started this up are still tribal leaders at this stage (which is not Teal) but we want to move through that stage as soon as possible and let it fly.
Patrick: Another contradiction is that you want a network to govern itself but this doesn’t happen. There’s an inherent tension.
Dave: There is also the fact that the lived experience of working in an organisation is often different from the stated intention. I see Teal as more fluid. You need a flexible understanding of human nature. There’s more human ways of solving the problems – not politics and blame.
I am part of the RSA and there’s a group for Reinventing Organisations (run by Judy Rees). There was a presentation by someone who’s created a self organising workplace – Matt Black. It’s in aerospace engineering. Simply through trial and error, he ended up transforming the organisation from typical command and control to a place were the organisers were the employees themselves. But he didn’t start from ideology, he just made it happen. They were trying to improve productivity, but no matter what they did the employees always did overtime particularly before Christmas and summer holidays. There was a social hierarchy that was different from the formal hierarchy and staff looked for one individual to see how he behaved. So the owners scrapped overtime and replaced it with a bonus. After some time the staff no longer did overtime, and efficiency sky-rocketed. What was interesting for me was that he did that intuitively, without having a theory behind it.
François: I was at that talk. What was also interesting was that he thought the answer might be to bring in more managers but that made things worse. The managers didn’t want to change themselves. So they got rid of all the managers.
I want to challenge the assumption that we want to move organisations towards Teal.
Victor: I agree. We want to move organisations towards being more whole and it’s easy to fetishise the process, forgetting that it’s a means to an end.
Dave: In the RSA meeting I mentioned, someone put out a challenge to the group: “We consultants talk about change, but how many of us want to change?”
[There followed a discussion about Theory U described by Otto Sharma, and how change makes uncomfortable and that consultants often say in their sales talk that they can change an organisation without changing the people, which is not true.]
Victor: For me what’s really interesting in Teal is how it highlights that individual development is integral to the organisation.
Patrick: I attended a talk by Lynne Sedgemore, a CEO who said that in her organisation, with 30 to 50 people, everyone had the right to have a coach.
Anna: That’s why in my practice, I share coaching techniques because normally coaching is reserved only for the senior people.
Dave: I did my Ph.D. on phenomenology, influenced by Heidegger, a philosophy that emphasises lived experience over rational, abstract thinking. For new manifestations to occur, the rational needs to give way to the lived experience.
Anna: (looking up on Google) Wow, Heidegger is cool.
Dave: Yes, although intriguingly he got involved with the Nazis in Germany for a while.
Victor: But this is the “cut-and-paste” page where you can admire certain aspects of someone without having to admire the whole person.
Patrick: I am intrigued, François, that you challenge the idea that Teal is about another evolutionary stage.
François: I was not saying it is or is not. I was questioning it, and in particular questioning the idea that becoming “Teal” is a goal in itself.
Dave: If an organisation is structured in a way that is “Teal-like”, is it irrelevant what exactly it does. Does it have to have a social purpose.
Patrick: My answer is to be Teal, you have to have sufficient sensitivity to your environment that you are taking into account your impact on it in your actions. If you are structured like Teal, but you’re still focused on maximising profit and externalising costs, then you are not truly Teal.
Victor: Because we want everyone participating in the company to bring all of themselves, people will naturally care.
Dave: so the organisation has its own self-regulating conscience. It sees everything (including its external environment) as part of its internal functioning.
Patrick: my thinking around this is that an organisation will have a separate identified organ serving as a conscience, clearly identifiable beyond just the individual consciences of the people. Also, you don’t have to have everyone in the organisation at Teal in order for it to be a Teal organisation. For example, John Lewis has Registrars who highlight when things are going wrong.
Victor: I think if you’re transforming an organisation to Teal, and a number of people do not leave, you’re not doing it right.
Dave: What you’re pointing to is this transformation from organisations that are merely complying with what they need to do, to organisations driven by values.
Victor: I see it as a fundamental problem Western society that we try to replace a values-based society with a regulation-based society. In many countries companies are rich enough that they can make the laws be whatever they want, and they can afford the best lawyers.
Patrick: And in the financial industry prior to the 2008 crash, if an individual regulator was clever enough to understand what the hedge funds were doing, they would offer him or her a job (paid three times what his previous salary was).
François: So Teal should not be an end goal. Values is the most important thing and that’s where our goal should be oriented.
Victor: Should we be trying to define the standard values of a Teal organisation? Or should every organisation define its own?
Dave: There’s very few organisations that actually live the values they aspire to. I went to Homerton Hospital recently where they had the values displayed on a banner and I felt every person lived by and embodied those values. By contrast, I’ve known organisations have great value statements that are largely ignored.
Victor: How do you evolve the values? The organisation needs to have some tools and processes where its values are brought out, put on the table and discussed.
Anna: I think it’s how you live it – how you dress, how you write your emails and so on.
Patrick: I was told by somebody who worked at Mars Confectionery that they were very principles driven (I believe principles are similar to values). His lived experience of Mars was that it was very principles-driven.
Victor: Mars was started by the Quakers. The Quakers are very interesting because they are very ethical and very successful.
Dave: Those values have been handed down, from a spiritual point of view. These days we don’t have many practices that take us from our own self-preoccupation to consider the way we live our values.
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Conversation around the Festival of Human Organising
Update from Patrick. I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with what needs to be done. There has been considerable interest shown in the Festival, and people have offered to run events, but I don’t know what the next steps are.
Victor: Also, try to find partner organisations. Like Enlivening Edge, the RSA Reinventing Organisations group and so on.
Anna: You’re not on your own, Patrick. We are organising it, not you.
Francois: Could we find an umbrella organisation to host the Festival?
Anna: Set up a Mailchimp account and people can load up their information.
Dave: Maybe there is an invitation to go out to help co-organise. I will set out the principles for organising the festival, based on the best of what’s out there. Then you can invite people.
Anna: In any festival, not everyone will get to all the events. You’ll get some events that are really popular and some fail, and you can’t work it out in advance.