A short history of organizational development.
A short history of organizational development.

The teal chronicles

Welcome to the teal chronicles - an overview of the organizational development model outlined in Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organizations. In his book, Frederic Laloux studied organizations and categorized them into stages compared to the different stages of child development. No one stage is better than another just like a baby is not better than an adult. Each stage of development brought key breakthroughs and builds upon each other.

In a nutshell…

Each development stage are labeled with a guiding metaphor and a color to categorize them more clearly. This post briefly outlines the key stages and the breakthroughs each stage brings to organizations. Below is a summary of each paradigm.

The first form of organizations can be compared to a Wolf Pack, where the alpha male leads. The next milestone in organizational development can be compared to an army or the Catholic Church, where for the first time a role leads decisions and direction rather than a single person. Although Laloux chose the guiding metaphor as The Army, as a female born in an age where I’ve never had to be part of a war, I relate more with the Catholic Church.

Currently, the most common organizational paradigm can be compared to the orange Machine, with a drive for efficiency and winning in the race for short-term profits. The next phase of development can be compared to The Family where democracy and values-driven culture are put at the forefront of decision making in the green paradigm.

Finally, we have evolutionary teal described by the guiding metaphor of a Living Organism, which strives for wholeness in a self-managed way, guided by a purpose. The image to anchor the metaphor and best describes this worldview is a flock of birds.

A flock of birds work together as a team. They have a shared goal (or destination) and purpose and fly in formation towards their destination as a whole. There is no single leader. Rather, the bird in the front rotates to give everyone a chance to lead, and with that also be at the forefront of the wind resistance.

But let’s go into a bit more detail, starting at the early stages.

The early stages

Reactive Infrared

The earliest identified development stage of humanity, spanning roughly from 10,000 to 50,000 BC, is represented by the reactive infra-red paradigm, where there wasn't any form of organizational model yet.

People lived in small family units and foraged for food. There was no elder, no hierarchy, no ownership of any kind. These groups, or family units, were nomadic in nature. They lived in harmony with nature and with the world at large.

They can be compared to a newborn infant who doesn't yet see themselves as separate from their mother and the world at large.

Magic Magenta

The next developmental phase, the magic magenta paradigm, came into being when these nomadic families shifted to combine the strength of different family units into larger tribes. The world and how it works is not yet understood, with magic or pleasing the gods with rituals how people made sense of the world around them. At this stage there is still no organization yet.

It can be compared to a toddler up to 2 years of age, who for the first time becomes aware of the difference between self and others.

Impulsive Red - The Wolf Pack

The first chiefdoms and empires emerged next, about 10, 1000 years ago. During this phase, the first forms of organizations emerged.

In this phase of development the ego (sense of self), is fully formed and with that the sense of separation from the whole. With this separation comes a realization that the world is a dangerous place and in order to survive you have to be more powerful than others. This is a fear-based paradigm typically seen in, for example, mafia gangs or the military. Empathy hasn't yet developed and at this phase, when you want something, you want it now, regardless of the impact on others.

For the first time division of labor emerged and with this a hierarchy. Someone is in charge of the group (usually the most powerful) and the rest are followers.

The guiding metaphor is the "wolf pack" where the alpha maintains his power by brute force. The main benefit of this stage is that the group is highly adaptive to outside threats and can operate well in chaotic environments such as combat situations.

Conformist Amber - The Army / Church

Another key breakthrough in development came about next, when for the first time the ability to think into the future and plan brought about agriculture, organized religion, and institutions. Many government agencies, public schools, and religious institutions run based on this paradigm.

There is a definite and clearly defined right and wrong decided and enforced by authority figures. It’s an exclusive paradigm where either you follow the rules and thus belong and are safe, or if you don’t comply with these rules you are ostracized from the group. It’s an us vs them world view.

This paradigm brought with it a major leap in development. Rather than only reacting to the current situations around you like in the Impulsive Red phase, forward planning and discipline emerged.

Another major development milestone was that for the first time you could see something from another's perspective compared to the previous phases where there was no awareness of others’ feelings yet, only the self. However, this awareness only included those complying with the values, beliefs, and principles of the group.

The guiding metaphor for this stage is "The army" where formal roles and processes bring with it stability and scalable hierarchies. For the first time, there is a long-term perspective. No longer is the longevity of a group dependent on a single person, but a role assigned to a person, as in the case of the Catholic Church where the pope can be anyone, provided you come from the right caste and gender. Processes enable past experiences to be replicated with critical knowledge not depending on a specific person, but a role.

Achievement Orange - The Machine

The next phase is the orange paradigm which made a major leap in societal development. The main worldview is now scientific and the world is viewed as intricate clockwork that can be analyzed and understood. The rigid black-and-white view of the amber phase is replaced with what works and what doesn't. What if and evaluating possibilities emerges.

For the first time, people now question authority. The key breakthroughs which this paradigm brought are the concept of meritocracy, accountability, and innovation.

The scientific worldview of this paradigm aims to find the truth rather than blindly obeying an authority. This worldview is very materialistic and only what can be seen and touched is considered real.

The worldview at this stage views an organization as a machine. We talk about inputs, outputs, efficiency, moving the needle, hitting the breaks, reengineering, human resources, and blueprints. Amber command-and-control becomes Orange predict-and-control.

At this stage, the ego is at its peak of dominance and competes with others in a predatory zero-sum game. It’s a goal-focused paradigm where we live in the future and what we want to achieve.

Pluralistic Green - The Family / Non-profits

The next phase of development is the green worldview where the simplistic scientific view of the orange organization that values empirical evidence of tangible, measurable, and predictable outcomes expands in awareness. This worldview believes there is more to life than only material success or failure.

Organizations become highly sensitive to people's feelings. It seeks equity and fairness and places emphasis on social needs and culture. The Black Lives Matter movement (and later all lives matter), women’s abortion rights, and the acceptance of different genders are typical manifestations of this search for equity.

The guiding metaphor is "the family" with the key breakthroughs that came with this evolution being individual empowerment, the stakeholder model and values-driven cultures. These organizations strive towards democratizing decision-making and bottom-up processes.

The orange hard and outcome-driven machine, metaphorically, becomes a softer family unit that values relationships over outcomes. Hierarchy is being questioned and the impact on the environment as a result of profit becomes a focus area for green organizations.

Evolutionary Teal - The Living Organism

Finally, we arrive at the evolutionary teal worldview that sees the organization as a living organism. It brings with it a systems approach, taking the parts mastered in the orange phase and turning them into an interdependent system.

Just like a living organism - like a tree - can't survive without the birds, insects, soil, and sunshine that interact and exchange with it, so too does the teal organization realize its interdependence with other organisms in an ecosystem. The circular economy and partnerships become possible where the impact on the environment is part of the organizational design.

Striving for wholeness, purpose, and self-management are the key breakthroughs this paradigm brings to organizational development.

From this vantage point, it's clear to see that you can't skip a level of development. It values each preceding development phase without judgment. It realizes that without caterpillars consuming the plants in your garden there would be no butterflies. You no longer attempt to get rid of the caterpillars in an attempt to control the environment and the outcomes. Rather, you aim for equilibrium within the system (organization) as well as the ecosystem that surrounds it.

Communities start becoming more important and input or co-creations from users replace the closed world-view of the preceding paradigms to create osmosis and equity.

In conclusion

Organizations are ever-evolving, with each main worldview adding unique gifts and contributions to how we run organizations based on the past. The goal is not to get to teal, but rather to start at red and make sure your organization has all the key breakthroughs fully developed before moving onto the next.

One paradigm is not better than any other. They all add some important breakthrough. Sustainable growth can only happen when you move through each paradigm from the bottom up, and each is seen as equally important in the development of the organization.

Are you ready to take your organization to teal?

Originally published on Substack: https://funficient.substack.com/p/the-teal-chronicles