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Individual purpose in teal organizations

Purpose is at the heart of an organization operating from a teal paradigm.

In a traditional ‘orange’ organization individual purpose falls out of the scope of the work agreement between an individual and an employer. What makes an organization more ‘teal’ is actively helping people discover and be true to their individual purpose.

This post will look at the characteristics of how individual purpose forms part of a ‘teal’ organization and how to support individuals in finding their personal destinies.

If you missed the previous posts in the series, here is a summary:

Man without meaning

Human beings are meaning-making machines. A purpose gives us a sense of self and with that a sense of belonging. Without having a clear individual purpose life has little meaning. These people fill their time in pursuit of worldly pleasures that only bring brief relief from an insatiable desire within. The hungry ghost within always left yearning for more.

To satiate this deep desire within, you have to find your individual purpose. Only then will your life have meaning and will the hungry ghost fade away.

In search of meaning

A favourite book of mine describes this search for meaning and individual purpose in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coehlo. It’s a simple story with very deep meaning about a simple shepherd boy who follows his heart after having a recurring dream of finding a treasure.

The boy decides to sell his sheep and pursue the treasure. A transformative journey follows, filled with obstacles and challenges where he learns to trust himself and to listen to his heart. At the end of the story, he finds his treasure and returns to his beloved whom he left behind while in search of his individual purpose.

Each time I read the book another layer of wisdom reveals itself to me. It’s a story of listening to your heart and trusting the universe while embracing the journey of self-discovery. It contains the secrets of leading a fulfilling life without losing yourself in the pleasures of the outside world. It is a call for you to listen to, and follow your heart.

As unique as a fingerprint

No two people are the same or want the same thing. Each person has a unique gift and unique desires. Only when you are true to your inner calling are you able to find your team? When you become part of a team who shares the same collective purpose, each individual contributes their unique skills into a beautiful tapestry.

When you view an organization as a collection of individuals, it makes sense to help each individual clarify their individual purpose, as ultimately it will benefit the organization. There is also no need for competition when you know each person is unique, with different skills and strengths. The workplace becomes a collaboration rather than a competition.

The strengths of each person’s gifts compound, creating a whole that’s bigger than it’s parts.

Ikigai and individual purpose

The Japanese calls individual purpose Ikigai. That intersection where what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you get paid for.

Image of ikigai, showing the intersection between what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you get paid for.

Although this seems simple, most people in today’s world struggle to find their ikigai. In my personal search for meaning I interviewed a lot of people.  I asked them what they love to do and what they’re good at. By far the majority of the people couldn’t answer. In our current consumer-based society we’re taught that you buy happiness on a shelf.  It’s a quick-fix culture. Yet, these quick-fixes provide a very brief high before the emptiness sets in again.

We’re disconnected from our inner purpose and that results in the worldwide epidemic of loneliness and unhappiness. Loneliness is ultimately the result of not being able to life your purpose. Thus, the only way to solve the employee engagement problem sustainably is to help people find their inner purpose.

Organizational purpose

You can’t separate individual purpose from organizational purpose. An organization is merely a collection of individuals. The two binding agents that keep these individuals together are values and purpose.

An image showing the intersection between individual and organizational purpose, included within a bigger whole that contains the environment and society.

An organizational purpose – like ikigai – is an intersection of individual purpose, and organizational purpose, with environmental and societal impact considered and included. A typical ‘orange’ organization, on the other hand, has a core purpose of profit, achieved with a specific mission. They care primarily about short-term gains and only focus on the organizational goal, often at the detriment of the environment and the very people who help build this organization.

Case study

Toyota back in 2003 stood out as the earliest, and best example of a purpose-driven company. They managed to increase their shares by 24% over 2002 while stock prices of the Big 3 were falling. Toyota was bench marked as the best in its class by all its peers and competitors for quality, productivity, and flexibility. Their long-term focused purpose-driven approach was very profitable.

A short history

The company was born out of needs and solving problems.  Sakichi Toyoda, a tinkerer and inventor, grew up in the late 1800s in a remote farming community. He wanted to ease the hard spinning and weaving work of his mother and grandmother which was a major industry at the time. He set out to develop power-ridden wooden looms.  These looms eventually turned into the very successful car manufacturer we today know as Toyota.

The culture of improving the livelihoods of the people didn’t change as the company grew.  Their purpose and vision started with the customary selfish goal of profit, then added the well being of their employees and their families, and also the importance of making a positive contribution to society and being responsible to the environment.

Toyota’s purpose

If you asked any individual in the company at the time, they would have told you that the company existed to “satisfy customers, contribute to society, contribute to the economy, and achieve long-term prosperity for all employees and partners.” A core part of the Toyota philosophy was to create mutually beneficial relationships between the company and its employees.

Their model for success was based on mutual trust that created prosperity for both company and employee, as can be seen in the diagram below, as represented in the book “Toyota Culture – The heart and soul of the Toyota Way”.
Image showing the intersection between individual purpose and organizational purposeA key differentiator for Toyota was recognizing that to be profitable in the long term, they had to care take of the very individuals who help build the company. The first principle of their philosophy is to base decisions on a long-term philosophy, even at the expense of short-term financial gains.  They were in it for the long haul from the get-go.

The impact of an ‘orange’ approach to purpose

Compare this to the typical ‘orange’ organization where people are seen as replaceable parts in a bigger machine. People are often burned out by the age of 30 and increasingly complaining about mental health as well as physical health. As many as 81% of GenZ’ers reportedly left roles for mental health reasons, as discussed in this Harvard Business Review article (with a link to the full report). If you’re still not convinced, here are more statistics from the World Health Organization, including an estimated loss of 12 billion working days globally due to depression and anxiety.  This is not a sustainable or healthy environment. When short-term goals and immediate financial gains trump the long-term sustainability of both the people and the planet the impact is dire.

The future generations will be most impacted though, and many organizations continue in the hope they will be retired by the time the pyramids collapse, as all pyramids eventually do. It is not possible to remain profitable over the long term when you don’t care to take the very people who build your empire and the planet they live on.

How to support individual purpose

If you’re reading this post though, you’re probably aware of the impact of the ‘orange’ short-term approach and looking for practical ways to help individuals find and fulfil their purpose.  Here are some easy and accessible ways to help support individuals in finding their ikigai.

1. Prioritize individual wellness

Work-life balance has become an expectation for the millennials and rightly so. A person can not thrive in the work environment when they are stressed, unhealthy, and unhappy. Include or introduce wellness practices that will create a more ‘whole’ person.

Maybe it is promoting that no-one works overtime and offering sabbaticals like 37Signals does. This allows for a more balanced life and time to focus on your personal needs. Or maybe it is adding healthy snacks and allowing time for group workouts at the office if you are co-located. Or possibly it is giving massage vouchers and organising team breakouts where you can focus on relaxation and relationships and not only be productive.

2. Offer coaching services

Coaching is designed primarily as a tool to raise self-awareness and assist people in following their hearts. It takes into consideration the whole person and a typical exercise most coaching journeys start off with is the wheel of life, where each main area of an individual’s life is rated in terms of personal fulfillment.

A good coach will identify any imbalances. They will focus on strengthening the weakest part of the wheel while connecting it to the core focus area the individual chooses to focus on. A good coach will also be able to identify limiting beliefs and any incongruence between what a person says, thinks, and does.

Coaching, in its essence, is about finding alignment between what you think, feel, say and do.

When people are allowed to shine at work they will naturally contribute to the organizational purpose. Coaching is the space where individuals can dare to dream big and go after their goals to grow individually.

3. Support growth

A goal without the ability to act on it is meaningless and even demotivating. Coaching might identify individual goals, but the support of the organization is crucial in making this a profitable return on investment for the organization.

Create adequate psychological safety so that individuals can ask for what they truly wish to do, and then create opportunities where they can do this. Additional to these opportunities, consider offering mentoring and coaching while the individual explores this new, uncomfortable territory.  See it like training wheels while you up-skill the individual.

Make failure acceptable and encourage learning and cultivating a growth mindset when they don’t get it right the first time. No one can authentically express themselves when they don’t feel safe. Safety is always first.


An organization is a collection of individuals who form part of the organization. You can’t separate individual purpose from organizational purpose in a living organism, such as an organization operating from a teal paradigm.

For long-term success, an organization has to support individual purposes.  This might include an increased focus on wellness within the work environment, introducing coaching services, and making career opportunities available to support individual growth.

Are you ready to transition to a more teal way of working?

Originally published in People Development Magazine: